Thursday, June 16, 2005

Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick)

I'm still not sure what I think of Kubrick, except that he's overrated by his admirers and underrated by his detractors. Whatever my mixed feelings, I admire a handful of his films greatly, especially the pair of films from the mid-1950's co-scripted by Jim Thompson, The Killing and Paths of Glory. My problem with Kubrick is that his films seem so over-thought and over-prepared. He's a perfectionist, and I'm not interested in perfection. Though ominously talented, Kubrick seems resistant to the accidents, changes of mind, and spontaneities the greatest artists are open to while they work. Still, his films look like no one else's and they (mostly) work. His duo of Thompson-scripted films excites me the most because they are filled with a lean, hungry urgency missing from his other work. Both films clock in at a fat-free ninety minutes and the camera glides through their claustrophobic spaces at an elegant, paranoid clip. Kubrick's perfectionism is tempered by both Thompson's jittery, direct prose and a couple of great performances from Timothy Carey. Kirk Douglas is wonderful in Paths of Glory, but compared to Carey, he seems held back by conventional methods of Hollywood acting. Carey, meanwhile, is a wild animal, a wounded beast who goes after his role like a defective lawnmower attacking a patch of weeds. He can't be contained in Kubrick's perfecto-frame, and almost functions as an auto-critique of the director's methods. He's the main reason to see the film, but there are a lot of lesser reasons as well, including the surprising and mysterious final moments and the unconventionally disturbing way Kubrick films trench warfare.

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