It's always instructive to see the early works of a director, and when that director is Stanley Kubrick, it's practically required viewing for all students of cinema.
His first short, the 12-minute documentary Day of the Fight, made in 1951when the director was just 22, is notable for many reasons, not the least of them its foreshadowing of themes that would appear in his later work. Watch all 12 1/2 minutes of it below:
He had already produced a photographic essay two years earlier on the prizefighter, Walter Cartier, for Look, a popular photo magazine of its day (n.b,, a magazine is a kind of paper blog), and returned to the fighter when he decided to make his first short subject. Kubrick was famous throughout his career for his exacting control of every aspect of production, including (of course) final cut, but at the age of 22, and looking to sell the documentary, he capitulated to the demands of RKO and producer Jay Bonafeld, who insisted on the addition of 4 minutes of mostly stock footage, though the tyro director was allowed to edit the footage himself.
The extant version above consists solely of Kubrick's original 12 minutes, and is fascinating for its foreshadowing of many of the themes that would come to dominate his later work, most notably that of doubling. Cartier had a twin brother, lending an uncanny effect to the film; even this early in his career, Kubrick sought to make more than a typical short subject to be shown before a feature film. This no doubt is part of what set him apart and led to the film's acquisition.
The film follows the fighter through his day and, in the words of Thomas Allen Nelson in his book Stanley Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist's Maze, shows signs of the later thematic and technical skills which would characterize his work:
Walter Cartier's routines...take on an authentic and mechanical quality that brings under control the disorderly elements of anticipation and fear.
Kubrick's cinematography belies his age, and in the fight sequence, his handheld work hints at much of his later aesthetic. Also notable is the fact that even at the beginning of his career, Kubrick's eye was firmly focused on commercial as well as artistic success, a remarkable trait for such a young director.
Thematically, too, the film prefigured Kubrick's fascination with the idea of doubling and with contingency, the tendency of the best laid plans to go awry. Interestingly, in his second feature, Killer's Kiss, the subject matter was also boxing (this time couched in an impressionistic film noir that also saw the use of doubling, most notably in a climatic fight that the protagonist engages in with his shadow self in a mannequin warehouse.)
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqtxNBvZBf8
Day of the Fight is required viewing for any fan of Kubrick, student of film, or even boxing enthusiast. The ingenuity of an (extremely) young filmmaker is apparent, and the cinematic skill with which he approaches his subject is striking; there's little here to suggest that this is a first effort. Kubrick was the consummate self-taught filmmaker, getting his education through reading and watching movies. And his business savvy was already on display, too: the title card makes sure to mention that this is a "Stanley Kubrick Production". As an introduction to the world, the young photographer came out with a modest film that foretold multiple triumphs to come.