THE CINEMATOGRAPHY OF BORIS KAUFMAN
Excerpt from the book “On the Waterfront. The Making of a Great American Film”
John William Tuohy
The films Cinematographer would be the talented, highly respected and legendary Boris Kaufman who had been hired by Kazan after a recommendation by filmmaker Willard Van Dyke. Schulberg said,
"Boris was a great artist. He did a beautiful job under difficult conditions. The weather was cold and overcast. We rushed to shoot the film in 35 days. Cheap is fast. Every day costs money. Spiegel, the producer, was on Kazan's tail to go faster. We were pleased by the way, the film turned out. Everybody was against it. We overcame all the obstacles.” 48
Kaufman strongly believed that image and theme in a film must be united and that belief is displayed in the visual continuity from scene to scene, all of it flawless, which was the cinematographer’s primary concern. Since Kazan shot Waterfront in story sequence, (Shooting each scene as the viewer would see it) continuity became a lesser issue for Kaufman, freeing him to concentrate on constancy in lighting, an ongoing problem in outside, winter shooting so to get evenly defused lighting, Kaufman had the crew burn trashcans with dried wood (less smoke).
Throughout each of the three parts of the film, Kazan and Kaufman used camera angles that emphasize entrapment, solidified by the setting of laundry hanging on lines, which form diagonals that intrude on human space, alleyways with blinding lights and diffused lighting that emphasizes moral confusion.
One of the better moments of camera styling in the film, in this case taking precedence over acting and scripting, is the fantastic scene where Terry confesses his role in Joey Doyle’s murder to Edie. The viewer doesn’t hear the confession or Edie response because Kazan allowed it to be drowned out by the scream like whistle from a nearby ship, in effect, drowned out by the waterfront as was the life of Joey Doyle. The viewer hears one of two words but the scene is impressionistic, relying on the depth of the actors reactions to the words, the acting accentuated by the sounding of a pounding press machine somewhere in the background. Edie leaves Terry alone on a hell like pile of black rocks, a flame of fire shooting into the sky in the background.
Foreshadowing is also sprinkled liberally in the film, all of done without dialogue and left only to Kaufman camera work. Kazan uses the foreshadowing in Joey Doyle’s death scene by having
Doyle leans out of his apartment window to answer Terry Malloy’s call from the street, a call that will eventually lead to his death. It is used a second time later in the film when Terry leans out of Edie’s window to answer a dark call from the street, which leads to the discovery of his brother’s corpse. The tilt to the roof to Doyle’s apartment reveals that Joey is in trouble (although this simply happened and not scripted)
Again, he uses a macabre foreshadowing for the death of Kayo Dugan who wishes that the dockworkers could unload crates of Irish whiskey instead of bananas, which they unload every day. The day a ship finally arrives with a cargo of Irish whiskey is the day the gang murders Dugan on the job—by dropping a crate of whiskey on his head. He also uses the dead Joey Doyle’s leather jacket to signal both death and resurrection. After Joey Doyle’s murder, Pops Doyle gives Joey’s jacket to Dugan, suggesting that perhaps now Dugan has a mark on him. After Dugan’s murder, the jacket is given back to Edie who give the jacket to Terry who does not wear it, perhaps out of guilt. Only when he exonerates his guilt by testifying, in the final scene at the docks, does he wear Joey’s jacket. One area of the film that made Spiegel happy was the cost of film. The film is shot in black and white for its realism and social class and because Italian neo-realism, began to dictate an expectation that black and white was somehow more appropriate for social realism than color was.
It was effective for all of those reasons, but it was also cost effective. One of the original reasons the film was shot without color was that there had been a hope that Zanuck, whom they wanted to finance the film, would envision another Grapes of Wrath, one of the most successful films Hollywood had ever produced.
Oddly, moviegoers today view black and white as too realistic which was the mood that Kaufman wanted, he preferred black and white to color because he believed it better brought across the concept that the director and screenwriter had in mind. Black and white also gave Kaufman wider exposure latitude, and the ability to work in unprepared locations where he frequently used long shot, deep focus photography that situated the workmen versus the harbor.
Kaufman used low angle versus high angle shots of the various characters. Terry Malloy, as an example, is never shot against an open sky until he makes the decision to challenge Johnny Friendly. After that, he is joined with Father Barry against the sky whenever he attempts to inspire workers to make spiritual choices.
The garish lighting in the back alley when Terry discovers his murdered brother effectively expresses the good/evil polarity of Terry’s situation at that point in the narrative and the scene prior to that, when Terry and Edie are almost run down by a truck has a Film noir lighting scheme.
The gangsters and their world are depicted with high contrast, low-key photography, again reminiscent of film noir style. Kazan and Kaufman used suggestive framing when Malden as Father Barry, is lifted from the cargo hold with Kayo Duggan’s corpse, above the men, towards heaven as if Duggan reward for his testimony and Barry’s reward for his sermon, are to be brought into heaven. (in reality, it was the only way out of the cargo hold, the exit door to the hold was too narrow to lift the body through)
Kaufman preferred early morning and late afternoon shooting. It gave him natural light sources such as soft shadows and dimly lit objects would be better the black and white hues in the film stock.
Clear days were better for Kaufman to create the films distant shots because the natural light and distance would smooth over the harsher edges of the object, but clear days were far and few between during the short time that the crew was in Hoboken. Conversely, Kaufman preferred cloudy days to shot the actors close up, when the defused lighting would better bring across the actors features.
Although the camera work is one of the key elements to films success
It’s presence in such abbreviated form shows that it has been given short shrift, along with makeup, lighting, and costume design.
Kazan stressed actors-on-screen over camera work, he wanted the actors work to be the center of the film, not Kaufman’s camera angles, as a result, while there is some wonderful camera work by Kaufman, intense close up’s or dramatic long shots are rare. The most frequent shot in the film are two-shot angles (Two actors in one shot at midrange) or in wider shots to show the characters positioning which Kazan used show the dynamics of the waterfront hierarchy. Johnny Friendly is usually shown in alone with his men in the background. As the film progresses, Terry Malloy, who is at first shot close to Friendly and his men, is gradually (starting with his condemnation to the cargo holds by Friendly for missing Kayo Duggan’s testimony) between the Friendly gang and the longshoremen.
Waterfront’s Art and Set Director was Canadian Richard Day, who had begun his film career in 1918 under the director Erich von Stroheim and would win, in the total of his career, seven Oscars for art direction and set design. Day’s cathedral alter set for the 1928 film, The Wedding March, was so beautiful that the films cinematographer Hal Mohr, asked that it be kept up after filming so he could use the set for his own wedding. Day had worked with Kazan on Streetcar but in his work on Waterfront, he created and discovered locations that captured the psychological and physical needs of the film. In Day’s locations, after working closely with Boris Kaufman and Kazan, the city is confined in fences and walls and as a result, the charters are confined, their city is a dingy, dangerous place filled with threatening alleyways, crowded spaces and lights that pierce and blind the cast and the viewer. Space is intruded upon by fog and steam engulfs the streets and set the tone for the characters state of mind. The Hoboken Day delivers sees Manhattan across the river as almost a golden city far beyond the reach of these mere longshoremen who exist in near poverty and filth. Almost all of Kaufman’s distant shots are of an open space (And usually aerial) from the rooftop of Terry’s apartment house. Those shot, always leaving a romantic image, suggest escape if only temporary, from the problems on the dirty streets below.