Friday, May 05, 2006

Kubrick Fest '06 - Day Two: The Killing

I guess it's kind of comical that I title this post "Day Two," since it feels like it's been months since the first post in this supposed "festival." (Oh yeah, haha. It has been months!)

Well, whatever. It's getting to be a tired device on this blog that I self-awarely refer to my lack of output, I'm gonna have to find a new crutch to fall back on. Nah, let's just get started.

I was disappointed to find myself not all that taken with Kubrick's second movie. The Killing (1956) just wasn't as interesting to me as Killer's Kiss. Something about the film just didn't grab me as much as his first did.

A shame, because it's got a hell of an opening. Horses lining up for a race, moody music playing, the imagery basically all shot documentary style. It felt like this was a good insight into what Kubrick's approach as a photo-journalist early in his career may have been like. I pictured him running around at the tracks with a Bolex, getting as many interesting shots as he could himself. And then, the "directed by Stanley Kubrick" credit comes on, the gates open and the race begins. There's a certain bravado to this moment that I greatly admire. I'm here, on the edge of my seat. And then the narration begins: "At exactly 3:45 on that Saturday afternoon in the last week of September, Marvin Unger was, perhaps, the only one among the hundred thousand people at the track who felt no thrill at the running of the fifth race." Suitably hardboiled and mysterious, but I was taken aback by the use of the device. It's a tired cliché to say that films fall back on voiceover when their narrative isn't clear enough without it, but it sprang to mind immediately for me. It felt that way. The story of the caper in the film is plenty intricate and fun, but was never particularly compelling for me, either.

The visuals were largely uninteresting, too. A lot of the scenes are shot indoors, using primarily medium and close-up shots and the portraits that comprise these dialogue-heavy scenes, which comprise the lot of the film, never jumped out at me or interested me much. There are certainly some compelling moments, the lighting effects with the blinds and curtains in some scenes are fairly stunning, the clown mask heist is eery, the ending is pretty, but nothing about this movie really struck me the way some of the images in Killer's Kiss did. I guess if I had to make a direct comparison between this film and that one, The Killing is in my mind a lesser film. It's more adventurous with its narrative, although less successful in fully realizing its more complex story, but it's much less adventurous visually. I was sold on Killer's Kiss almost from the get-go with that shot of the main character eating in his apartment and his next door neighbor going about her business through a window in the background. Nothing in The Killing jumped out at me as much.

When I originally wrote about Killer's Kiss I wanted to talk about how the use of latin music, more specifically this kind of intense, escalating tango, reminded me of the use of music in Orson Welle's Touch of Evil. I never wound up covering that point, but I think it's good I saved it for this post, because it's even more appropriate here. One of the few truly electrifying moments I can recall comes in a scene which I view as the titular killing of the film. Although there are a few others that could just as easily vie for the spot, it's the scene in which George (Elisha Cook Jr.) finally snaps and lets himself turn mean that I think is the moment I'd most readily identify as "the killing." The way the editing speeds up during this scene, the way the camera itself almost seems surprised by the events taking place, and the way that loud, spiralling music in the background all come together reminds me so much of the killing of Joe Grandi in Touch of Evil that I can't help but trace some sort of lineage from this film to that one, which I couldn't entirely with Killer's Kiss, even if there was some foundation for it. I'm pretty sure Orson Welles voiced admiration for this film when it came out, too, so it's definitely not coincidental.

Ultimately, though, this film didn't do a whole lot for me, which I'm kind of disappointed about. I already know that I love the next film on the list, Paths of Glory, and I'm looking forward to rewatching it and writing about it. Until next time, I guess.

In the mean time, here's the pathetic film log for April. I've been so taken with TV shows lately that I just haven't been devoting the time I should to viewing films. I watched like all of The Shield in this past month, lots of Newsradio and The Kids in the Hall and just recently I've embarked on a viewing of the entire run of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, a show I wrote off when it was on the air but have now managed to amass a pretty embarassing obsession with. I guess the bite-sized chunks of TV viewing were more palatable to me while I was so involved in my college coursework, but the damn shows are usually so addictive that I wind up watching five in a row or something anyway, completely invalidating any argument I can make for them taking up less of my time. I expect May to be more fruitful, but not until I finish Buffy and probably Angel, too. I'm a little embarassed, but I'm having too much fun to care all that much. Anyway, here's April.

Shadows and Fog, Woody Allen. [A-] april 12th 2006.
[I really liked this movie an awful lot. It makes me want to watch some of the other movies that I've ignored, yet intrigue me, like Stardust Memories and Zelig. The ending to this film is so beautiful.]

The Big Lebowski, Coen Brothers. [A] april 12th 2006.
[I've heard mention of the "Lebowski Effect" before. This idea that a movie actually gets better over multiple viewings for you, not just that you have more fun with it or find it more comforting with each subsequen viewing, but that it actually becomes a better film. I disliked The Big Lebowski the first time I saw it in 1998 and now I can think of few Coen films I like more. I don't ever see it usurping Miller's Crossing as my absolute favorite of theirs, but I like it quite a bit.]

The Killing, Stanley Kubrick. [B-] april 23rd 2006

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, Chantal Akerman. [B+] april 24th 2006

The Old Man and Jesus: Prophets of Rebellion, Marcelo Andrade. [B+] april 25th 2006
[This is a documentary that an alumnus of my school made. He came back on campus to show it and I was pretty taken with it. It's not going to screen in any cinemas anytime soon, but that's not really the point. He's a member of a revolutionary group in Venezuela that's attempting to get a real people's movement going against the upper class in that country. Just typing that sentence made me feel like a goof. I'm not going to pretend having even a rudimentary knowledge of the situation down there, but there were a few kids, fellow students, from Venezuela, more specifically, from the affluent parts of Venezuela that seemed pretty shaken by the film. The Q&A afterwards got pretty intense. It was definitely an interesting event to attend. I had a few thoughts then that I wanted to share in the discussion, but wound up deciding to hold to myself and I can't really remember much about the film with sufficient lucidity now to really say much. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.]

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