Friday, August 22, 2014

Paths Of Glory (1957)

Screen shot from Warner DVD of Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures
WHO: Stanley Kubrick co-wrote and directed this.

WHAT: One of the most generally well-regarded films of all time, it has the distinction of being one of only ten films released prior to 1960 on the utterly populist (if male-film-geek-centric) imdb all-time top sixty. I've long considered it my own least favorite of Kubrick's thirteen feature films, which is praising it with faint damnation, as I like or love all of that iconoclast's pictures. It has astonishing battle sequences and a remarkably affecting ending feature Kubrick's soon-to-be-wife Christiane, the niece of German director Veit Harlan (infamous for making the Nazi propaganda film Jud Süß). But I've always felt its treatment of the meaning of war to be more ponderous and less interestingly nuanced than other Kubrick war pictures like Fear and Desire and Full Metal Jacket, or even Spartacus, Dr. Strangelove and Barry Lyndon. Perhaps it's just my usual allergy to courtroom scenes (most agree this one's is among the greatest ever filmed). I've always meant to see it again at some point. There are two upcoming opportunities to do so on the big screen.

WHERE/WHEN: At the Pacific Film Archive in Berkely, at 7PM tonight and on Saturday, September 6th at 6:30 PM.

WHY:  It's rare, perhaps even unprecedented, for the Pacific Film Archive to screen the same film twice in a period of fifteen days, as part of two separate series. But Paths of Glory is the penultimate program in the centennial-focused World War I on Film (which closes Wednesday with the great All Quiet on the Western Front) and also comes early in that venue's Kubrick retrospective being held just over fifteen years after his death. Last week the PFA announced this series as well as the rest of its September and October schedule (with a number of select November and December screenings revealed as well). A brief rundown:

Perhaps the most exciting reveal is the Fall's first half of a fifty-title survey of cinema originating from the (now former, of course) Soviet republic of Georgia, where an astonishingly large portion of great Soviet-era filmmakers including Otar Iosseliani and Sergei Paradjanov have had roots. Those big-name filmmakers may be saved for the Spring section of the series, but the coming semester features filmmakers like the silent-era's Ivan Perestiani, the later Soviet era's Eldar Shengelaia, and modern-day directors like Levan Koguashvili and Nana Janelidze. The latter three will be on hand for screenings of their films and others'. I'm excited to dig into this all-but-unknown corner of world cinema; the only four films from the Fall program I've seen thus far are the four by Mikhail Kalatozov screening November 22-29. All four are brilliant, most especially Cranes Are Flying, my own pick for 1957's greatest anti-war picture.

A focus on Jean-Luc Godard's career from 1968-1979 would be impossible to say a bad word about, had the Spring 2014 retrospective of his films up to 1967 not set such a high standard by showing every film he made during that period, including rarely-seen shorts. Though most everyone prefers 1960s Godard to 1970s, it's somewhat disappointing that very little of his Dziga Vertov Group filmmaking is being included in this segment of the series, and that, aside from 35mm screenings of Sympathy For The DevilTout Va Bien, Every Man For Himself (a.k.a. Slow Motion) and perhaps Letter To Jane, at least half the screenings are to be digital. It feels churlish to complain when several of the digital showings involve use of (analog) video, and/or are introduced by Godard-connected luminaries like PFA founder Tom Luddy (who appears in One P.M.) and Jean-Pierre Gorin (who co-directed Ici Et Ailleurs and others of this era). But this series is called "Expect Everything From Cinema", and although I try not to expect everything from my cinematheque, part one of this multi-part retrospective got my hopes up. Perhaps the next installment in the series, covering the underrated 1980s (and beyond?) will be more comprehensive.

By contrast, the PFA's October-December Hou Hsiao-Hsien retrospective, the first in Frisco Bay since before Millenium Mambo premiered, includes all eighteen of the Taiwanese master's feature films, all shown on 35mm prints except for The Green, Green Grass of Home, for which a 16mm print will substitute. I've never seen any of Hou's films prior to Goodbye South, Goodbye, other than the astonishing City of Sadness, so I'm thrilled with this essentially complete retrospective.

More PFA offerings in September and October will include a fascinating-sounding commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Berkeley's Free Speech movement, with documentaries of the era and beyond, one-night-stand screenings of new films about Ai Weiwei and Mike Seeger, and a complete, all-DCP presentation of James Dean's brief filmography. Finally, weekly experimental moving image screenings under the Alternative Visions header include in-person appearances from animator Laura Heit, local Jerome Hiler, and, for two nights in a row, Leslie Thornton, as well as two evenings devoted to multi-projector screenings and another two devoted the legendary James Broughton as his centennial year winds down.

HOW: Unfortunately, Paths of Glory is the only film in the World War I on Film series screening on DCP (something of a paradox given the series title). More unfortunately, it's among the strong majority of the Kubrick series selections to screen that way, the exceptions being the 35mm prints of Fear and Desire and Killer's Kiss, of Spartacus, and of the ideal Halloween-at-PFA movie, Eyes Wide Shut.


  1. Hi Brian: I too will have Georgia on my mind, and applaud the work of curator Susan Oxtoby behind it all. One bit of nitpicking: the Dean series is not his "complete" filmography, he appeared in small parts in a few earlier movies, including Fuller's Fixed Bayonets and Sirk's Has Anybody Seen My Gal?

  2. Thanks Larry! I haven't seen the Fuller and would appreciate any excuse to see it theatrically (I notice Park Row and Pickup on South Street come to the Castro next month; I've only seen the latter) but if his role is the same size as in the Sirk then "small" is practically an overstatement!