[Originally Published: 04/28/2008]
Stanley Kubrick knew the secret pearl of storytelling. One doesn’t bring the vague and blurry messages to the audience. A filmmaker, like a musician, painter, poet, and street corner dude on a milk crate, painted silver and doing robotic dance movements, accompanied by a battered boom box, makes the crowd come to their bit of strange art.
No doubt, if ten people were asked to list their five favorite films by the towering American expatriate who lived the bulk of his adult life in England (like another crazed Yank genius, Terry Gilliam), you’d get five completely different lists. And that’s fine. I have my own favorites, but I don’t hold them to my chest like they are minemineMINE.
Hell, if you still don’t get the god-like majesty of 2001: A Space Odyssey or marvel at how well Kubrick fooled the audience in Eyes Wide Shut, because it was, in fact, almost all a dream, and you needed to track the weird, non-linear jumps in the story to notice that the brilliant and underrated Tom Cruise was given the ultimate mind fuck to fuck with his yuppie mind while he watched…well…how to do that fine sexual task properly, then long-ass segues aside, you were missing Kubrick’s point and need to look again.
Secret societies abound, no secret there, and it is no secret that Eyes Wide Shut carried with it a legion of references to Kubrick’s other work and, in fact, the life he led with his wife when they shared a New York apartment before making their permanent home across the pond in the UK. It was his last film and the links with his other cinematic masterpieces span all the way back to this week’s Hidden Flick, The Killing—a 1950s race track heist gone wrong cobbled together by two titans of non-linear storytelling. READ ON for more of this week’s Hidden Flick…
The Killing was the auteur’s second film, released in 1956, and co-written by the great crime novelist Jim Thompson—someone who you NEED to read as much as you HAVE to look through Kubrick’s entire body of work to see that he really loved people—specifically, really fucked-up people who usually end up either dead or insane, or with a soul raped, pillaged, and reborn by the invisible hands of Alien Overlords. (RPR’d?)
The brilliance in The Killing comes from the fact that it is such a simple story with a handful of tightly controlled characters involving a robbery at a race track that, on paper, is as fool-proof as lobbing a ball underhand to A-Rod and expecting him to, at least, hit it into the gap for a double. Instead, someone steps in front of the plate due to an error in A-Rod’s logic, catches the ball and makes him eat it. And Kubrick does a fine job making you root for the criminals so you WANT them to succeed at their currency caper—another wicked bit of celluloid storytelling residue that the filmmaker loved to exploit.
However, in scenes which do not run in an ordinary timeline that move a viewer from point A to points B, C and D like a child navigating a paint-by-numbers sheet of paper, the story wraps around a wide cross-section of characters who don’t always act in a logical way, and it completely throws out any normal rules of traditional storytelling. What are the rules of audience engagement? And, will anyone realize that this film is like the really smart father to the epic 1990s non-linear demigod le ciné, Pulp Fiction—the unholy monolith that whispers its dark magic and haunts Creator Quentin Phantasmio.
In their outstanding four-decade precursor to Jackson as an Old Testament hit man, Travolta as his less grounded sidekick and Willis as an aging and heroic boxer, Stanley Kubrick and Jim Thompson juggle key story elements by inserting them in an order that serves the story rather than the human notion of what is the proper definition of ‘time and space’ and ‘what is really a crime and what is really just a transfer of stolen loot from one group of hands to another in the corrupt capitalist world’? Indeed, as the wacked-out clock of morality flips sideways, images of story strands flicker, enfold the viewer in a web of confidence that the crime will WORK as conversations and actions build upon themselves, and until the heist, one sees how the Perfect Crime can be completely fucked from the first minute by the wrong word spoken to the wrong person at the right time.
In other words, if you’re going to rule your own little quadrant of the dangerous netherworld, plan, recruit, PLAN, show patience, TRUST NO ONE, plan, coordinate, REVIEW, and keep your damn mouth shut—birds floating down from branches into your bed sheets talk as much as they listen. Dig? Good—now dig into this Kubrick B&W gem.