Yeah, I swore I’d start taking these movies one at a time, but that didn’t work out so well, did it. The reason why can boiled down to two words: The Godfather.
I didn’t see The Godfather when it was first released, back in ’72. Couldn’t have, even if I’d wanted: it was rated R, and my folks had no desire to see it. It wouldn’t be until I was out on my own, in the 80s, when I was demonstrating to my then-roomate, the late Red Mitchell, what he had been missing in the way of cinema by being a football hero through high school. I brought him into the ways of The Maltese Falcon and The Quiet Man, among others… and then he was shocked that I had never seen The Godfather. One trip to the video rental store later, and we rectified that.
Look, I don’t have to tell you this, but oh my God is that movie ever good.
Like apparently any movie based on a best-selling novel, Godfather had a troubled production (not the least of which was the real-life Mafia trying to shut the movie down), but when it was released, it was a bona fide sensation, a cultural phenomenon. Watching it again after nearly 25 years on Blu-Ray, the “Coppola Restoration”, I see that it is still no wonder. Coppola and Brando both have a very uneven track record; but both men are firing on all cylinders in this, and the rest of the cast is similarly at the peak of their powers. It is one of those three-hour movies that doesn’t feel that long, at all.
Again, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know; moreover, I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know. When you get right down to it, I’m a guy who likes to watch movies and then write about them a little. Didn’t go to film school, didn’t read any books on critical analysis. There’s nothing new I can bring to this party, except personal observation. And my personal observation is: I wasn’t as blown away as I was the first time I saw it. That is to be expected. My reverence for it, though, did not slip an inch. This is an American classic that deserves to be called an American Classic.
Which would have made for a brief, if honest, post.
Now, on the other end of the spectrum we have the second movie in my Stanley Kubrick Project, Killer’s Kiss.
To call the plot of Killer’s Kiss slight is no mean jab, it’s the honest truth; it doesn’t even fill the 67 minute running time – there’s filler in the form of a complete boxing match and a ballet number while Gloria (Irene Kane) tells the tale of her sister and father to the sympathetic Davey (Jamie Smith). The rest of the movie is about Davey, a washed-up boxer, trying to help his neighbor Gloria, a taxi dancer, to get out from under the thumb of her boss, small-time hood Vincent Rapallo (Frank Silvera, the MVP of Kubrick’s first movie, Fear and Desire).
There are, of course, complications. This is noir, after all. Rapallo’s goons, sent to rough up Davey, pick the wrong guy and accidentally kill him, leaving the boxer under suspicion for the murder. They then kidnap Gloria because she can finger them, and Davey tries – not too successfully – to rescue her.
If it’s not too beefy in the plot department, where Killer’s Kiss excels is in the photography. Kubrick had done a number of photo spreads of Chicago for Look magazine, and his vistas of New York in the mid-50s – unglamorous, decaying – distills what noir is frequently about, as he sets his camera far back and low so the city becomes monolithic, perched above and ready to devour the characters. Kubrick’s photojournalist eye captures images without commentary, the seediness of the reality telling far more than any commentary layered upon them possibly could. There’s a reason that the Turner Classic Movies All Night bumper has three shots from the movie: The guy in the ticket booth, the dolly across the Dance Hall, and the blonde taking off her dress – that’s Gloria.
Kubrick’s still trying to work out his storytelling chops (he would, in the future, eschew original screenplays and go strictly for literary adaptations), but in the visual department, he’s already firing on all cylinders. Gone are the coverage errors that required clumsy editing solutions in Fear and Desire. Davey’s pursuit across the rooftop of a massive storehouse is done in long shots, emphasizing his aloneness as Rapallo and his thug close in; this leads to the final fight scene in a mannequin storeroom that trades in the empty space of the roof for an enclosed space that is, at the same time, crowded and yet just as empty. It’s a surreal, exciting climax, that along with the amazing cityscapes, gives the viewer a very nice preview of the director’s capabilities.
So the first two Kubrick movies: definitely tyro efforts, but there is a very clear improvement in his use of the medium; both worthwhile, for entirely different reasons.
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