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February 27, 2015


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This looks like a facial template tracing the natural progression of every single one of my relationships.


I'm a fan of Kazan, even despite the obviously problematic nature of On the Waterfront, but I had a serious dislike of Splendor In The Grass when I saw it for the first and only time more than a decade ago. The film seemed to aggressively make the subtext into text in such a way that both bored and disgusted me. Highly likely stemmed more from the execrable William Inge than Kazan, but given his power at that point, it's Kazan's ultimate fault.

Regardless, a wonderful series of stills, Glenn. Tells a story.

Unkle Rusty

Not sure what the motivation for the post is, but this is my favorite single sequence amongst many great ones in Kazan. I agree to a certain extent with Petey the film itself does not entirely coalesce, but in this sequence it all comes together in an emotionally crushing way, a fusion of form, meaning (it is, after all, a film about longing), acting, mise en scene. One of the great moments in American film history.


Petey (or anyone else familiar with the "problematic" aspects of "OTW") - Could you point me toward some criticism that outlines the issues with "OTW"? Thanks.


Kurzleg--it basically serves as an odious quasi-rationale for Kazan's testifying to the House Un-american Activities Committee. I finally saw the film a few years ago, and while I was aware of Kazan's moral compromise, I had no idea what the film was about...as it began to make its case for informing I was pretty disgusted, and couldn't believe it has a mostly stain-free reputation as a classic. Divorced from context, perhaps, although I wasn't overly taken with it regardless.
I just scanned it, didn't read it, but here is something more thorough:


As an antidote, I'd watch Herbert J. Biberman's "Salt of the Earth," released the same year as "On the Waterfront." Made by blacklisted filmmakers, based on a true story about a labor strike. Like all public domain films, it's easy to find, but it can be tricky finding a good-looking copy. (FWIW, it was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in 1992.)

Michael Dempsey

In his autobiography, Elia Kazan explains in great detail why he named names before HUAC. His explanations (assuming that they are true and not just self-serving) do account for why he did what he did.

But they don't justify it because that is impossible. HUAC had no right to demand that anyone reveal his or her own or anyone else's membership in the Communist Party or any other political group. The treatment by the Hollywood studios of those who refused to knuckle under to this demand remains what it has always been -- cowardly and despicable.

Numerous lives were crippled or destroyed because of what Kazan and others did. This can never be whitewashed. Regardless of how understandably angry he was at the way the Communist Party treated him and other artists and regardless of the other reasons his book provides for his actions, his involvement with HUAC will always be a major blot on his record. He himself acknowledged this to some degree in the book-length interview he did with critic Michel Ciment.

However, this does not mean, in my view, that simply rejecting "On The Waterfront" as nothing more or other than a rationalization for HUAC informing is a good idea.

Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg (also a HUAC informant) may have intended the film to offer such a rationalization by centering it on a protagonist for whom informing is a right and proper course of action.

Nevertheless, what the film depicts differs sharply from the HUAC situation; they are not the same stories, metaphorically or otherwise.

In "On The Waterfront", informing really is a brave and necessary action, given that its target is organized crime. Terry Malloy's struggle over whether or not to inform is dramatically and emotionally valid. His final decision to do so amounts to what we now celebrate as whistleblowing.

So simply dismissing "On The Waterfront" as merely a defense of its prime creators' capitulation to HUAC and the major studios of the time seems somewhat facile.

The film does contain, among its many other virtues as well as some flaws, Marlon Brando's still mesmerizing performance, perhaps the single most influential piece of film acting (for good and maybe some ill) of the past several decades.

No matter how much time passes, "On The Waterfront" may never completely shed its HUAC context. But it does seem likely to retain its artistic validity.

Which, if my dim recollection of a single long-ago screening is accurate, doesn't seem likely for the ponderously earnest "Salt Of The Earth", no matter how genuinely worthy are the progressive sentiments that this picture struggles to express.


I agree completely that the scenarios for informing are radically different--which is what made it seem outlandishly self-serving to me, and why i referred to a "quasi rationale." But to me the stretch to find a defense just made it seem more egregious, not making it so beside the point as to be "facile." I also think it should be judged at least on one level on the merits alone, as I attempted to imply. I'm pretty good at divorcing art from the foibles of a creator, but the cojones of this effort (again, by making it right for Brando to inform) were too much to stomach easily. But whether you feel as I do, or feel that it is simply talking about some other scenario, more or less, depends on what you are willing to assume as the motives of a stranger. But to grant it an existence without context seems in this case to allow Kazan a voice without the conviction of a person behind it...

That Fuzzy Bastard

If ever a man deserved to be informed on, it was that talentless Stalinist Clifford Odets.

When did Kazan meet Boris Kaufman? I've always wondered if his friendship with the brother of Dziga Vertov, one of the many great artists to be destroyed by the Soviets for not toeing the political-aesthetic line in just the right way, influenced his decision.


"But to me the stretch to find a defense just made it seem more egregious, not making it so beside the point as to be "facile." I also think it should be judged at least on one level on the merits alone, as I attempted to imply. I'm pretty good at divorcing art from the foibles of a creator, but the cojones of this effort (again, by making it right for Brando to inform) were too much to stomach easily."

Yup. The context and self-serving nature of Kazan's decisions in the film are simply abominable. It's as if O.J. Simpson were to make a movie where the protagonist's wife is a Bond Villain-level threat to world peace, and thus the husband/protagonist's decision to kill her was an admirable choice.

But at the same time, were one to watch the film zero knowledge of the context, it's a quite fine film. Thus why I described it as "obviously problematic", rather than "abominable and execrable".

Personally, I watched it twice in a theater in quick succession, and beyond my admiration for the filmmaking, I was so turned off by Kazan's utter cravenness that can't see ever wanting to watch it again...


Thanks, everyone. I'd forgotten about Kazan's HUAC capitulation (or perhaps learned about it after seeing OTW). Will be an interesting exercise to watch it again with this in mind.


Thanks for that link, andy. Especially loved the Brando quote expressing his feeling of betrayal once he finally realized what Kazan had used him for.


Sorry--"not making it so beside the point as for such an interpretation to be 'facile'." I'm about a day behind on sleep. And other excuses.


Great analogy, Petey...

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