The Seafarers

The Seafarers
   Pietrzak Filmways, 30 minutes, 1953 Producer: Lester Cooper; Director: Stanley Kubrick; Writing credits: Will Chasen; Cinematographer: Kubrick; Film Editing: Kubrick; Sound Department: Kubrick; Cast: Don Hollenbeck (narrator).
   The Seafarers is STANLEY KUBRICK’s last documentary short, following “DAY OF THE FIGHT” and FLYING PADRE. The Atlantic and Gulf Coast district of the Seafarers International Union commissioned him to make a half-hour documentary entitled The Seafarers about the life of those who man U. S. cargo ships. One might be tempted to dismiss the movie as a mere industrial documentary, except for the fact that it contains several instances of a young filmmaker reaching to photograph in an inventive and creative way what could otherwise have been a perfunctory film done as a routine assignment. What’s more, it is Kubrick’s first film in color.
   In the early hiring hall sequence, Kubrick moves among the men with his camera, photographing their intense expressions as they vie for good berths on their favorite ships. In fact, Kubrick, who as usual served as his own cameraman at this point in his career, constantly moves his camera about in each scene, whether on ship or off, in order to keep visually alive what could so easily have been a static documentary. He is forever looking for—and finding-interesting images to punctuate his film. The scene in the seamen’s bar starts with a close-up of a mermaid carved out of wood to look like an ornament on the prow of a ship, and then the camera pulls back to show the men grouped around it in a circular bar. The sequence at the Marine Hospital begins with a shot of the flower garden on the grounds, filling the screen in stunning color, before moving on to show the convalescents enjoying the view and the sunshine.
   Only rarely does the film look like a conventional documentary, as when a group of seamen are pictured spending some of their shore time in reading and in writing letters in the union library. There is a somewhat stagey quality about the way that they are rather self-consciously “arranged” at the tables from foreground to background. On the other hand, one shot in particular hints at the promising things to come for the young director. Several seamen are grouped at a table discussing grievances with a union representative. A single lamp hangs above their heads, shedding light on their conference. This lighting and composition would be repeated to great dramatic effect in THE KILLING, in the scene in which the thieves plan their strategy for the racetrack robbery.
   All in all, The Seafarers is a worthy piece of work by a filmmaker still finding his way and gaining experience, and is all the more significant for being the only movie that Kubrick shot in color until SPARTACUS, almost a decade later. After one last documentary, Kubrick moved on to features, having earned his spurs as a filmmaker with his short subjects.
   ■ Baxter, John, Stanley Kubrick:A Biography (New York: Carroll and Graf, 1997), p. 51;
   ■ Howard, James, Stanley Kubrick Companion (London: Batsford, 1999), p. 32;
   ■ LoBrutto,Vincent, Stanley Kubrick:A Biography (New York: Da Capo, 1999), pp. 73–75.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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