Celebrating Great Films

Friday, September 12, 2014

Paths of Glory

#61 at the time of writing.

The futility and irony of the trench warfare of WWI is shown as a unit commander in the French army must deal with a mutiny and a glory-seeking general. I was lucky enough to watch this early Kubrick masterpiece at my local cinema recently, and the film's story and message have lingered with me for days.

As the closing credits rolled I found myself both exhilarated and depressed. Could Colonel Dax have done anything differently? What would I have done in his situation? Who was most to blame, and to what degree was any kind of justice served? These questions roiled around in my head afterwards.

Kubrick's early reputation as a prodigy was richly deserved. There is no sentimentalism here, no "patriotism" clouding the absurdity and cruelty of war. It is simply but cleverly filmed. The long tracking shots build tension and heighten emotion. There is a subtle emphasis on the stark contrast of the safe and opulent château where senior officers planned the war, and the stinking trenches where men followed orders with fear and loyalty knowing that death was their ultimate reward. And the final scene was extremely moving - nothing to do with the rest of the story, but underscoring the message that war makes us forget our humanity.

Impressive also, is that Kirk Douglas was in his 40s when he starred in this 1957 movie, and he's still around today. One of the last remaining stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood

The brief essay at the Criterion Collection provides an enlightening insight into the film.

Some interesting trivia from IMDb and other sources (if you believe it):

Winston Churchill claimed that the film was a highly accurate depiction of trench warfare and the sometimes misguided workings of the military mind.

The epic battle sequence was filmed in a 5,000-sq.-yd. pasture rented from a German farmer. After paying for the crops that would have been raised that season, the production team moved in with eight cranes and as many as 60 crew members working around the clock for three weeks to create trenches, shell holes and the rough, muddy terrain of a World War I battleground.

For box office reasons, Stanley Kubrick intended to impose a happy ending. After several draft scripts he changed his mind and restored the novel's original ending. Producer James B. Harris then had to inform studio executive Max E. Youngstein and risk rejection of the change. Harris managed by simply having the entire final script delivered without a memo of the changes, on the assumption that nobody in the studio would actually read it.

Concerned by its negative portrayal of the French army, the French government urged distributors United Artists not to release the film, and so it was not submitted to the censors, and not shown in France until 1975. Switzerland also banned the film (until 1978), accusing it of being "subversive propaganda directed at France." Belgium required that a foreword be added stating that the story represented an isolated case that did not reflect upon the "gallantry of the French soldiers."

Director Stanley Kubrick met Christiane Kubrick (then Christiane Harlan) during filming; she performs the singing at the end of the film. He divorced his second wife the following year to marry her, and they remained married until his death in 1999.

Actor (and colourful off-stage character) Timothy Carey was fired during filming, allegedly for some disruptive attempts at self-publicity including a staged kidnapping. His final scenes were shot with a double.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

#58 at the time of writing.

Much like its predecessor Avengers Assemble, which I blogged about here, this Marvel comic book adaptation makes silliness into a virtue. It has all the wrong ingredients, yet somehow it manages to bundle them together into a witty, well-paced, ambitious and compelling story. You may even end up empathising with a talking raccoon and a fighting tree.

For me, this is the best Marvel film since Iron Man. Although I say that without having yet watched the other recent Top 250 entry X-Men: Days of Future Past. Meanwhile, the snob in me squirms at the readiness of the Top 250 list to embrace all of these brash big budget superhero flicks.

That snob impulse is mollified by the insider knowledge that director James Gunn cut his teeth making weird sexploitation films with Troma Entertainment.