One can scarce enter into a conversation about the greatest directors of all time without the name ‘Kubrick’ being mentioned. Indeed, his very name has become synonymous with an excellence derived from meticulous attention to detail and a willingness to push the boundaries of cinema. I’m going to stop right there however, as to continue to spout adjectives in the hope of describing a man I have never met seems like a fruitless pursuit. Besides, many other writers have gone before me and have produced exhaustively interesting material that I, as a lowly film fan and not a Kubrick historian, cannot hope to rival. Even now a copy of The Complete Kubrick by David Hughes sits on my desk, the front cover emblazoned with a photo of Stanley himself giving me what appears to be a ‘don’t even bother’ glare. Duly noted, Mr. Kubrick.
With that in mind it seems fitting to look past the man and to the motion pictures that he left as his enduring legacy. Kubrick’s filmography is one that spans almost half a century in time and while not being especially numerous it manages to encompass a vast range of genres and ideas. I have yet to see all of the films that he made, but what interests me is that each film I have seen has made an impact on me, be it great or small, and that is one of the factors that allows me to declare that whatever has been said about him, he truly was a great film-maker. In the following series of blog posts I am going to undertake a personal journey through the filmography of Stanley Kubrick, from beginning to end – my very own odyssey. I will be revisiting some films and encountering some for the very first time, focusing on what they mean to me as someone who harbours a passion for cinema.
So without further ado, let us begin.
Day of the Fight (1951)
Kubrick’s first directorial effort came when he was working as a photographer in New York for Look Magazine and like all the short films discussed here at the start of Kubrick’s career, it is a short documentary film. It follows the middleweight boxer, Walter Cartier through one day of his life as he prepares for an evening match-up against Bobby James.
It’s a fairly interesting documentary that seeks to show the human side behind the sanitized brutality viewed by the crowds at the boxing match, and to this end it succeeds. What sticks in my mind about this short film is the varied shots that Kubrick uses, particularly in the fight itself, to heighten the drama – the lasting image being a shot from the surface of the canvas looking up at the two boxers as they engage. Also worthy of note is the lighting in the dressing room which effectively uses shadow to create a sense of anticipation.
Flying Padre (1951)
The next subject that Kubrick documented seems on paper (for myself at least) a lot more interesting. In this short we follow Father Fred Stadtmuller, a Catholic Priest who uses his Piper Cub aircraft to take care of eleven churches dotted over a large area in New Mexico.
Despite this, I found Flying Padre to be much less dynamic than Day of the Fight which was closer to being a human interest piece and therefore closer to achieving even the smallest emotional connection with the audience. Overall it’s quite dull but positively riveting when compared to Kubrick’s next directorial job…
The Seafarers (1953)
In need of funds to complete his first feature film, Kubrick took a job directing what essentially boils down to an advert for the Seafarers International Union. Anything interesting about it? Well, it’s in colour, but beyond that it is as dull as dishwater and at 29 minutes long I can think of many other things that I’d rather watch. It’s harsh to criticise Kubrick here though seeing as this was just a means to an end, but there really is no point in watching this unless you’re a Kubrick completionist.
Finally, what impact do these films have on me?
Honestly, not a lot. They are documentary shorts after all, designed to be more informative than emotive or metaphorical, and trying to derive a message from them would be silly…especially since Stanley himself called at least one of them ‘silly’ too. They do however show the early signs of Kubrick’s emerging talent and I guess what I draw from them is that even the greats have to cut their teeth on small projects. There’s still hope for those of us with ideas.
That’s the intro done with. Next time on my personal Kubrickian journey, I look at his feature film début – Fear and Desire.