Thursday, 7 March 2019

Kubism, Prologue:
The Kubriquettes (1951-53)

Hey guys, welcome to another of my hugely original and trailblazing trawls through the career of a little-known filmmaker of whom I unjustifiably claim to have a much deeper and more meaningful understanding than you do! This time round the subject under discussion is a director called Stanley Kubrick, who you won't have heard of, but let me tell you he knows his directing onions. Present him with any random selection of onions and he would immediately know which were his directing ones. Or at least he would if he hadn't died, which I regret to inform you is exactly what happened 20 years ago today. Just as you'd found out about him, too :-(

Anyway enough about death and onions, let's talk films. The Brick made three short films and 13 features over his irritatingly short career, and I'll be fumbling my way through each of those in separate, semi-regular posts over the next one hundred years. It's only right that we should begin by investigating the infant's daubings that are his early non-fiction short films, what with them being chronologically first and all (more or less; Kubo made The Seafarers after his first feature, Fear And Desire, but it deserves to be lumped in with his other shorts). They're not very interesting I'm afraid, but I am a tedious completist and it only seems fair that you should suffer for that. OK? Great. Let's get Kubrickal!


Day Of The Fight (1951)
The Kubrick shorts, or Kubriquettes as they are widely referred to, are natural extensions of young Stan's career as a photojournalist for Look magazine. Day Of The Fight more so than the others, because he had in fact already told this story via the medium of still photography, which he used as a virtual storyboard for the doc. Following Walter Cartier (a professional boxer, although I am firmly of the opinion that the occupation should be renamed 'twatter') through a single day in the run-up to an important game of twatting, Kubrick shoots, edits and uses sound like he's making a crime drama. It's an itch he got to scratch properly with actual boxing-based crime drama Killer's Kiss two years later, but for now his style weighs its subject down with an appropriately oppressive ennui: a sense that the buildup to a twatting match is a tougher slog than the actual twatting itself.

Through his subject, Kubrick ponders the elliptical nature of time itself, which for Cartier expands unbearably when he's waiting for the twatting to begin and contracts dramatically once he's in the ring. The gaps between each of the film's time stamps gets increasingly shorter: a neat foreshadowing of the temporal manipulation seen in The Shining's gradually compressed narrative and in Spartacus' running time of approximately eight weeks. In fact there's a lot of the future Kubrick in Cartier's diligence, fastidiousness, preparation and dedication: over one shot of his twatting paraphernalia spread out on a bed, the narrator indicates that "his boxing gear has been carefully laid out", and it's hard to believe it wasn't the director himself who spent two hours arranging and lighting everything and 76 takes getting the right shot of it.

Cartier's patience and technique sees him through to victory as best twatter though, and Kubrick takes note of this route to success before embarking on his own wildly impressive career. First though, he had to prove something to himself, and to the world: that he was equally capable of farting out some painfully dull business about a priest in a plane.


Flying Padre (1951)
Challenging himself to make documentary gold out of the lustreless lead that is a vicar whose USP is that he can't be arsed to drive, Kubrick fails spectacularly. Here's a priest, he says, who gets about his ridiculously massive parish in a small plane, isn't that something? Well, Stanley love, no. Father Fred Stadtmueller is an instantly forgettable documentary subject, a man of the church who does churchly things like conducting funerals, chastising small children and ferrying poorly babies around in his airborne Godmobile. I'm sorry but if he isn't going to round off that funeral by resurrecting the deceased while floating two feet off the ground and making it rain wine then I'm putting Full Metal Jacket on.

There's an attempt to inject tension into the sick baby story with some canny crosscutting, but that's as technically accomplished as it gets. Some of the directing and editing choices here are riddled with schoolboy errors, with Kubrick mistreating the 180 degree rule in a couple of filmed conversations almost as brutally as he mistreated Shelley Duvall nearly 30 years later. Flying Padre is, sadly, no Day Of The Fight, but don't worry, I'm sure the next one will be great!


The Seafarers (1953)
Holy shit this one is terrible. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was this long con, in which he turned the man who quacked out a half-hour corporate video for a fucking sailors' union into the genius Stanley Kubrick, a director so phenomenally brilliant that nerds would watch literally anything he'd ever put his name to, meaning we'd all check out this crushingly soulless dreck in the misguided belief that it might just be comparable to The Shining. It's a testament to Kubrick's genius that this has been included on a DVD of one of his films: is Ridley Scott's Hovis ad included on the Alien disc? No. Does Mulholland Drive list David Lynch's commercial for Clearblue pregnancy testing kits among its special features? No. Does an Easter egg on the Baby Driver Blu-ray take you to Edgar Wright's Pizza Hut promo? I don't know, I haven't got it. Yet here we are, lapping up thirty minutes of propaganda urging us to join the Seafarers' International Union, because Stanley Kubrick banged it out over half a century ago.

Ramming the message down our throats that we'd all enjoy more security, a higher standard of living, a position of respect in the community and a daily sucking off from a Hollywood starlet of our choice if only we joined the union, The Seafarers promises much but delivers little. There aren't even any scenes set at sea, just a handful of shots of blokes looking busy on a boat when the captain walks past, and 22 insufferable minutes have shuffled by before we even get to that. There is, to be fair, a good gag involving an aesthetically pleasing pair of tits, but you have to wade through an awful lot of seamen to get to it, and that's just unhygienic. Still, if you're going to sell out, best to do it at the start of your career and then make up for it, and that's precisely what Stanley Kubrick did. Eventually.

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If you thought that was bad, then join me at some indistinct point in the distant future as I undertake my virgin viewing of Stanley Kubrick's first feature film, Fear And Desire. Until then, have you ever thought about joining the Seafarers' International Union? Well here's your chance!

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