At 7 p.m. Saturday in MICA's Brown Center, David Simon, the creator of "The Wire," will host Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" and explain why it's just as pertinent and powerful today as it was in 1957. That's when this movie first appeared — and was promptly banned in France for 18 years because of its savage debunking of the conduct of the French army in World War I.
Kubrick uses a suicide mission to expose civilized European savagery. He gives us military stupidity in microcosm with this tale of autocratic leaders ( Adolphe Menjou, George Macready) who command an infantry unit to advance at impossible odds and of the humane lawyer-colonel ( Kirk Douglas) who leads the soldiers into battle, then defends three scapegoats accused of cowardice. Kubrick's own generalship is already masterly here (he made the film when he was 28), whether in the swirling tracking shots that underline the artifice of military decorum, his claustrophobic circling of the trenches or the chaotic kinetics of the handheld battle footage. He sticks to his debunking vision, right up to the "Brotherhood of Man" climax, in which a Fraulein warbling a love song reduces French soldiers to tears. We, like Douglas' Col. Dax, know that they have only a moment to give in to emotions before they must move out. (Douglas is superb as the morally handcuffed hero.)
Simon, who wrote the introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Humphrey Cobb's brilliant source novel, told The Baltimore Sun in June that he has long felt that the " First World War had a lot more to teach us about not just the 20th century but the century beyond than World War II." Simon said the calculations and rationalizations of the First World War introduced a new paradigm that "we see time and again, with regard to everything from failed domestic policies and foreign alignments to the BP oil disaster. It's become the institutional manifesto — 'We're doing the best we can; don't blame us.' "
Simon said that Menjou's and Macready's characters (and the originals in Cobb's book) inspired his depiction of "people who are totally invested in the status quo, unless there's some advantage to themselves," in the institutions of "The Wire."
But Simon's awe of Kubrick's achievement goes beyond its political analysis. "How you make an antiwar film is almost the Holy Grail of filmmaking. Kubrick maybe came the closest to it with 'Paths of Glory.'"
David Simon will host Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory," 7 p.m. Saturday at MICA's Brown Center, 13201 W. Mount Royal Ave. Tickets: $10. To book in advance, call 410-752-8083.