“Fear and Desire” – Stanley Kubrick’s baby steps

Not very often one has the opportunity to watch something quite like that. Now, however, courtesy of Lovefilm Instant, I got to see the very first feature shot by the great Stanley Kubrick“Fear and Desire”. And it is something special, to say the least.

Stanley Kubrick was not the most prolific of directors. He was well known for almost OCD-like attention to detail and perfectionism. He thought – just as the great Alfred Hitchcock – that his next piece needed to be better than his last one. Kubrick directed 13 feature films and 3 short documentaries in his lifetime and it took him on average 4.1 year to release a new movie. However, on the span of 36 years of his film making career his process got progressively more and more time-consuming, to which a 12-year-long period of silence between “Full Metal Jacket” and “Eyes wide shut” can testify most accurately. Kubrick’s approach towards cinema certainly had its clear advantages, because none of his works can be classified as sub-par. Although in some circles “2001” is referred to as a ‘overrated’ (even though it clearly kick-started what we know now as sci-fi) and “The Shining “ garnered two nominations for the very first Razzie Awards, we can all safely assume that Kubrick’s legendary focus and perfectionism earned him his place among the gods of cinema. Every genre Kubrick touched, he redefined… but we all have to start somewhere.

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Just as I did with Chris Nolan’s “Following”, I think I would like to say a few words on “Fear and Desire” – the first film Kubrick made. He was only 25 years old when he decided he wanted to film something different than a documentary. He borrowed some money from his uncle, took his savings (which added up to around 10 thousand dollars), got a group of friends together, hired 5 Mexican guys to carry his equipment (true story), and headed out to the wild in order to shoot “Fear and desire”.

In short, “Fear and desire” tells a story of a group of soldiers that crashed somewhere behind the enemy lines and are trying to get back to safety. While they are trying to come up with a plan to do so, they learn that an enemy general and his close associates are stationed nearby. Therefore, they decide to try and assassinate him in order to help out their own country. It’s nowhere near your usual war film. It’s very metaphorical – almost too metaphorical, although spelled out a bit loud. The way the story is told, it resembles Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”. The majority of the story takes place inside the characters’ minds, which slows down the pace a notch; it’s not a bad thing at all – “Apocalypse Now”, anyone?

Now, I don’t think I can (or should, for that matter) review an amateur film that was made 60 years ago. It would be inappropriate to pass judgment on it, simply because I am in no capacity to understand the reality of the early 50’s in terms of its cinema. Now that I look at films, I look at them and judge them against a body of art that spans a century. Bear in mind that in 1953 that body of films was less than half of what we know now. So it is only fair not to say anything about the film’s production value or questionable acting. It was the 50’s and let us leave it at that.

On the other hand, what I can say now is that “Fear and desire” – being a quintessential amateur piece – showed me a tiny glimpse of the genius. It’s in no way a fantastic film; it’s rather tiresome, but still “Fear and desire” contains that little grain of something that with time grew and blossomed into a phenomenal talent. The way certain scenes were shot, the use of close-up photography and the narrative, all allowed me to understand that it was indeed Kubrick who stood behind the camera, though I cannot really say that I would have guessed who directed it, had I not known it beforehand. I’d say that it’s all too subtle to identify and I’m not that well-versed in the subject (yet).

All things considered, if – like me – you know full well what you are about to watch, “Fear and desire” makes up for a fantastic hour of your time. Let’s be honest here – it’s piece of history. And prior to 2012 it was almost impossible to see it. I should say at this point that Kubrick, once he was well-established, grew so ashamed of his own debut that he went out of his way to make sure no-one would see it ever again. He would allegedly collect various copies of “Fear and Desire” and keep them out of public’s reach. Now that he’s long gone, we have the pleasure to witness Kubrick’s baby steps ourselves.

And I have to say – “Fear and desire” is nowhere near as bad as Kubrick made it out to be in various interviews. I mean, it’s an amateur film made for a cheap buck, but it is after all an important piece of a puzzle that Kubrick’s mind most certainly was. Once you’ve watched it, you should immediately realize that Kubrick’s journey towards immortality was quite rocky and it didn’t start off with a bang. Even though you could clearly identify the elements of Kubrick’s style in it, “Fear and desire” should remain a testament of human perseverance and focus in context of things that came next. After all, no-one would expect that a career that peaked with “Full Metal Jacket” could have been ignited by a film like that. Now I do and my respect for Stanley Kubrick has only grown because of it.

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