Sunday, September 28, 2008
Day of the Fight
Day of the Fight
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Released: April 26, 1951
Running Time: 16 minutes.
I love Stanley Kubrick. From 2001: A Space Odyssey to Full Metal Jacket to Dr. Strangelove, I admire his work as a future filmmaker and screenwriter. (Yes, I even stomached Eyes Wide Shut, which I do not like whatsoever.) His emphasis on the theme of the duality of man and his strong, dark comedic dialogue strikes a chord in me and draws me to his style, his way of working the camera in his favor.
So it's because of my undying admiration and love for Kubrick that I chose a short film of his to analyze. With this week's theme of "star-driven" short films, either in front of or behind the camera, I figured Kubrick would be an entertaining, intriguing choice. But this film is not Kubrick-styled. For those who are fans of Kubrick or die-hard followers of him, this short will frankly be a disappointment, if you tried to be like me and find his trademark shots, dialogue, wit and style.
Day of the Fight was a short documentary Kubrick made in 1951. It tells the story about a boxer's life getting ready for his fight in the evening. Kubrick follows this man named Walter Cartier throughout the day as he prepares for the bout. He goes to Mass with him, his meals, and his grooming.
Kubrick had done a photo feature of Walter earlier for Look Magazine in 1949, and he asked the boxer if he could document his life. Financing it himself, Kubrick learned how to operate the camera by the man who was loaning the cameras to him. He eventually sold the film to RKO Pictures, and it was released in theaters in the "This is America" series (you can see the RKO slide right in the beginning of the short). CBS Anchor Douglas Edwards provides the news-like narration used throughout the movie.
What's interesting about this short film is that it's not particularly "star-driven." This was made when Kubrick was not a household name. Before the major malfunctions and war rooms, before the drill sergeants and the space odysseys, Kubrick was a man trying to make his first film ever. It's a movie documenting a man's life. The only reason this short is "star-driven" is because of the work Kubrick did after this film. It's because of his name now that people go back to see how he was then, when he was first starting out. It's why I chose this film in the first place. (Consequently, his film Killer's Kiss, which came out four years later, references this film.)
But what is interesting is watching this film and seeing the potential Kubrick had when he was first starting out. The familiar theme of the duality of man is seen here in this short, quite obviously too. The five minute introduction to the history of boxing, how some men make a good living and some men don't ("one out of ten men" as the narrator grimly puts it) provides a dark, grim outlook onto the boxing world -- that those who are good enough succeed. This segues into our introduction of Walter. Through Kubrick's lens we watch Walter's actions through the day -- going to Mass, playing with his dog, hanging out with his twin brother. He shows Walter as a decent, loving human being that has compassion. But in a dramatic turn, through the usage of the narrator, Kubrick demonstrates this duality of man, how Walter, the compassionate person, will turn into a killing machine, "slowly becoming another man." A man "who cannot lose, who must not lose."
Transformation of man and the duality of man, how he can be so loving and so destructive, trickles down through Kubrick's films for the rest of his career. In addition we can see through the shots of the bout itself Kubrick's beginnings as a director. There are dramatic shots done at a low straight-on angle of the boxers coming together, medium shots of the men punching each other straight in the face. These are shots that Kubrick will favor later on down the line when he creates war-films like Full Metal Jacket.
Day of the Fight still isn't the classic Kubrick film that fans like myself would go crazy over. But it is still fascinating to watch this short and see where Kubrick was when he was just starting out, and how his style transformed from that to what we see in Path of Glory, or Dr. Strangelove, or Full Metal Jacket.