On the Waterfront

Was watching On the Waterfront and when Terry Malloy fesses up to Edie (he didn’t know they were gonna knock him off, he says) there is a helluva racket in the background, a huge clattering pounding. It’s a steam pile driver, and I remember seeing one in downtown Milwaukee thirty years ago. One of the loudest sounds I have ever heard, huge bangs amplified off tall buildings. Almost painful. You had to shout to be heard. I remember being startled at the volume, but the locals didn’t seem to notice. They used to build those monsters in Milwaukee and I suppose they were part of the scenery. No one ever said the industrial revolution was quiet.

Anyway, here’s one in upstate Wisconsin somewhere, at a fair. It’s loud, but it’s hammering wood, not steel. You want to hear it slam steel. You won’t forget it. A clang like the gods themselves, almost.

OK, this was an essay about On the Waterfront and I didn’t even write about On the Waterfront. Instead I wrote about something Terry Malloy might have talked about. Method writing, I guess.

A picture may be worth a thousand words and all that, but it doesn't make a sound. Without the incredible harbor racket in this scene, the scream of the tugs, the shrieking steam blown off by giant harbor rigs and and especially that pounding, slamming, clanging incessant pile driver, you don't feel the claustrophobia at all.

A picture may be worth a thousand words and all that, but it doesn’t make a sound. Without the incredible harbor racket in this scene, the scream of the tugs or the shriek of steam blown off by giant harbor rigs, and especially that pounding, slamming, clanging incessant pile driver, you don’t feel the claustrophobia at all. You can’t tell at all how trapped these two are. You can’t tell anything at all. It’s mute.

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