“…lead to the grave.”

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Years ago, when I discovered Fiona hadn’t seen PATHS OF GLORY and we watched it together, she put into words something I had felt about the film but not articulated — “It’s not just a war film, it’s about really big things — LIFE and DEATH!” Indeed, for us the film really kicked into its strongest phase after the three soldiers have been sentenced to death (off-camera, in a bold elision) and have to face their mortality (calling to mind Woody Allen’s speech from LOVE AND DEATH: “Isn’t all mankind ultimately executed for a crime it never committed? The difference is that all men go eventually, but I go six o’clock tomorrow morning. I was supposed to go at five o’clock, but I have a smart lawyer.”)

Like Ralph Meeker, Timothy Carey and Joe Turkel, we have three choices about facing death — we can weep and pray, we can put on a brave face, or we can be unconscious when it happens. And ultimately it could be said to make little difference. “Pull yourself together — is this how you want to be remembered?” asks Bert Freed. “I don’t want to die,” replies Meeker, reasonably.

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I just ran the movie for students ahead of a visiting lecture by Jan Harlan, Kubrick’s producer — one remarked that it was sweet to see Turkel being so nice, since in his most famous roles, THE SHINING and BLADE RUNNER, he’s kind of sepulchral and sinister. True, he does punch a priest in the face, but that’s not too unsympathetic by this film’s lights, and to be fair the priest was a bit annoying. By casting Emile Meyer, usually a heavy, with his pugilistic, clapped-in face, Kubrick somehow mitigates the anti-clerical brutality — you couldn’t slug the padre from MASH without losing audience respect, but somehow Meyer is fair game. When Meyer protests that he wants “to help you, with all my power!” Turkel responds, “You HAVE no power!” which is true, as far as the immediate problem goes. It’s the best bit of defrocking dialogue outside of  THE GREEN ROOM, where Truffaut yells that what the bereaved want from the church is the immediate resurrection of their loved ones, and anything less is an unforgivable tease. Unreasonable, you might say, but not when you take into account the authority these dudes claim to represent.

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Despite starring Chin Cleft himself (introduced shirtless, as was his wont), and being produced by his company, the film is really an ensemble piece (a fact emphasised even further by the tacked-on conclusion, in which Kirk is merely a passive witness), and everybody is really good. James Mason, impressed enought to take on LOLITA, nevertheless felt that the American accents let it down, which is objectively silly, but I guess the custom for using Brit to represent the entire non-American world was strongly established. Having gone for Yanks, Kubrick pushes it pretty far, with Meyer’s Bowery bum whine (wait, he was from Louisiana?) and Jerry Hausner’s bold reading of “What is life widout a liddle divoijshen?” and, of course, Timothy Carey.

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Listening to the film’s producer, James B. Harris, in Lyon, my NATAN co-director Paul Duane picked up lots of great stuff about Carey faking his own kidnapping on location and other typical crazy shit. John Baxter cites the story of someone questioning Kubes why he kept hiring Carey. “He can’t act!” Kubrick replied that he wanted either the best actor in the world, or a brilliant type. (Exemplified by DR STRANGELOVE — when Peter Sellers dropped out of the role of Major Kong, the director went straight for Dan Blocker and then Slim Pickens, genuine examples of what Sellers was to have imitated.) And it’s true — Carey carries his own reality with him, a beat-up beatnik doziness that anchors him in every scene. If he can’t quite do everything the script calls for, and has a slight tendency to strike poses (hilarious vanity in one with his lizard-lidded zombie face), his essential Timothy-Carey-ness keeps him credible, like the way a small child, or a very old person, or a dog is always believable on-screen even if they can’t act.

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Who else? Wayne Morris, a real-life WWII hero, is great as the drunken coward Roget (the script, partly written by alcoholic Jim Thompson, tends to equate boozing with vice, until the third act when everybody swears by it). My late friend Lawrie said used to drink with him– I can’t work out when this occurred, since Morris doesn’t seem to have had a British career. And the bad guys — Adolphe Menjou, whose rapid-fire delivery makes him the worst casualty of the boxy sound recording in vast halls — George MacReady, whose psychotic villainy keeps rising to new levels of outrageous hypocrisy, and that’s his arc — Richard Anderson, who probably oversells his sliminess early on and his doubt later — and Peter Capell, who plays the presiding judge at the court martial, and scores by buttering the most prejudiced and insanely unjust comments with a veneer of gentle, paternal reasonableness.

The full quote is “The paths of glory lead to the grave,” hence all those tracking and trucking shots — at the execution, SK dollies over gravel towards the posts the men are to be bound to, and the POV shots heading forwards seem to represent the rush towards Death — three wooden poles marking the end of everything.

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For the first time I really thought about what the film would have been like without the musical number from the future Mrs Kubrick at the end. Ending on Kirk’s rugged face as he says, “Because you don’t know the answer to that, I pity you,” would be very strong indeed — the only note of grace being supplied by the lighting, which makes of him a lambent gargoyle-saint. What follows is a brilliantly judged attempt to soften the conclusion without softening the film, beginning with a sequence which actually makes us dislike the French troops we’ve been rooting for all along, developing into the musical montage of faces, magnificently lit again — I wonder how Kubrick got on with his German cinematographer, Georg Krause, who had been active all through the Nazi era? They do great work together. Most of the previous imagery has been figures in landscapes or interiors, Kirk’s big CU at the end of the “real film” starts this cascade of portraits. The best thing about it is it does almost nothing — it doesn’t alleviate the sense of injustice, it almost universalizes it. The final shot of Kirk leaving is pretty bleak and ugly — but isn’t even the last shot, since the end creds are a bunch more portraits.

Obviously PATHS OF GLORY is an emotional film, but it defies WWI movie convention by stirring up our sense of moral outrage rather than trying to break our hearts with the pity of it. It gives the lie to the cliché of Kubrick the emotionless. My friend B. Mite strongly argued that Kubrick was interested in “the emotions that don’t have names” — 2001 stirs up a kind of awe and terror that’s closer to the romantic poets’ response to nature than to anything in Spielberg. It’s cold in a tactile sense — all that black space and ll those white surfaces — but nobody, surely, could watch it without emotion. Even Pauline Kael felt claustrophobic.

The movie has been used by scientists testing the physiological effects of film — it has been shown to make people physically angry. Script guru Phil Parker once pointed out that injustice is a great plot engine, because it seizes and inflames everyone. As the line in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS goes, “When a child says, ‘This isn’t fair,’ the child can be believed.”

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20 Responses to ““…lead to the grave.””

  1. Excellent piece. The other main thing Jim Harris said about Carey was that you couldn’t shoot an over-the-shoulder scene with him, because when you were shooting the other direction, slowly, take by take (and even this early, Kubrick liked to shoot takes), Carey would pivot himself around so that he was in, at the very least, in a profile shot rather than over-the-shoulder. He just couldn’t see why he shouldn’t be featured in EVERY shot.

  2. Was it Peter Serafinowicz who did a sketch where he plays Michael Caine giving lessons in acting, in which he advises sneaking into the background of your own reverse angle shots, in order to maximise your presence?

    While shooting Sleuth, Laurence Olivier used to edge around in two-shots in order to make co-star Caine have to turn his back to the camera while Olivier ended up full-face. Mankiewicz let him do it, then shot a close-up Caine. Olivier never tried it again.

  3. After Emile Meyer’s “Come here Sidney, I want to chastise you” in Sweet Smell of Success, slugging him is de rigeur

    Re. Timothy Carey, are you familiar with his The World’s Greatest Sinner ? “Film maudit” doesn’t get any more “maudit.” (It’s a favorite of John Waters.)

    As for the Nazis, Jan Harlan — Christine’s brother — is like her the issue of Viet Harlan, the director of Jud Suss — the most notoriously anti-Semitic film ever made.

  4. I always hated the way a certain sect of Kubrick admirers felt the need to either dismiss the final scene entirely, or try to make it more cynical and misanthropic than it was (make it about dull-witted drones being brainwashed or somesuch) I think some people wanted Kubrick to be more misanthropic then he was, I see him more of a despairing humanist

    The World’s Greatest Sinner is really something, but I had no idea there was a quasi-sequel. After a film about the world’s most wicked man, Carey wanted to do a film about the world’s nicest man “Tweet’s Ladies of Pasadena” It’s about Tweet, a man who is a member of a knitting circle, married to a giant British female wrestler, who just wants to clothe all the many animals he keeps in his house.
    It was only a rough cut, funded by John Cassavetes. I wonder if it inspired Geena’s character in Love Streams. A woman who also fills a house with animals

  5. Wow — does the Carey sequel still exist?

    Kubrick’s attitude to humanity seems clear — he saw it as tragically flawed. In A.I., we would be replaced by our superior inventions. Clockwork Orange takes free will as a given, so to suggest that the soldiers at the end of POG are being brainwashed by something so basic as a song seems untenable.

    Jew Suss is pretty noxious stuff, and the skill with which it is made isn’t any kind of mitigation. But it’s a walk in the park next to The Eternal Jew.

  6. “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung. “

  7. And here’s “The Eternal Jew”. Note that a picture of Lubitsch is used to identify Jewish “types.”

  8. ” Clockwork Orange takes free will as a given”

    Does it? It depicts Alex as being conditioned into nausea at the thought of violence and then being conditioned back into a taste for violence, but- unlike the book- Alex has no volition in his fate. In the book Alex’s love of music and his depravity are intimately connected, in the film his loss of his love of music is a regrettable side-effect of his being conditioned out of his love of violence.

    It’s interesting to see the way Kubrick interacts with and uses- or misuses- his source material and his relations with Humphrey Cobb’s source-novel here are worth looking at. In his later films he always seems to need a prose original to fight with.

  9. Oh yes, and the full quote is actually: “The paths of glory lead but to the grave”

  10. Thanks.

    What I meant is that the removal of free will in Clockwork Orange is an elaborate conditioning process, much more difficult than simply sitting down and listening to a song. The men freely let the music influence them, and it is clearly meant to be a moment of beauty. Kubrick assumes that Alex begins free, and savage like one of his apemen. The Ludovico treatment is as much an abomination in Kubrick as in Burgess, whatever the differences.

    Just re-checked my copy of Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. Alex is conditioned against music along with violence because they play Beethoven during the conditioning. It’s not because the two things are connected in his mind. Although some of the dialogue is different, conceptually that part is unchanged.

    I always felt Kubrick was right to leave off Burgess’s last chapter. The book grapples, in its pulpy way, with the problem of evil, but by suggesting we all grow out of it anyway it cops out of the problem. If that were the case, locking everyone up until they reach maturity would solve all society’s ills.

  11. Are y’all familiar with Warhol’s rendition on A Clockwork Orange, Vinyl ? Made in 1965 and 70 minutes long (two uninterrupted 35 minute shots) it was scripted by Ronnie Tavel and features the debut of Edie Sedgwick,who Andy put into the shot at the very last minute. She pays no attention to the action going on behind her which consists largely of Tosh Carillo dripping candlewax on his boyfriend’s chest while Ondine reads most of the dialogue. But she gets up to dance with Gerard when Andy puts “Nowhere to Run” on the turntable.

  12. Re ACO’s 21st chapter, I think Kubrick’s change in emphasis made it redundant; the novel is about theological free will (as in all of Burgess, Augustine and Pelagius wrestle constantly), while Kubrick explored humanist/sociological free will. The former needs a redemptive conclusion to finish up the theological issues, while the latter needs the earlier, more open ending to emphasise the viewer’s role. They’re both exactly as they should be, despite Burgess’s grumbling.

    I missed a chance of asking McDowell’s opinion of that view (I suspect it’s likely he’d have discussed the matter with Burgess at some point during their publicity tour) some years ago at the Melbourne exhibition, and’ve been kicking myself ever since. (At the panel discussion the bloke seated on my immediate right asked an erudite and informative question I’ve since forgotten, while the one on my left later got the mic and asked how heavy the sculpture in the murder scene was. A day or two later, McDowell referred to that as the stupidist question he’d ever been asked…)

    Back in the Paths of Glory world, Christiana was asked what her favourite exhibit was, and — with a fond smile I couldn’t hope to describe, somehow carrying forty years of love — talked of the B&W full-size blowup photo of Kubrick from that shoot (or around the time of that shoot). “Stanley as I first met him…” (enigmatic smile)

  13. Thanks!

    I’ll never truly understand Catholicism, but my objection to Burgess’ ending was psychological – Alex seemed too much the psychopath — a rapist and murderer at 15 — to undergo such a redemption, and nor does his philosophical shrug suggest he now feels any guilt for what he did.

  14. David E, I’ve known of Vinyl for years but have never gotten around to looking at it.

    Clockwork Orange was originally suggested to Kubes by Terry Southern, and at another time was mooted for The Rolling Stones and Ken Russell. Keith Moon, it must be said, would have fitted right into Kubrick’s version.

  15. “Alex is conditioned against music along with violence because they play Beethoven during the conditioning.”

    Appologies, David. Never quote from memory as someone may have said. I haven’t read the book for forty years and was convinced that Alex’s love of music was destroyed indirectly by his conditioning against violence, whereas in the film “Alex is conditioned against music along with violence because they play Beethoven during the conditioning.”

    “The book grapples, in its pulpy way, with the problem of evil, but by suggesting we all grow out of it anyway it cops out of the problem. If that were the case, locking everyone up until they reach maturity would solve all society’s ills.”
    Some tribes were said to expel adolescents and only readmit the survivors after they’d calmed down and learned to behave properly. The fact that the English upper classes locked their adolescent male members up may have helped them, but it hasn’t done the rest of society much good once they’d got out.

  16. The upper class kids should be sent on walkabout, forced to survive in the world for a spell so they can see how the rest of us live. Or else, maybe just don’t let them out?

  17. David Spodak Says:

    This was great to read. Did Jan Harlan mention a documentary made about Paths? It was made by myself and I believe it is on the shelves of the Kubrick archive at the University of the Arts, London.
    The title is Anatomy of a Film. If anyone in London can check if its there and maybe even watch it, I would be very gratified.

  18. Jan Harlan appears here next Friday — I’ll try to remember to ask him! If you can remind me before then, that’d help.

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