June 28, 2007

The Seafarers (1953)

While nowadays Stanley Kubrick is considered as one of the most influential and acclaimed filmmakers of all time, the career of this legendary director had its humble beginning in the documentary genre, specifically in the making of two newsreels for RKO Radio Pictures in 1951 when he was only 23 years old. At that age, Kubrick was already a full-time staff photographer for the "Look" magazine, but after making those two short films he quit his job and decided to become a full-time filmmaker. However, those two short films wouldn't be the only documentaries the master would direct in his lifetime, as in 1953 he had to return to the documentary genre after the commercial failure of his feature length debut, "Fear and Desire" in 1953. His third and last documentary would also be his first time working in color, and all in an infomercial for Seafarers International Union.

Simply tittled, "The Seafarers", this short documentary is essentially an infomercial about the benefits that joining the Seafarers International Union can bring to mariners, fishermen and boatmen of the U.S. if they join it. Narrated by CBS reporter Don Hollenbeck, the film details the different activities a member can do while visiting the Union Halls that are spread around the country's coasts, as well as the many services they offer. From barbershops to restaurants, the film talks about the establishments that offer good discounts to those who join the Union. It also explores other important benefits, such as health care, insurance, and scholarships for the children of the seafarers. Finally, it also explains some of the rights and obligations of every member, as well as how is the Union organized and how their democratic processes work.

Written by Will Chasen (quite possibly a member of the Union himself), the movie is a very complete and informative commercial about the Seafarers International Union, as in its barely 30 minutes of duration it manages to cover a wide arrange of topics of major interest for the film's intended audience. Clearly devised to convince sailors to join the Union, Chasen's script is written in a very persuasive way, highlighting the Union hall's commodities and the leisure activities that the members can do in order to give the organization the image of a fun place to be. While a bit typical of the era, Don Hollenbeck's effective narration adds power to the persuasive script, as he truly makes the Union sound like a club every worker should join thanks to his friendly, yet strong presence.

In this his fourth movie as a director, Kubrick shows an enormous progression in his skills with the camera. An acknowledged follower of Max Ophüls' work (his movies inspired him to be a filmmaker), Kubrick once again shows in "The Seafarers" the enormous influence the German director had during the early years of his career, as the movie showcases scenes with very fluid and dynamic cinematography, pretty much in Ophüls' style. Also, considering it was his first movie in color, "The Seafarers" looks very, and Kubrick's creative experimentation with color can be seen in several scenes. As with the rest of his documentaries, the strength of the film is in the visual compositions the young photographer created, as Kubrick crafts a movie that supports Chasen's script efficiently and delivers the core message of the institution.

Even when there is no doubt that this is a very interesting movie to watch for fans of Stanley Kubrick, other than its excellent craftsmanship there is not really anything truly remarkable about the movie. And as written above, this is not because the movie is bad, but mainly because while competently made, it's still nothing more than an infomercial that Kubrick made as a hired gun. Of course, there's a number of sparks of the brilliant talent the young filmmaker would show in his following films, but besides that this is still a very typical commercial film in the classic 50s style. Anyways, while the film certainly suffers from being made for a specific audience, it manages to transmit successfully Seafarers International's intended message of looking like an organization made by sailors and intended for sailors.

It would be difficult to recommend "The Seafarers" to those uninterested in Stanley Kubrick's career, as due to the kind of film it its, it's probably of interest only for Kubrick aficionados (although maybe those interested in 50s infomercials will find it useful). It's kind of fun to watch the young filmmaker mastering his skills, as one can truly see how he developed the techniques that would make him a legend. While "The Seafarers" is not really one of the highlights of his career, one has to be thankful for it as this movie helped to pay his 1955 movie, "Killer's Kiss", film that would open Kubrick the door to bigger projects like his masterpieces "The Killing" and "Paths of Glory". Even when personally I think that "Day of the Fight" is the best of the three documentaries by Kubrick, "The Seafarers" is a good film by its own merits.



BUDOKAN said...

Esto es una rareza en serio. Muy buenas tus reseñas y además pone en práctica mi inglés. Saludos!

Anonymous said...

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