Sunday, September 28, 2008

Day of the Fight

Day of the Fight
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Released: April 26, 1951
Running Time: 16 minutes.
RKO-Pathe Pictures.

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.


Allie said...

I really enjoyed your interpretation on this and definitely agree. Ever since I saw his take on The Shining I've always had an interest in his other works, and I'm glad I got the chance to fulfill this.

Despite it not having some of the Kubrick trademarks, I believe the short filled out it's purpose in a simplistic yet effective style. It's definitely different from what we're familiar with him, but this small film on a boxer's pre-match ritual is a solid enough story to tag into a short and still give it a flair that allows it to be a Kubrick film.

Good work on this, Trin. I definitely enjoyed your take and look forward to reading more of these.

Anonymous said...

I can honestly say that I am not a film enthusiast in the least, however, I do like the way that you discussed the elements of this film in regards to Kubrick's other work. It is always nice to see that fans of a specific person/writer/producer/director don't just blindly love every single work that they put out.

I like how you point out the segues of the short film and how you are very interested in seeing the way one of your favorite directors started out.

The Takeout Wench. said...

Being familiar with Kubrick's work, I was surprised that this short film was directed by him. Nonetheless, it has the magnetic quality that the rest of his works have. However, his more famous works draw me in and at the same time repel me, but with this film, I was fully engaged with the simple but dark plotline.

Mike said...

It is interesting to view this film as "star-driven" and the post makes a good point in that Kubrick was not yet famous when he made this short. In that sense, retrospectively trying to understand what he was doing and his early stylistic decisions is an interesting undertaking. I do not know much about Kubrick, but I understand from the post how this film is different from his later, more well-known work.

Taiga said...

It's great to see how someone started out, not knowing what great films he would produce earlier. A pearl starts as a grain of sand. This was Kubrick's grain of sand.

She Who Shall Not Be Named said...

i totally agree with your first statement about his films. kubrick is a fantastic contributor to the film industry.

Anonymous said...

What is the purpose of dark comedy? If regular comedy is to make people feel better what is the purpose of comedy that dwells on the worst element of humanity.

Hannah said...

So that's really a boxer? So this is like... really really early reality TV?

I think what's interesting about this one is kind of what you said about the duality of man. But kind of not. More so.. about people always want to see into other people's lives. Like we're fascinated by it, we don't like grasp that celebrities are real people and do the same things that we do every day. We can't fathom that a boxer or rock-and-roller goes to church and gets communion. So maybe kind of what compelled Kubrick to make this film is part of what we find so fascinating about seeing a barefoot Britney Spears go buy cigarettes at a gas station. We like seeing people in a different light.

Nighthawk Moonshadow said...

Don't think I've actually ever seen a Kubrick film, but this was semi-interesting. I don't know, I supposed it's because I find nothing interesting about boxing as a sport that I wasn't impressed.

the vacant mind. said...

I agree with many of the above comments - I did not expect this out of Kubrick at all. (Then again, I didn't expect/enjoy Eyes Wide Shut, either, but who did?) But as far as documentaries go, it's an interesting look into someone's daily life. It also has a dark undertone that is very much Kubrick.