Fear & Desire
The further back you delve in Stanley Kubrick’s career, the more obscure the films get (and ironically, the more commercial.) For decades, his first film has been held to be the noir-boxing thriller "Killer’s Kiss," but thanks to the efforts of Kino Lorber, his "real" first release has finally become available. "Fear and Desire," an hour-long war drama that hints at much of what he would later do with "Paths of Glory" (and to a lesser extent, "Full Metal Jacket,") was suppressed by the Kubrick estate; with the man himself deriding it as an ’amateur effort’ unworthy of standing next to his professional canon. Luckily for us, nothing can be hidden away forever, especially in the film business.
It’s not hard to see why he tried to have the film stashed away; though descriptions of its low quality have been greatly exaggerated. Indeed, some of his shots have a rough, bouncy quality to them, the acting is flat (and only rendered worse by some obvious dubbing,) and the sets are non-existent. The story - four men, in an unnamed war, in an unnamed country, deal with their stresses and anxieties while mounting a mission to assassinate an enemy - is small in scale, but it’s also thematically of a whole with the rest of his oeuvre.
The themes and subtexts - of man’s beholding to his superiors, in class or otherwise; and of an enveloping, inevitable madness that slowly brews over our main characters - are more than well known to fellow Kubrick-obsessives.. And his compositions, while lacking the symmetrical precision for which he would become known, are striking enough to make it easy to see how he quickly got assigned to direct feature films for major studios. Behind the obviously shoestring budget and shoddy craftsmanship (the aforementioned acting and set design) is the natural talent and superior eye for photography that would later earn him so many cries of "genius!"
There’s only one-extra, but it’s another long-coveted-curiosity: "The Seafarers," a 50s industrial film made by Kubrick. It’s a ’for-hire’ job, and those hoping to see the long tracking shots and detached compositional skills that marked his later work will find themselves searching in vain. Yet for those of us who have spent decades hearing of its existence, wondering if it were nothing more than a mere rumor; it’s a much-appreciated inclusion.
That’s what’s important to know about this set. For the Kubrick completist, these are must-owns; forever-missing pieces of his filmography. It’s a look at a brash, rough, unpolished effort from the man whose films never once suggested anything but master craftsmanship. But if you’re looking for a long-lost classic worthy of standing next to "Barry Lyndon" or "The Shining," it’s best to look elsewhere (those with a taste for his early works like "Killer’s Kiss" or "The Killing" will see a much clearer connection between this ’amateur’ film and those ’professional’ ones.) "Fear and Desire" may not be a miraculous film, but it’s certainly a miraculous discovery.
"Fear and Desire"