On the waterfront: 'Port' flawed, but still sails along nicely

January 11, 1993|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

Many Baltimore-area residents may live their entire lives with nary a reminder that Charm City functions as an international maritime center. But for others, the port of Baltimore dominates their working and social lives.

"Part of Locust Point is the waterfront, and the waterfront is Locust Point," says one patron of a local tavern in "Port Baltimore," a documentary premiering at 8 tonight on Maryland Public Television.

Although clearly a promotional vehicle, with underwriting from port-related firms and virtually no attention paid to the port's financial and labor difficulties, the hourlong production nevertheless offers a visually interesting slice-of-life portrait of waterfront jobs and the people who perform them.

"It's a pretty tight community that works on the waterfront," says one longshoreman. Another, a lineman who ties up ships, says, "I'm so glad I was raised on this job by my father and my uncle," pointing up the notion of the industry's family tradition.

"Port Baltimore" comes from local filmmakers Susan Hadary Cohen and Bill Whiteford, best known for a series of eloquent films on health and aging issues.

Mr. Whiteford, as cameraman, and their crew literally cover the waterfront, and well-beyond. Thus, audience members find themselves aboard ship bridges and inside hulls, on the decks of tall ships that visited Baltimore last summer, in the airport-like control tower that directs ships from the ocean into the Chesapeake Bay, in the control roosts of huge waterfront cranes and even in the cabs of trucks that deliver cargo to the port.

Throughout, voices of the working men and women on screen accompany the fascinating footage. So this is what goes on down there!

Viewers might wish for more detail to better establish places and people. The tall ships we see, for example, are never identified by name or nation.

And when cameras capture the rare sighting of a humpback whale, we do not get a clue what part of the Chesapeake Bay we are seeing. Above the Bay Bridge? Below? And when was this?

It seems a shame, too, that most of the individuals we meet are unnamed -- at least, beyond their colorful nicknames: "Little Ducky," "Pinhead," "Hard Crab," "Catfish," "Funnel."

Yet the film offers some remarkable insight into the way the port meshes with Baltimore life.

And in any number of shots, Baltimore's international role is confirmed, as ship transoms transposed against the city skyline carry such exotic ports of origin as Panama, Monrovia, Manila, Rungstad, Konigsberg and Haifa.

TELEVISION REVIEW

What: "Port Baltimore."

When: 8 p.m. tonight, 8 p.m. Saturday, 8:30 a.m. Sunday.

Where: MPT.

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