And here's where Stanley Kubrick starts to become Stanley Kubrick! Over the
last few months, I've worked my way back through Kubrick's films. It hasn't
been purely chronological but has favored his better-known titles; only now
am I getting around to the more obscure entries.
Anyway, as I've viewed his films, I've definitely picked up on his
tendencies, the most important of which I feel are his objectivity of
filmmaking and his rather moralistic bent. As such, most of his movies
remain distanced from their subjects and present them matter-of-factly, and
the films also focus largely on less-pleasant aspects of human behavior, for
which the characters are usually punished to some degree.
Although I haven't witnessed all of his prior work, it looks like 1957's
Paths of Glory was the first full-blown example of the Kubrick Zeitgeist.
The previous year's "The Killing" followed some of his "tenets" but wasn't a
very distinctive piece; there's little that made it appear to be a Kubrick
That's not the case with Paths of Glory. From start to finish, it clearly
bears the mark of a Kubrick work. Even though the film features some of the
least appealing and most amoral characters of any of his pictures, Kubrick
never imposes his own judgment on the participants; he clearly feels the
audience can draw their own conclusions from the depictions he offers. And
while the baddies "get theirs," he doesn't do this in a stereotypical way;
the results of the characters' actions seem logical and realistic.
One stylistically unusual move that would later see more use by Kubrick
involves the film's almost complete lack of a score. We occasionally hear
some rhythmic backing, but for the most part, POG supplies little music,
though incidental music appears in scenes such as a dance. It's an
effective method because it accentuates the starkness of the situation. It
also helps remove any potentially melodramatic appearances.
Although not a perfect film, I'd place POG very high in the Kubrick
pantheon. He depicts his subject with a complexity and a broadness that
suits the material well and makes the storyline quite gripping. This tale
of World War I hypocrisy isn't an easy watch in many ways - it can be brutal
and unforgiving - but it serves the needs of the film well. The actors,
including star Kirk Douglas, all provide strong work and avoid stereotypical
tendencies; they all seem to be largely realistic and compelling characters.
Kubrick makes a clear winner with "Paths of Glory", a harsh but fascinating
portrait of the way individuals will callously sacrifice others for their
Paths of Glory appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1
on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; because the dimensions of the
presentation do not require it, the movie has not been enhanced for 16X9
televisions. While not without flaws, POG presents a pretty nice image
for such an old film.
Sharpness looks consistently quite good, with only mild softness at times;
for the most part, the image seems pretty crisp and detailed. Some evidence
of jagged edges appears, but only infrequently. As one would expect of a
film from the Fifties, numerous print flaws exist, though the numbers are
not tremendously high. Expect to see speckling as the major culprit, with
scratches and blotchy spots being the next most problematic faults. I also
detected some wobbling of the image at times, usually right after a cut; the
frames briefly seem to "jump" at that time. It's not terrible, but it is
Black levels seem strong, with little evidence of any grayness or fading.
Shadow detail usually looks good as well, though some scenes appear somewhat
too opaque. While this transfer won't win any prizes, I found it to be
quite satisfactory and watchable.
Much less pleasant is the weak monaural soundtrack. POG presents some of
the most distorted audio I've yet witnessed. Dialogue consistently sounds
shrill and harsh with much too much amplification of the high end; this
results in some badly sibilant speech. You know those toys with sound chips
built into them? That's kind of how dialogue sounds. Any effects other
than the most quiet ones also are badly distorted, with gunfire and
explosions seeming extremely flawed. Little music appears in the film, but
when it does, it generally sounds crackly and raw. The only saving grace is
that I rarely had trouble understanding dialogue. Still, it's a poor
soundtrack, even for a film of its age.
As with pretty much all Kubrick films on DVD, few supplements appear. We
get a theatrical trailer and a four-page booklet with production notes.
Underwhelming? You got that right. But when "major" Kubrick offerings like
Dr. Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange can't muster any better, do you
think an obscurity like POG will get them?
Which is a shame in both regards: it's too bad that Paths of Glory
provides so few extras, and it's too bad the film remains so obscure. I
found it to be one of the most provocative and stimulating of Kubrick's
films. The DVD offers decent picture but almost completely fails in sound
and supplements. Because the movie's quite good and affords a look at early
Kubrick, you may want to rent it, but the DVD simply is too poor a release
to merit purchase.