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On The Waterfront Essay

1383 words - 6 pages

Screen English

On the Waterfront(dir. Elia Kazan, 1954) - 1

I. Director: Elia Kazan (1909-2003)

One of the most revered directors of his era, Elia Kazan was also one of the most -- arguably the most -- controversial. In addition to making his mark on film history with masterpieces such as A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, and East of Eden, Kazan made a more dubious mark with his involvement in the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities (HUAC)'s anti-Communist witchhunt of the 1950s; his decision to name alleged industry Communists earned him the ire of many of his peers, resulting in what was essentially his own Hollywood blacklisting.
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During his hearing, he denied that the group was a "front" for Communist activity and that its three directors were Communists. He also refused to supply HUAC with the names of other Communists in the Group Theatre. However, it was not long before Kazan changed his testimony: in the spring of the same year, after being told by 20th Century Fox President Spyros P. Skouras that he would never work in Hollywood again if he refused to disclose names, Kazan once again testified before the committee. In his hearing, he supplied HUAC with several names, including those of writer Clifford Odets (who himself would later "name names"), Lillian Hellman, John Garfield, and Paula and Lee Strasberg.

After his testimony, Kazan was scorned by many of his peers. Arthur Miller, who had once been a close friend, spoke out against him in a letter to the New York Post. However, the attitude greeting the clash between Kazan's dubious offscreen activities and his inarguable onscreen talents was summed up by Brando, who was quoted as saying: "that was a terrible thing [Kazan] did in Washington. I'm not going to work with him anymore. But he's good for me. Maybe I'll work with him a couple more times, at least once." He did so, collaborating with the director on the 1954 classic On the Waterfront. The film -- which was considered by many viewers to be Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg's elaborate defense of an informer's rationale -- won almost universal acclaim, netting 12 Academy Award nominations and winning Best Picture, Best Actor for Brando, Best Supporting Actress for Eva Marie Saint, and another Best Director award for Kazan.

Kazan's next effort, East of Eden, was also greeted with enthusiasm, netting him another Oscar nomination for Best Director.
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In 1998, the 89-year-old director once again found himself at the center of controversy, this time due to the decision of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to present him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. A deep divide appeared in Hollywood, between those who supported the decision, maintaining that the director's body of work made him worthy, and those who didn't, maintaining that Kazan's offscreen activities amounted to a betrayal of his peers, thus making him an unfit award recipient. The Academy went ahead and presented the award regardless, honoring a director who, political actions aside, had made an indelible contribution to his chosen field. (Hollywood. Com)

Major Works)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
On the Waterfront (1954)
East of Eden (1955)
Baby Doll (1956)
Splendor in the Grass (1961)

II. Film Discussion

1. Who among the people in the film do you blame the most for the crimes, cruelties, the injustice done surrounding the people on the waterfront?

2. Why did Terry confess? Why did he hesitate in the first place, then? In terms of the narrative flow, is it smoothly done or do you think it was an abrupt change of a character?

3. Who do you think...

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