Over the six months or so that I’ve been dabbling with this series, I’ve chosen a lot of images that say a lob of different things. Some have touched on a character trait, some illustrated a theme from the chosen film, some just embodied a particular idea that was buzzing around my head the night before the post went up. Today though, I think I may finally have hit the concept that I usually use to plug this series on Twitter:
“ON THE WATERFRONT, in a single frame”
Truly, I put to you that if Elia Kazan had so desired, he could have used the image you see above you as the film’s poster.
Front and centre we have our hero, Terry Malloy – his expression one that is equal mix confusion, determination, and defiance. There he sits, a working man wearing a shirt & tie. The only reason his plaid jacket has finally been eschewed is because he has just come from court where he spoke up and told the truth about his union boss, Johnny Friendly. He looks about as comfortable in that shirt & tie as a tabby cat wearing a turtle shell.
Over his left shoulder, somewhat out-of-focus, the carcass of a dead bird. His environment relies on those who live and work within it to be “deaf & dumb”. No matter what they know or what they see, it’s never spoken-of or acknowledged. Since he’s just come from breaking that strict code, a message needs to be sent. Hence, he goes to his pigeon coop – one of the few places in the city where he feels truly happy to find that a dead bird has been left for him. “A pigeon for a pigeon” a local lad taunts. A boy too young to truly know right from wrong is heartbroken that his friend has gone outside the lines. Pretty fucked-up when you think about it – a sign that the rules of “deaf & dumb” is indoctrinated early in this neighbourhood.
But in the foreground, right in Terry’s eye line, his hook. It’s a symbol of the hard work and long hours he puts in on the dock. Work that is supposed to be honest and hard-earned, and in a time where there’s not always enough good-paying work to go around. It’s a symbol of something Terry has abused, misused, and taken for granted. He was once a prize-fighter before he let opportunity pass him by. Now he’s a dock worker, and opportunity is about to pass him by again. As we see Terry look at that tool, we see the disobedience in his expression…the pride…the desire to do “what’s right” taking over.
Put it all together, and you have the film in a nutshell. A story of corruption, nobility, and morality. A fable about doing the right thing sent out into the world by a man convinced he’d done the right thing. ON THE WATERFRONT, in a single frame.
Here’s three more from ON THE WATERFRONT for the road…
This series of posts is inspired by the “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series at The Film Experience. Do check out all of the awesome entires in their series so far