Friday, February 10, 2006

Kubrick Fest '06 - Day One: Killer's Kiss

Kubrick's second feature, Killer's Kiss (1955), comes as both a disappointment and a relief to me. On the one hand, I was totally ready to believe that this dude was a genius from the get-go. That he made brilliant films from day one and never managed to really screw up too bad. But he withdrew his first film from circulation and this one, which he let stay around, isn't that amazing either. Something about that, to an aspiring filmmaker, is comforting. Killer's Kiss isn't a bad movie. It's fine, but it's not amazing. It's not KUBRICK, and I kinda like that about it.

This is a really nice looking film. Kubrick's history as a photojournalist is immediately apparent here. His future meticulousness is also hinted at. I don't know how to put it, but almost every shot in this film feels very thoroughly planned out. There appears to be a lot deliberation behind the compositions that I don't see in a lot of films, unfortunately. Almost each frame would work well as a still photograph, which I think is a good criterion for judging a good shot. There are very few uninteresting images in this film.

As an overall package, Killer's Kiss isn't terribly stunning. The story is fine, but not particularly captivating and the acting isn't too hot, so it's really just kind of neat to see as a precursor to Kubrick's "proper" career as a filmmaker. The on-the-fly feel of the film is cool, too. It's clear this was made very cheaply and I like seeing aspects of that in the film, and how they were overcome. There are some stunning handheld street scenes that look like something straight out of Cassavetes' Shadows or Godard's Breathless, which is all the more surprising and impressive because this film precedes them by half a decade. They were shot this way primarily out of necessity, and yet in them I can see a precursor to a new style of cinema. That's exciting to me.

Also: there's some wonderful stuff in this film with regard to images within images, reflected images, etc. The initial moment where you see Davy (Jamie Smith), the pugilistic main character, in his apartment and his next door neighbor and love interest, Gloria (Irene Kane), can be seen out his window and through hers in her kitchen totally took me by surprise and got a big stupid grin out of me. There's some wonderful use of mirrors in the apartment and office scenes, as well.

And then of course there's the famous marionette factory sequence at the end, where Davy and the main villain, Vincent (Frank Silvera), play a game of cat and mouse among the various statues scattered about the huge room. The sheer number of human shapes scattered about the room helps mask both Davy and Vincent among them, so that their own skin becomes a form of camouflage. This, of course, wouldn't translate on color film because the actor's skin tones would have stood out against the solid white marionettes, but it works beautifully in black and white and is, more than any other scene in the film, probably why it's so often cited by historians and critics, an early indicator of Kubrick's skill at using imagery and abstraction to confuse and otherwise disorient his audience. His awareness of the black and white film stock's effect on the appearance of this scene also betrays his future involvement with film technology and innovation, although maybe that's a bit of a stretch. The fact that the marionettes that have been serving to disguise Davy throughout this scene later "betray" him by pointing him out to his pursuer is another brilliant touch.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

A thousand pardons.

It's a cryin' shame, the way I treat this poor blog. If it were a kid, it'd be pretty messed up. Not like I'm a particularly violent parent, but I think I'm psychologically abusive. I make a nice lengthy post that I'm proud of, then I kinda sit back on it, thinking that I need to come up with something equally substantial for my next one. I get bogged down in school and other activities and it's months until I see something that makes me want to talk about it as extensively as the last film I wrote about did, then I second guess myself, I wind up not writing about films I actually do want to write about, until I finally work up the nerve to write another post and then I start the cycle again. I'm sorry, Latham Loop.

This blog started off as a very idealistic thing: an outlet for me to write about films in any way I saw fit, even free-associatively, because the idea was that forcing myself to articulate ideas about films I've seen would help me learn from them. And then I wound up turning it into this outlet for formalistic mini-essays that ultimately wound up causing more stress to myself than catharsis. Now, I like that I'm writing stuff at all, and I have a tendency to organize my thoughts in a way that makes me lean towards essay writing, but I'm gonna try to be a little less high strung in regards to this thing. I may not be able to unclench my jaw while I'm walking down a city street, but god damn it, I think I can do it on the internet.

Content: 4 little bits

-- Unfortunately, I don't have much to say at the moment. I watched Rebel Without a Cause the other day and absolutely loved it. I remember the first time I saw it, I just thought it was pretty good, but it didn't really strike me. I don't think I was paying much attention to it. Sometimes, I let my mind drift during a film and wind up missing a whole lot. Sometimes I'm watching it on my computer while eating a sandwich and wind up focusing on the sandwich more for the first half hour or so. I dunno. Stuff happens. But this time, this time I really paid attention, and I'm glad I did. It's really a very beautiful film. Sure, it's got some missteps, some stuff that seems comical, unbelievable, slightly silly. But it's also really spot-on about how much it sucks to be a kid in ways that few movies have managed. Rewatching it, and especially zeroing in on the screen test on the bonus disc of the special edition, I also got a distinct vibe from it that Ferris Bueller's Day Off, a movie I love, is really indebted to it. Plato's monologue about his parents fighting is, in delivery if not content, more or less the same thing as Cameron's monologue about his father at the end. Perhaps an obvious observation, but it was revelatory to me.

-- Lots of the extras on the DVD, at least the deleted scenes and part of the wardrobe tests, are silent. Kind of a bummer in one sense, but also kind of nice, because they function as miniature silent films on their own. I realized while watching Peter Hutton's New York Near Sleep in a class the other day that I really like silent film, especially less narratively focused silent film. Due to my aforementioned tendency to occasionally let my mind drift during a film, I find it refreshing when that doesn't really have an effect on my filmgoing experience. I'm not missing any dialogue, so I can interact very purely with the visuals and let my inner monologue go off on any old tangent I want it to. I really like that luxury from time to time, and so I'm glad when the opportunity arises for me to watch a few experimental films here and there.

-- I got that Stanley Kubrick Archives book by Taschen on a really good deal a couple weeks ago and it occurred to me that I now own two books on his career, I also have Michel Ciment's, and I've yet to see all of his films. This, to me, seemed like a silly thing, so I'm going to hold a sort of personal Kubrick film festival for myself. I'll be going through all of his films, or at least the ones really properly recognized in his oeuvre, from Killer's Kiss on, in chronological order. Netflix is a beautiful thing. Be my Netflix buddy if you want. As if "you," in the form of an actual reader, actually exist. My e-mail, regardless is andrei.samaATgmailDOTcom. I'll post impressions of each of the films on here. Hopefully. Maybe.

-- Last thing: I keep these little text files on my computer logging all the films I've seen, or at least I started to in late 2005. I've got 'em organized by year and month. Since it's the start of February now, I'm gonna dump January's here and just continue to do that each month. Hopefully February's a little more fruitful. "You're" gonna learn some things about me from this log. Like the fact that I have a huge weakness for dumb comedies. Fun stuff.

Wedding Crashers: Uncorked Edition, David Dobkin. [C+] january 4th 2006
Wedding Crashers: Theatrical Version, David Dobkin. [B] january 4th 2006
The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Jacques Audiard. [B-] january 5th 2006
Morvern Callar, Lynne Ramsay. [B+] january 5th 2006
I am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco, Sam Jones. [C] january 6th 2006
McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Robert Altman. [B-] january 6th 2006
La Captive, Chantal Akerman. [A-] january 8th 2006
The 40 Year Old Virgin, Judd Apatow. [A] january 9th 2006
Broken Flowers, Jim Jarmusch. [A] january 11th 2006
Nobody Knows, Hirokazu Koreeda. [A] january 13th 2006
Match Point, Woody Allen. [B-] january 14th 2006
Cremaster 1, Matthew Barney. [C+] january 17th 2006
The Wild Bunch, Sam Peckinpah. [B] january 18th 2006
Stagecoach, John Ford. [B-] january 22nd 2006
The New World, Terrence Malick. [B+] january 25th 2006
Mutual Appreciation, Andrew Bujalski. [A-] january 27th 2006
Anchorman, Adam McKay. [B+] january 28th 2006
Save the Green Planet!, Jun-hwan Jeong [D+] january 29th 2006
Julien Donkey-Boy, Harmony Korine. [B+] january 30th 2006
Dead Ringers, David Cronenberg. [A-] january 30th 2006
Annie Hall, Woody Allen. [B] january 30th 2006
Fitzcarraldo, Werner Herzog. [C+] january 30th 2006
New York Near Sleep, Peter Hutton. [B] january 31st 2006
Rebel Without a Cause, Nicholas Ray. [A] january 31st 2006