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Under the Influence

David Simon Unravels the Moral Twists of Paths of Glory

Visual Analysis — May 9, 2018

In 1988, David Simon was a journalist shadowing detectives at the Baltimore Police Department for his first book, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. On midnight shifts, one of the sergeants would regularly screen movies for his squad, and among his selections was Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 World War I drama Paths of Glory. Watching the film with the detectives whose work he had set out to investigate, Simon recognized that its portrayal of the callous and hypocritical French-military bureaucracy had a great deal to say about the police department’s own chain of command. The film would prove to be a model of narrative and political complexity for Simon as he went on to a remarkable career in television, creating his own sprawling story of institutional dysfunction with the Baltimore-set drama The Wire, and later cowriting and producing the 2008 Iraq-war miniseries Generation Kill. In this new episode of Under the Influence—a series in which we invite contemporary writers and directors to talk about movies from the collection that have most inspired them—Simon draws deep and surprising connections between Paths of Glory and his own work, noting how he took a page from the efficiency and humanity of Kubrick’s storytelling and the film’s thoroughgoing critique of the dangers of unchecked authority.

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