Be The Kazan Who Directed On The Waterfront

I’ve seen every movie directed by Elia Kazan. I’ve even read a good amount of his autobiography. I don’t recommend it.

I learned this: the more you force yourself into your storytelling the more cringe-worthy the result.

Elia Kazan will no doubt be long considered a prolific director, both on the stage and the big screen. It’s important to distinguish the difference between the art and the artist and judge them separately. After studying Kazan, I personally dislike him, but that doesn’t stop me from loving, what I would call, the masterpiece that is On The Waterfront.


His mastery is evident in his well-known film A Streetcar Named Desire; his zenith was On the Waterfront, and his quick descent is almost painful to watch with Wild River and onward with the bottom of the barrel being The Arrangement.

I know nothing of directing.
But directing was Kazan’s main form of storytelling.

Over the course of Kazan’s career as a director he truly mastered the field. He learned not only technique, but also what to compromise and what to fight for. His best work is when he paid attention to every aspect of making a film, with his ideals in the background.

He began to fail when he asserted too much of himself into his work and it overcame the film itself.

As a writer I can learn a lot from him. Specifically, not to force myself into my stories, but let them resonate in the background. They might be interrupted differently than I would want, but the purpose of writing isn’t to sell your ideology.

Let me say that again. The purpose of writing isn’t to sell your ideology obviously. We can be sly about it.

If the writer is trying to sell you a thought like a door to door sells man, it never goes over well.

When I first started writing I would start with my “point” and try to write a story around it. They never turned out any good because of how forced they were. We can’t force an opinion to be heard.

If you have to force it, it doesn’t belong.

Kazan didn’t force himself into On The Waterfront. Oh, he’s there, but it’s subtle and it makes sense. What came after was his need to infringe upon the plot. To emphasize his point. He wanted to paint the picture and tell us what it meant. Because of it his films were lacking and his career dropped.

8 thoughts on “Be The Kazan Who Directed On The Waterfront

  1. This makes so much sense. As a writer, I do the same thing: state a point and then try to further explain it. Literature is so much better when it allows the reader breathing room to ask questions. Truly love this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve provided some useful wisdom here. Thanks.

    Two thoughts:
    1) I read somewhere recently, maybe even on some WordPress blog: Fiction opens the mind to suggestion.
    2) One’s own ideology, if it’s strong enough, can’t help but infiltrate your work, don’t you think?

    That first paraquote: Fiction opens the mind to suggestion is such a massive idea it really deserves an entire post on its own. But briefly, to ensure we’re all swimming synchronously, as one must adopt certain un-truths while reading fiction, that is, one must suspend disbelief, this mental process cracks the mind’s door open to suggestion. And through this crack an author can, as you say, be sly about their persuasive ideas.

    On the other hand, I’ve written two novels now that I couldn’t help but allow my personal ideals to invade (infest, pollute?) And I would have to say that to do otherwise would have been most difficult. But, I was subtle, never overt, but by having the main character adopt much of my own philosophies, my subliminal suggestions undoubtedly filtered through.


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    • I think having characters adopt your own philosophies is pretty normal. I think it’s how you do it that matters.

      The reason I hate Hallmark movies is because of the predictability. They have the same formula for making a movie, and you have no room to interrupt anything. That example is a little different, but if you are familiar with Hallmark at all you’ll no there’s nothing subtle in their movies.

      Have you ever read Bleak House? Or any Dickens really.
      Charles Dickens was really great at showing how society was during his time, but when reading his novels you don’t see his idea of what is right or wrong. At the end of the novel you wouldn’t be able to say with surety, “Dickens thought this was bad.” He presents information and characters and you make your own judgements. No doubt his beliefs are there, but he allows you to come to the conclusions yourself.

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      • Oh, Dickens doesn’t come across to me as subtle. I would be shocked to learn if he did not loathe the oligarchs of his time.
        Hallmark movies serve to placate the masses — those who know how to use electricity and a credit card at least. We all tend to believe that the world *must* be similar to ourselves (at least our western world). And we get confused when people behave like vacant fools. Well, the fact is, they probably ARE vacant fools. The continuum of human intelligence shows us that those below the peak of the curve rarely get taken into account. If your IQ is 120 then know that there is an 80 to mirror you out in the world. And that 80 probably enjoys watching Hallmark movies.

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      • Dickens wasn’t subtle in his material, but while I read Bleak House I never felt that his opinion drove the story forward. He gave the reader information and we were able to come to the conclusion.

        The older I get the more I see the world divided into two. The class of people who reach for intelligence and the other who are happily simple. I don’t necessarily get confused when people act like vacant fools, I think I get more annoyed that they are happy to be vacant fools.

        And now I feel like an elitist. lol.

        Liked by 1 person

      • So the confusion I alluded to was more akin to befuddlement or perplexing. It wasn’t until recently that I began to understand the intelligence continuum. “Can’t everyone at least understand the world as I see it?” I used to think. No, No they can’t. They are, in fact, mentally incapable. This may help: .

        Elitist? A member of an elite crowd – for sure.

        And happy and stupid may just be an enviable condition. desertcurmudgeon, thecovertblog and George F. have all recently posted thoughts on this subject.

        Liked by 1 person

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