Happy Birthday, Stanley Kubrick! What's His Finest Cinematic Moment?
And so Movieline concludes today's birthday-celebration marathon -- previously spotlighting the finest film work of both Dame Helen Mirren and Sir Mick Jagger -- as any self-respecting movie site would: By commemorating the day 83 years ago when the world welcomed one Stanley Kubrick into existence. This would change everything.
You know what I mean. From Kubrick's early directing work in the 1950s until his death in 1999 at age 70 -- and, let's face it, into this very minute -- everyone's had plenty of time and opportunity to discuss, debate, disseminate and otherwise contemplate their own favorite moments of the genius Kubrick canon. So consider this your chance to raise a virtual glass to his memory, impact, and achievements, my own favorite of which came at the end of his 1957 anti-war masterpiece Paths of Glory. French army colonel Dax (played by Kirk Douglas), having struggled to defend three of his men through a kangaroo court-martial for cowardice, rejects a promotion from the high-ranking functionary who signed the trio's death warrants.
The scene plays a little hot under the scorching noir influence of co-writer Jim Thompson (joined by Kubrick himself and Calder Willingham), but it's pretty much the bedrock of Kubrick's humanity as a filmmaker, in which everything from Spartacus to 2001 to A Clockwork Orange to Full Metal Jacket (itself an anti-war classic) is anchored. I love these films as much as the next guy, but Dax and his doomed charges are the only characters in the Kubrick universe whose fates I've continued to sincerely care about.
But that's not even the best part: The real final scene of Paths of Glory, in which a captured German songbird (played by Kubrick's future wife Christiane) brings a barroom full of bloodthirsty French troops to tears, gets me every time. On a day when the saddest movie scene ever is a meme in the making, good luck beating this finale. Happy birthday, Mr. Kubrick. (And thanks to Roger Ebert for the reminder. Better late than never.)