The 1954 drama On the Waterfront kicks off Film Forum's Elia Kazan series, running Oct. 9-29.
_________________________________ On the Waterfront is a masterpiece with an asterisk. The asterisk refers to the film's storyline. It's widely described as a self-justification by artists who gave the names of suspected Communists to the House Un-American Activities Committee during the witch hunts of the late 1940s and early 1950s. The most prominent of the informers was On the Waterfront's director, Elia Kazan.
In 1952, Kazan, already a famous and influential theater and film director, was pressured by HUAC to supply the names of colleagues suspected of Communist affiliation. After previously refusing to cooperate, Kazan eventually caved in and named names. From the instant he cooperated, Kazan's legacy was tarnished, and in some quarters negated, by his stool pigeon status. Though he expressed ambivalence and even outright remorse, he never officially apologized for the damage he inflicted. And he sometimes defended himself on the grounds that the American Communist Party's defense of Stalinist Russia's brutality was a greater sin than his decision to inform.
It seems strangely fitting, then, that On the Waterfront would prove to be Kazan's most compelling and durable film.
____________________________________ To view the essay on The L Magazine's web site, click here. To read an expanded transcript of the essay's narration, click here.