Watch ‘Day of the Fight’, Stanley Kubrick’s first short film released in 1951
Even for iconic figures of cinema, like the great Stanley Kubrick who is lauded as one of the most influential filmmakers in history, life in the fast lane had to begin somewhere.
In the mid-1940s, while at high school and harbouring his creative ambitions, Stanley Kubrick attended evening classes at the City College of New York with ambitions of becoming a professional photographer. After some minor success, Kubrick skipped college and was hired as an apprentice photographer for LookMagazine and didn’t’ look back.
Specialising in depicting the highs and lows of New York City, Kubrick joined the publication in 1945 when he was aged just 17 and was based in the Bronx. He’d stay in this role as a staff photographer for five years and would explore every nook and cranny New York and its inhabitants had to offer. “By the time I was 21 I had four years of seeing how things worked in the world,” Kubrick told an interviewer in 1972. “I think if I had gone to college I would never have been a director.”
Whilehis time at Look offered Kubrick a glimpse into another life on a real-world level, it also provided the budding filmmaker with the chance to kickstart his career and, in 1949, he did just that. Having saved money from salary, Kubrick financed and directed Day of the Fight, his first-ever short subject documentary film.
Shot in black and white, Day of the Fight was based on an earlier photo feature he shot for Look and shows Irish American boxer Walter Cartier during the height of his career as he prepared to fight Bobby James.
The film cost Kubrick around $3,900 to make but, in doing so, felt safe in the knowledge that a buyer was lined up to cover his costs. Little did he know, however, the original buyer would pull out of the project and the filmmaker was left scrambling to find a new investor. Eventually, RKO Pictures stepped in and purchased the film for $4,000 and left the project covered for.
Working alongside his high school friend Alexander Singer, Day of the Fight was made using a rented camera and, across the 16-minute picture, birthed some of Kubrick’s now-iconic filming techniques. Vincent Cartier, Walter’s brother and manager, later commented: “Stanley was a very stoic, impassive but imaginative type person with strong, imaginative thoughts. He commanded respect in a quiet, shy way.”
He added: “Whatever he wanted, you complied, he just captivated you. Anybody who worked with Stanley did just what Stanley wanted.”