Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Politics of War Examined in Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory"

Politics may lead to war but when war becomes little more than a political ploy to protect those in charge the average soldier ends up as the victim sacrificed to ego. Stanley Kubrick's first masterpiece "Paths of Glory" focuses on a colonel (Kirk Douglas) who defends his men on the charges of cowardice when they fail at carrying out a mission that his superiors knew to be impossible. Douglas gives one of his finest performances in Kubrick's film and the top notch supporting cast includes Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou, Richard Anderson, and George Macready.

Kubrick's film is a study in the hypocrisy and gap that exists between waging war and the politics of war, it's impact on our humanity and the often absurd lengths that those in charge will go to as a means of keeping the their world neat and tidy. It also sums up an entire generation of those who feel entitled using murder as nothing more than a means to bolster their ego and protect their station. It's the ultimate method to punish someone else for your mistake(s) so that we can trust those who lead even as they lead us into a dead end.

Based on the novel by Humphrey Cobb and written for the screen by Calder Willingham (the earliest drafts), Kubirck and Jim Thompson (who rewrote the script adding despite Willingham later claim about 50% new material to the script), Kubrick already demonstrates his expertise at setting up and executing complex sequences just as well as his smaller intimate moments of character conflict.

The Criterion edition of the film (this review is for the Blu-ray)is the ultimate edition. It has the correct aspect ratio. The transfer has been lovingly restored from the best elements available and detail, depth and blacks are remarkable throughout the presentation. This is a huge step up from the original DVD. "Paths of Glory" is beautifully rendered on Blu-ray. The mono audio sounds quite good with dialogue quite clear.

Be aware however that there is a jump cut in this restoration where a few frames are missing and UCLA/MGM which restored the film were unable to find adequate source for that footage. It lasts only a second at about 56:04.

As with all Criterion films this comes with a book featuring an essay on the making of the film by film critic/scholar James Naermore, a 1966 audio interview with Kubrick about the making of the film (a bit of trivia--Kubrick "suggested" a less bleak ending in hopes that he could keep the dark ending that is IN the film much as Hitchcock used to bluff the Hayes commission by putting things in his script and sometimes film that he KNEW he would never end up using in the final product), a 1979 interview with star Douglas and new interviews with producer Jan Harlan and James B. Harris as well as actress Christiane Kubrick. We also get a vintage French TV special on the inspiration for the film as well as the original theatrical trailer. The audio commentary by Gary Giddins is quite good providing insight into the filmmaking process as well as themes later elaborated in other Kubrick films.

As with all of Criterion latest Blu-ray releases (and their latest DVD releases as well), this is a top notch highly recommended version of the film. Yes, it is expensive but if you don't want to pay the full retail price wait for a two-for-one Criterion sale (as I did).

While Kubrick directed noteworthy films before "Paths of Glory" this film provided him with the opportunity to step up to bigger, more elaborate productions and demonstrated the themes that would preoccupy for the remainder of his career as a film director. Highly recommended.

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