Day of the Fight
The significance of this Pathe newsreel (“This Is America”) in Kubrick’s œuvre can be shown by its direct relationship in formal structure and cinematic intent to Full Metal Jacket. The prelude gives a completely remote view of the Fancy (cp. Marjorie Baumgarten’s Austin Chronicle review of the later film), the main body speculates on the quotidian reality of a boxer and watches his metamorphosis into the professional man shortly before a 10 p.m. fight.
A certain relation to Spartacus will be noted almost at once.
Kubrick’s second film is an RKO-Pathe Screenliner on the dual plan of his Biblical epic 2001: A Space Odyssey. A ranch hand’s funeral and a sick baby are the events in this eight-minute documentary depiction of a priest in New Mexico who tends the sheep of his flock with a small one-engine plane.
Fear and Desire
“Come on outta yer tents, ya half-witted cannibals!”
A resemblance to Coppola's Apocalypse Now (and Wayne’s The Green Berets) will be noted.
The simple movements described in the title are produced by crashing a plane behind enemy lines, and then discovering a general’s headquarters there.
Screenplay by Howard Sackler, score by Gerald Fried, great film, shot on a dime.
A highly competent film promotion for the Seafarers International Union, shot in color by Kubrick himself behind the camera, and exhibiting the groundwork to some extent for Paths of Glory (especially the last scene) and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Frend’s ship departure in Scott of the Antarctic is the most obvious link, also the general sense of magnitude given by the sequence in union headquarters with its efficiency and provision for the men, who are seen at a meeting.
Kubrick opens with rope spinning along a pulley like this reel of film. The specific nature of the assignment has a relation to Spartacus, while on the other hand it prepares a ready quotation from On the Waterfront in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Don Hollenbeck, who resembles the mission control spokesman in the latter film, addresses the camera as he cites Joseph Conrad at the start of his voiceover narration, “the true peace of God begins at any spot a thousand miles from land...”
Kubrick waited so long for recognition of Fear and Desire that he repudiated it, his next feature opens on a fighter in Penn Station waiting and recounting in his mind how he came to be there, a story very like Fear and Desire in a number of ways.
There are touching details, the gyps who steal his white scarf in Times Square, the rooftop he circumnavigates trying to get down, the workshop full of female dummies, Vinnie’s offer to take the girl anywhere, “London, Paris, Sicily.”
The boxer and the dame live across the way from each other. He goes down the subway for a fight, she’s picked up by her boss in a convertible.
The boxer loses to Kid Rodriguez. The dame and her boss make out after the television broadcast.
The boxer and the dame strike up a friendship, then a romance. She works at a Times Square dance hall.
Her boss’s hoods beat the wrong guy to death, the boxer’s manager, and kidnap the dame.
The boxer rescues her, is pursued across rooftops and into a mannequin factory, where the dame’s boss swings a fire axe at him. A window-opener on a long handle, resembling a pike, answers this (Fuller’s Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street might be a memory).
The boxer and the dame meet at Penn Station for his uncle’s horse ranch.
The glass-jawed Washington farmboy’s call from home is repeated in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and his nightmare as well.
The story of the ballerina denied her career is parodied in Lolita.
The extremely swift and brutal fight in the loft is echoed in A Clockwork Orange, where the milk bar is another recollection.
A poem and a proverb.
You praise the firm restraint with which they write—
I’m with you there, of course:
They use the snaffle and the curb all right,
But where’s the bloody horse?
“Make the doors upon a woman’s wit and it will out at the casement; shut that and ‘twill out at the key-hole; stop that, ‘twill fly with the smoke out at the chimney.”
This breaks down into the parrot and the poodle, or why crime does not pay (the sharpshooter’s puppy is another factor in the complicated equation).
Paths of Glory
The point, which rather escaped young Truffaut the critic, is that cowardice and contempt and cant sort well together indeed and make a blinding apparatus that is only with difficulty seen through, especially under wartime conditions.
The repetitious general in the first trench scene is from Huston’s The Red Badge of Courage.
Subsequent analyses include Losey’s King & Country for enemy action identified as the cause, and Attenborough’s Oh! What a Lovely War for the British general staff (Kubrick’s film is laid in France, “pour encourager les autres”).
Halliwell’s Film Guide comments strangely, “chiefly depicting the corruption and incompetence of the high command; the plight of the soldiers is less interesting.”
The song is “Der treuer Husar” (cp. Fuller’s Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street).
Gladiators fight in pairs, it’s a slave sport to entertain princes and the rabble alike.
The theme is perceptible throughout Kubrick’s œuvre, from first to last.
The complexity of form comes from the multiplicity of sources and angles, Julius Caesar and the Gospels (Gracchus’ temple sacrifice), Griffith (The Birth of a Nation) and DeMille (The Ten Commandments), the complicated political situation (patricians and plebeians), the Republic becoming an Empire, and the very premise of the work, slavery fought against in the century before Christ and “two thousand years before its end” (Capra’s Meet John Doe is a major precedent).
This is the major obstacle to proper criticism.
This production was evidently devised for Anthony Mann (the opening scene resembles One-Eyed Jacks, a similar case), and Kirk Douglas’s decision to hire Kubrick was an inspiration. Whatever freedoms Mann might have carved out for himself on those sets, Kubrick allows you to imagine for yourself. Several times there’s a notable Kubrick shot, as when the female slaves are introduced to the gladiator cells in a long shot craning down to the lower level foreground. Mostly there are rare subtleties, like the sudden POV after Peter Ustinov dismounts in his first scene, or a little later as he returns home and the camera pans 180° to show his gladiator school.
A Kubrick film is built from the ground up, so Kubrick’s working method is exposed here inadvertently but also, one might think, willingly, to give a mark of his integrity. Anyway, the method is fascinating to watch. The casting has a large part to play, as wonderful pairings are made of Ustinov and Charles Laughton, Laughton and Olivier, Olivier and John Hoyt, etc. Tony Curtis does a symbolic magic trick, breaking live birds out of prestidigitated eggshells, with a significant echo of his performance in Houdini a few years earlier.
Restorations are an iffy thing, but Spartacus was emasculated before its premiere by having its linchpin removed, namely the scene in which Crassus makes overtures to Antoninus. As the whole film turns on Olivier’s performance, and that in turn hinges on this crucial scene, the whole thing fell very flat in a way, and seemed to be a parable on the decadence of Rome.
The scene is important because it shows Crassus in command of himself, a man of sharp reasoning who distinguishes between his tastes and his appetites, and it prepares the decisive scene which follows, where he tells Antoninus his vision of Rome as a female to be served, etc. But Antoninus has gone to join up with Spartacus, and Crassus is forced to laugh rather painfully.
From then on, as Crassus advances his “new order of affairs” and moves closer to the center of power, quelling the Senate etc., he begins to dissolve into something of a parody of the feminine idol he worships. This is one of Olivier’s finest achievements, and one would think that seeing it butchered must have been a setback for a time (but this was also the year of The Entertainer).
The vision of antiquity as brutish in the extreme (much of the décor in the first part resembles the barred and dour world we’ve come to know) and intellectually realistic (as reflected in the portrait busts we’ve all seen) is an ad hoc application of technique by Kubrick to his quandary. He has Viva Zapata! and Henry V and The Hunchback of Notre Dame and so forth as points of reference. He has an ace up his sleeve, the final scene repaying all his close-ups of extras (and this is where queries as to the producer’s or the screenwriter’s intentions should be directed, in the final analysis). He’s also, in a strange sense, liberated by his enforced aloofness, which not only keeps him thinking all the time of angles into the material, it starts him freshly thinking of some approaches to such scenes as Spartacus and Varinia having their first laugh.
The essence of the conception is a good one, the idea of being in strange surroundings or situations and not knowing how to behave (Norman Mailer’s definition of an identity crisis). It puts Kubrick right in the picture, it will serve as a simulacrum of antiquity’s fatalism, and it slides the drama along very nicely indeed.
Probably all this very activity brought Kubrick to another way of thinking about films. Certainly the “Dawn of Man” sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey is a collapsed rendering of Spartacus (as the revolt begins, Douglas wields a club like a hominid), and the later film is entirely built up out of many other films.
Spartacus is enormously influential, by the same token. Nevada Smith, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Khartoum, and countless other films have an echo of it. Bondarchuk’s Waterloo emulates the grand tactical maneuvers. The last shot comes from The Third Man, and goes to The Devils.
Alex North shows what you can do with a really beautiful theme (made with a hint of modality). A hymn to republican virtue in the days of empire, by way of President John Adams on paving the way for the young.
America, or “the romantic novel”, or “the English language”, you know it, last seen Dolly Schiller.
Kubrick’s surprisingly useful analysis is by way of Lang’s Scarlet Street, this gives him Humbert writing in the bathroom, for example. The other arrow in the quiver is slapstick comedy, between them are the realms of deadpan, by these means the novel is situated very precisely on the screen (“the censor’s filthy synecdoche” is not at work, the images of a film director convey what is missing).
Clare Quilty, the sham of art, happens to be little Lolita’s idea of a genius. Dr. Zempf is a curious compendium of “Viennese quackery” and American progressive education, underperformed by the truculently smug fraud. The Hunted Enchanters gives a view of technical mastery backstage, the main effort is in achieving the loftiest heights of comedy amid the trappings of a tragic, dark fairy-tale that begins and ends with the death of a giant in his castle, fallen behind the portrait of a lady, perforated.
The death of Charlotte is from Crabtree’s They Were Sisters, a Gainsborough Picture, with James Mason.
“The divine Edgar.”
or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Kubrick has no use for the Cold War, that’s for sure. It is, naturally, a British position. Therein lies the comedy.
Ken Russell’s Billion Dollar Brain has a similar idea.
Paths of Glory, of course. A military problem.
Adlai Stevenson is the President, Terry-Thomas an RAF group captain under Gen. Jack D. Ripper (insane), and Dr. Henry Kissinger a presidential advisor, reasonable facsimiles thereof.
The problem with nuclear warfare is there’s no future in it, despite a fantastic plan for survival from Dr. Merkwürdigliebe.
2001: A Space Odyssey
A concert of Ligeti. Zarathustra’s sunrise.
The straight line not in nature is introduced among proto-ancestors, they strike as men of war, four million years ago. The same continuation of thought yields an intermediate step to Clavius Base on the moon, that same line indicating further transports “and such a long journey.”
The greatest work achieved in the cinema.
The history of Kubrick’s labors has been told, including the lighting calculations he devised with Unsworth, all of which makes for a sort of objective correlative with inevitable reference to the actual film itself. On the other hand, the film from which such accounts can more or less be extrapolated is itself actually constructed by means of certain large indices that may be cited. De Mille’s second version of The Ten Commandments is an overall inspiration in its magnitudes, process shots, rigorous sense of precision and technical manifestations. Stevens’ The Greatest Story Ever Told is a close precedent for landscape and light. Two concurrent films share the theme in one or more aspects, Preminger’s Skidoo for the Law and conversion, Altman’s Countdown for the civilian prevenience (Astronaut Poole boxes his way along the circular floor, Astronaut Bowman draws pictures of the hibernating survey crew). There is a general thematic resemblance to Paths of Glory, Spartacus and Dr. Strangelove.
King Vidor’s Solomon and Sheba gives very strongly this significantly understated theme, King David chooses of his two selves, “soldier and poet”, Solomon to succeed him.
Entire sequences will be seen to have been modeled on precedents. The death of Poole with its beautiful abstraction of the Pietà (cf. Hitchcock’s Topaz for this) has a mainstay of inspiration in Kazan’s On the Waterfront (the death of Charley). The “new heaven and new earth” revealed to Bowman are mainly composed of the raid in LeRoy’s Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (the cockpit view), and for the reverse shot of the astronaut observing this (partly from Hitchcock’s The Birds), the nightmare funeral procession in Dreyer’s Vampyr seen from a windowed coffin.
In the largest sense, Charles Frend’s Scott of the Antarctic is a major stylistic influence. The departure of the Terra Nova (for the earlier Discovery), the score by Vaughan Williams, the significant lettering of the poetic titles (such as “The Return of the Sun”), the representation of a heroic enterprise and its cruel ironies all have their place. Kubrick’s titles and credits have a lineage also in their rhythm visible through Preminger’s The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell to Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons and Citizen Kane.
The masterpiece of style that is 2001: A Space Odyssey is more than the sum of its props said to have passed individually without exception across Kubrick’s desk and into his hands for approval. Godard’s Alphaville lays a foundation for the screenplay that cannot be overstated.
The major analysis pertains to Haskin’s Conquest of Space, from Pichel’s Destination Moon, from Lang’s Frau im Mond.
Kael’s criticism typically ignores the discourse of the film, which in the many details of Dr. Floyd’s travels to space station and Clavius expresses a whole range of civilized understanding, amongst which is most assuredly Goethe’s “Ewig-Weibliche”.
The curious lozenge shapes before the “mansion prepared” are an invention of Oskar Fischinger’s dating from paintings in 1940, Fischinger who worked at M-G-M for a time.
Donald Judd, in certain of his sculptures, has a sense (rhythmic again) of the disconnected Logic Memory Center.
The Cinerama print is very much to be preferred. Kubrick’s film expresses the entire Bible from first page to last as two movements. The first, treated as a prologue in necessary deference to Huston’s film, describes the coming of the Law. The second, more expansive and constituting the main body of the film, finds with St. Paul that “the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law”. It concludes with the necessary item, a complete rebirth from the old man.
The Old Testament and the New, achieved as representational incorporations of basic readings. Kubrick’s mighty labors on this film surpass those of any other director, not merely in the rigor and range of his setups and scenic constructions, but in the mammoth scope and precision of his principal cinematic models.
A Clockwork Orange
Liberals and Conservatives on the juvenile delinquency problem (the essence of which is Losey’s These Are the Damned, still more, Gilbert’s Cosh Boy).
Teddy boys wreak havoc on the former and are addressed by the latter, there is a backlash, Cons take the Teds under their wing.
The parody of 2001: A Space Odyssey provides a main structure and a certain levity necessary to this tale of “surprising conversions” and redemption on the plane of Bergman’s “religion devoid of emotionalism”. Elliptical divisions keep back a proper evaluation of each dramatic increment, this is a counter in speed to the static ordering of the scenes individually, rapidity and depth are the two combined effects overall.
The photographic element is more directly involved by dint of a severity of camera treatment from Wyler’s Carrie, and a forthrightness of lighting from Andrew L. Stone’s The Secret of My Success (in the dining-room sequence, the initial throw-lighting is shown by Kubrick laterally as Caravaggio left-to-right chiaroscuro, then the source is revealed as a row of decorative light globes at the original camera position).
The experimental serum (“No. 114”) is related however laconically to the medicament (“Formula 9”) served up at the Neuropsychiatric Clinic in Fernandez’ Cuando levanta la niebla.
An XVIIIth-century rogue and chevalier d’industrie, Irish to be sure, photographed according to the period.
One of the functions of the close shots that zoom out slowly to extreme long shots is to show that natural lighting is being used. This obtains by extenuation in all day interiors (no sets, all filmed on location), candlelight is the night resource, famously.
A picaresque tragedy, The Irishman Abroad (Part I). A Garrick Shakespeare (Part II).
Every means available to man, artist or angel is employed to arrogate the filming in the general direction of contemporary pictures. Quotation is not so much the key, as in Lewin’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray, nor composed evocation as in Florey’s Outpost in Morocco, rather perhaps a floating representation of the visual phenomenon in any aspect naturally available, within a coach that drives through endless farmland, for example, the famous view of fountain terrace overlooking the river and symbolizing it expressively, images that are pictures (or sculpture, evoked in the Army fistfight), avenues toward pictures and away, the congruent reality of a present with its works and days.
Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons are effectively cited to give Welles and his myth a beautiful speculation (another obtains from Gone with the Wind). Donner’s Twinky is remembered in the schoolroom quarrel (the American theme is lightly sketched). The scrimmage in Accident as “Lords, Dukes and Generals” pile on Barry in the music room.
The general line of criticism at the time was that, as Time or Newsweek put it, your nephew Willy could do as well with that much money. This was later amended to read, “beautiful, senseless pictures”.
But the essence of any film is cinema, the eighteenth-century line is exposed when two heads meet in a kiss. As for the drama, the élan of the character springs him to his new heights, his fall is the passing of a nightmare.
The pictures are constituents of the drama, which is itself a carefully exact and beautiful rendering.
It will be seen that the two parts are a mirror, Captain Quin in Ireland, Barry in England. Kubrick omits, for artistic discretion’s sake, Lord Bullingdon in America, but the parallel to Barry on the Continent is tacit.
The structural classifications of Part I are the more surreal and difficult, in that they harbor a jest put forth in sometimes or even essentially equivocal language. Quin in Ireland catapults Barry away, but who is robbed by the highwaymen, father and son? Barry of his mother’s fortune, to be sure, but Quin’s career is also set forth in this, Nora’s family secure his wedding to restore their fortunes, he is abroad like Barry in France (the Seven Years War), perhaps shifts his loyalty to an ally (the Prussians) and, in the most complicated pirouette, is a double agent for the police and a card-sharper.
In Part II, this becomes a reflection on money-belted earls, and so the argument is circular. Thus the striking, emphatic and inescapable likeness of the child Bullingdon to his stepfather Barry.
Kubrick’s dramaturgy is skillfully applied at once in Barry’s father (a promising lawyer killed in a duel) and mother (refusing all suitors to tend her son and her “departed saint”), the manner of filming is exact and expressive, following on the gag lines of Lolita, etc. (Charlotte and Humbert are Potzdorf’s choice to Barry at the inn), and also in the following scene with cousin Nora, his first mistress. But in the circular structure, she is Lady Lyndon, Barry is her first husband, he who “found the riband”.
Jack’s Hitlerian gesticulations in the famous “baseball bat” scene identify the character as a failed artist turned tyrant, and make plain the significance of the earlier “tragedy” in Room 237.
Danny and “Tony” are the archetype of inspiration, and with Dick Halloran the head chef (who shares the gift) are the adversary and “outside party” sought for destruction.
Kubrick’s trench shots from Paths of Glory have been noted, overall there is a marked resemblance to several aspects of 2001: A Space Odyssey (the helicopter shots at the opening, the peculiar conversational tone in Ullman’s office, Halloran on his bed in close-up, Grady’s voice through the door, Wendy’s reaction shot after the final “bloodbath”, etc.).
Full Metal Jacket
These are the troops, you’ll remember, who took Burpelson Air Force Base in Dr. Strangelove.
“The full armor of God,” thus related to Altman’s MASH (“putting our soldiers back together”).
Abstractly, the formation of a soldier. Boot camp brings the symbolic end of Gomer Pyle and the D.I. after graduation (cf. Eastwood’s Heartbreak Ridge on the freely-moving Marine). Still green, however (and with direct reference to Wayne’s The Green Berets), the experience of combat is necessary for the fulfillment of his training.
This second part depends on the formulation established by Kubrick and Lang in Paths of Glory and Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse.
The woven formal strands include, very significantly, Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels for the overall structure and the Mickey Mouse Club.
Pyle’s lunatic stare (from A Clockwork Orange and The Shining) is a shortcut definition of what the D.I. calls a “non-hacker”, i.e., one who cannot make the grade.
Webb’s film is sufficiently analyzed by Kubrick.
The squad leader is winnowed from Touchdown (“played ball for Notre Dame”) to Crazy Earl and his fanciful fraternization, then to indecisive Cowboy and finally Animal Mother, the vigorous soldier.
The soldier’s prayer is for peace, cp. Rousseau’s painting La Guerre.
This is in contradistinction as an abstract exercise both to Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Stone’s Platoon, not in argument.
The naive experiences of Joker and Rafterman (the doorgunner, the NVA massacre, the TV interviews) turn to immediate fight at the Perfume River, airsick Rafterman the combat photographer becomes a man of arms, Joker finds no humor in the sniper’s sad end.
Amid the fires of hell or Hue by night, they sing the song of fellowship and good cheer.
A film of subtle distinctions, the TV interviews are uninspired performances, the printed press is somewhat more creative in its approach.
The main force of work has gone into the screenplay, which thus benefits unusually from close scrutiny. The secondary effect of painstaking filming is to produce an unobtrusive evenness and nonchalance to which the Steadicam adds a fluid ease, this belying the intricate structure but speeding the form.
The draft screenplay added the death of Joker intercut with eight-year-old Joker miming death, but the resemblance to Lumet’s Bye Bye Braverman was too close, perhaps.
A superb analysis by Frankenheimer can be found in Ronin.
The influence of Peckinpah will have been observed in the firefight against the sniper.
Eyes Wide Shut
A full-scale analysis of The Shining, two girls, nude, mask, Gold Room, etc.
It is provided with a happy ending.
The absurd scandal over Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata II, a simple seventh study, is nothing compared to the digital censorship applied to the American version.