DRAWING ON THE WATERFRONT

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You can almost hear Leonard Bernstein’s jazz score in this conceptual illustration by Richard Day for the 1954 classic, On the Waterfront, which will screen at the Academy on June 6 with special guest Eva Marie Saint.  Working from the script, Day’s exploration of the film’s scenic design is a road map to its overall mood and look. The air seems thick the road appears to shimmer from a recent rain and occupying the foreground is the film’s central figure, Terry Malloy, played by Marlon Brando. His red jacket contrasts with the background and echoes the angry sky.

Day’s career was long and illustrious, beginning with uncredited work for Erich von Stroheim in the silent era. Throughout, he worked on diverse projects creating modern set pieces for films such as Dodsworth (1936), romantic environs for Hans Christian Anderson (1952) and gritty realism for On the Waterfront

Day’s skills were legendary. Over the course of his career he received twenty Academy Award nominations and won seven times, twice with On the Waterfront’s director, Elia Kazan. Their first collaboration was on A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), which was largely shot on soundstages at Warner Bros. studio.  By contrast, On the Waterfront was filmed mostly on location in and around Hoboken, New Jersey. The city’s undeveloped waterfront and local politics flavored Day’s design, which was enhanced by Boris Kaufman’s cinematography. The overall impact is a place of squalor, graft and grit, a place, in the colorful words of Johnny Friendly, with “the fattest piers and the fattest harbor in the world.”

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