was born to make films. As a youth, he was a rapacious movie-goer, turning his critical eye to the myriad cinematic offerings of his native New York City. A talented shutterbug, he parlayed this hobby into a job as staff photographer at Look
magazine while still in his teens. Kubrick's yearning to extend his photographic work into the domain of cinema led to his first short film, Day of the Fight
, and two years later, his feature debut: Fear and Desire
|Fear and Desire
(1953) by Stanley Kubrick 61 min. BW 35mm|
From the start of his career, Kubrick had high-art aspirations, and these are evident even in his first feature-length work. Fear and Desire
, perhaps the first independently-made American art film, is an allegorical war picture that explicitly locates its conflict, and its primal motivators, in the province of the mind. Kubrick acted as producer, director, and editor, and though his mise-en-scène
was limited by available locations and props and a mostly static camera, he nonetheless evinced a flair for evoking moods with eye-catching compositions and subtle nuances of light, and an analytical, poetic approach to montage.
Ultimately, the film's miniscule budget was insufficient to fully realize its maker's intent, particularly when it came to performances, including that of a young and spastic Paul Mazursky
. Kubrick, who would become notorious for requiring multitudinous takes in pursuit of his ineffable vision, was unable to indulge this maniacal perfectionism in Fear and Desire
, and would suppress the film as his career advanced. But close examination reveals the seeds of themes that pervade his later work: the imperviousness to reason of man's subconscious, often destructive impulses; his isolation (Kubrick eschews "normal" displays of emotion, and he frequently refuses to provide us a charismatic, conventionally sympathetic protagonist to identify with); and a fascination with the grotesque.
|Day of the Fight
(1951) by Stanley Kubrick 16 min. BW 16mm|
A portrait of boxer Walter Cartier, whom Kubrick previously profiled in the pages of Look
. In this sure-handed short, ringside thrills are counterpointed by a meditation on identity courtesy of Cartier and his twin brother.
(1951) by Stanley Kubrick 9 min. BW 16mm|
This newsreel-style profile of a New Mexican aeronaut/priest offers an early example of one Kubrick trademark: the voiceover.
(1957) by Robert Altman 72 min. BW 35mm|
is best remembered for his masterpieces of the 1970's (McCabe and Mrs. Miller
, The Long Goodbye
, etc.), less so for his 1950's efforts, separated from his mature work by a long journeyman period in TV. His early industrial/educational shorts (eg. How to Run a Filling Station
, Better Football
), made for-hire in early '50's Kansas City, show a quaint but timely concern for keeping the nation's youth off the streets and out of trouble.
Juvenile delinquency, by various names a long-time staple of exploitation films, became the subject of Altman's first feature, 1957's The Delinquents. Tom Laughlin (to become famous for his Billy Jack movies) channels the late James Dean (much admired by Altman) in his first starring role as a teen driven from the arms of his girl and into the clutches of a vicious gang which includes Richard Bakalyan in his debut.
Altman has always used certain conventions of what we now call vérité style, applying his own poetics to the multifarious scrappiness of real life. If the party scene in The Delinquents seems to have the dynamics of an actual party, it's because it is one. Though Kubrickian perfectionism was never one of Altman's hallmarks, he nevertheless came later to dismiss this early work as "meaningless". But he could never deny that it's fabulously entertaining.