The Kubrick Experience – The Killing and Paths of Glory

28 Feb

I feel like the best way to start my blogs about film would be on the films of Stanley Kubrick. In my eyes, he is the best film maker to ever live. Sure, this is up for debate, but his style and themes resonate with me stronger than any other. I will be going through most of his films starting from the earliest up to his last film, “Eyes Wide Shut.”

To begin, the film that really kicked off his career and brought him recognition among the eyes of the elite film community is his 1956 noir film, “The Killing.” At the time, this film was groundbreaking, if not a little misunderstood. What is so striking about it is the film’s narrative structure. It was not uncommon for noir films to tell it’s story though flashbacks. In fact, almost the entire narrative of Robert Siodmak’s 1946 film, “The Killers”, is told through flashback. In this way it can be observed that noir films do not have to be linear.

This is the case for “The Killing” but the “flashbacks” can not be recognized in the traditional sense. The robbery at the race track does not take up a lot of time in the universe of the film, but in our universe, it takes up most of the film. Kubrick goes through each of the robber’s objectives one at a time, while at the same time, overlapping these stories as the objectives themselves overlap. This lets the audience see the story from all different angles and piece together what happens for yourself. Interestingly enough, this film inspired Quentin Tarantino greatly through the style of its non linear storytelling and overlapping characters, which he would implement in “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction.”

Kubrick makes a very large jump in genre from noir to his 1957 war drama, “Paths of Glory” starring Kirk Douglas. It can easily be said that this is a court room drama just as much as it is a war drama. What really strikes me about this film is not only the strong emotional impact concerning mortality, but the camera work that seemed ahead of its time. An excellent shot in the film is when the wrongly accused soldiers, Lt. Roget and Pvts. Ferol and Arnaud, are being walked to their execution posts. This scene implements a Kubrick style that would be seen in many other films of his. This would be the tracking shot. The tracking shot is both smooth and haunting as we track both the accused and the posts getting closer and closer. My favorite scene also uses this. Col. Dax is tracked from the front through the trenches before battle. We also see tracking shots from his POV where all of the soldiers can be observed.

The courtroom scene also implements great usage of wide angle lenses. There are moments when we can see the whole courtroom or there are tracking shots from behind the accused and great depth of field is shown on Dax and the elite soldiers. There also wide angle lenses used for close up that distort the image yet still show great depth of field in the courtroom. This technique seemed ahead of its time and highly original.

The thematic impact of this movie hits deeply concerning mortality and fate being put out of your own reach. The three accused soldiers’ power over their own lives are suddenly yanked from under their feet and placed into the shoulders of Col. Dax. This would be difficult for both parties. One party has to deal with how they will spend their last hours and what is facing them after death. Kubrick incorporates the argument of faith vs atheism when the priest comes to hear the final confessions of the soldiers. Dax also has to deal with the grandiose responsibility of saving the lives of three men. It is an almost impossible task and if he fails he will be faced with an extraordinary amount of guilt.

This is the first part of The Kubrick Experience series. My next post in this series will cover “Spartacus” and “Lolita.”

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