Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957)

The Condemned Man's Guide to One-upping a Cockroach Near an Anthill

One of the most shell-shocked, punishing, and emotionally brutal anti-war films ever made was a favorite of young Marlon Brando's; I can see Brando in Timothy Carey's face.

A shot in the farce of corruption; atrocious blunders made in the name of cowardly self-interest; so-called friendly fire; and authoritarianism when it comes to military strategy and execution, it was banned in Spain, under Franco until the mid 80s.

The beautifully composed photography: long tracking shots of trench suffering; flawless cast portraiture; and simply posed character interactions in a satisfying range of settings defy Paths of Glory's naive low budget status. Instead of romanticizing warfare, like most battle-oriented pictures, it seduces more poetically. Kubrick uses silence, singing, muffled sounds, flare light, well-choreographed gesture, limited points of view, and the embodiment of hopeless hope, most profoundly by Kubrick's soon-to-be-wife Christiane in the movie's pinnacle chapter.

Somehow the Brooklyn accents work to convey the attitudes of beaten down, scapegoated French soldiers circling around impossibility. I wonder if there's a Timothy Carey fan club. Until now, I've been unfamiliar with his work. Ralph Meeker also won me over. The determined young Kirk Douglas makes a rare lawerly hero who comes to realize that the enemy is not the occupants of the anthill, but the one closer at hand, giving the orders and meting out the glorious medals.

I think I like Kubrick best as a beginner, before he learned too much. Although I tend to like older films in general. They rely on fewer gimmicks. Their minimal ingredients boil down to quality stock.

Paths of Glory played at the PFA on Friday night, Jul 11, 2008, as part of the United Artists series, where United Artists concept of a "studio without a studio" was celebrated.

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