“Fear and Desire,” Stanley Kubrick’s very first film from 1953, is something every aspiring filmmaker should see. Why? Well, not for the reasons you may think; what this film shows quite clearly is that before there was Stanley Kubrick, genius perfectionist director without peer, there was Stanley Who?, just another struggling young filmmaker.
Shot for around $30,000, this self-financed film was clearly a learning process for the 25-year-old director. Kubrick later had the film pulled from distribution for years, calling it a “bumbling amateur exercise,” and this rerelease is a rare chance to see it in a cinema.
The story is set in a fictional war zone where four soldiers — the dapper officer, the grumpy Sarge, the stolid good ol’ boy and the hopeless naif — trapped behind enemy lines try get home safely, encountering a beautiful peasant woman and an enemy general on the way.
The absurdity of war, madness, the other as self — these are all quite Kubrickian themes, yet “Fear and Desire” suffers from a screenplay by Pulitzer Prize winner Howard Sackler that is overstuffed with pretentious rumination, while the pre-Method era performances seem embarrassingly theatrical to modern eyes. Useful mainly as a comparison to Kubrick’s 1957 war movie “Paths of Glory” to see how far the director came in only four years. (G.F.)