“Perhaps when everything is beautiful, nothing is beautiful.”
Stanley Kubrick, 1968
I’m a terrible interviewer. I wish I could wade in ready for war and ask the questions that need to be answering, but I just don’t — I’m more keen to engage in a genial conversation and keep the subject happy. That frequently leads to sycophantic laugh-alongs. Having said that, in my sector, generally there’s no call for anything particularly probing — bear in mind that I operate in a realm where saying that something is good but not a classic is deemed insightful and scathingly critical. Introspect forsook the realm in which I dwell. Imagine if Alex Haley had laughed along with George Lincoln Rockwell’s baseless racist theories to keep him happy, and Rockwell was staring down the barrel of a gun laying sideways between interrogator and subject. Transcribing myself is equally excruciating, as it reveals that not only am I a sycophantic, chuckling goon, but I also have the nasal voice of a simpleton who punctuates points with an irksome “like” at least twenty times in forty minutes.
Mr. Pardeep Sall is my favourite source of book recommendations, and he put me onto each volume of ‘The Playboy Interviews’ — a useful collection of compendiums, shorn of distracting masturbation fodder and filtered for the very best conversations. As you might have noticed, I’ve never had any formal journalistic training but Mr. Sall was correct when he recommended these, explaining that they’re “Better than any course” of you’re looking for a masterclass in professional but probing technique. ‘The Directors’ and ‘Movers and Shakers’ are particularly outstanding. Lawrence Grobel’s 1985 chat with John Huston and Eric Norden’s 1968 conversation with Stanley Kubrick are currently fresh in my mind, but I have to pass on a second-hand recommendation with regards to these tomes. Especially if, like me, your interview game needs stepping up beyond, “Why are you so great?”
The Kubrick piece also reminded me about his earliest moving picture, a bombastic 1951 short, entitled ‘Day of the Fight’ documenting middleweight fighter Walter Cartier’s pre-fight build-up, with an excitable Douglas Edwards voice over. At 16 minutes long, it’s strange to see that there was even a poster for this film (seen below courtesy of www.postermountain.com). I wonder as to how Kubrick fared in a documentation environment where his meticulous nature was tethered by real-world movements, but while subtlety and deliberate pacing are a no-go here, the lighting’s on point and there’s some tracking too. ‘Day of the Fight’ is a follow-up to Kubrick’s 1949 ‘Prizefighter’ photo-essay for ‘Look’ which you can read right here in its entirety. I’m obsessed with the aesthetic of old world boxing, from Nat Fleischer’s work to these kinds of moving and static pictures.
‘Look’ was a ‘Life’ imitator in many respects, and ‘Life’ briefly covered Walter Cartier too in ‘Fight Trainer’ — a photo-essay by the excellent Eliot Elisofon focusing on the work of Polish-born, Brooklyn-raised trainer Charley Goldman. While the focus is on a Rocky Marciano — a significantly more successful fighter trained by Goldman, there’s some shots of Cartier in training mode under the great man’s tutelage. The ‘Life’ piece is dated February 12th, 1951 — just under a year after the 1950 bout that Kubrick documented. Cartier’s prizefighter career never soared and he fared better as an occasional actor, but Kubrick’s decision to use him as a study afforded him a certain immortality. Four years later, his breakthrough of sorts, ‘Killer’s Kiss’ would use gyms and boxing rings as a setting with the same shadowy intensity, and as with ‘Day of the Fight’ it was imbued with a punch drunk sense of melodrama that wasn’t indicative of the director’s more cerebral vision. Still, Kubrick at his worst was, like Cartier, not a bad prospect at all.