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Film

The Stanley Kubrick movie that "disappointed" the director

One of the most recognisable visionaries of the 20th century, Stanley Kubrick created unforgettable masterpieces such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr. Strangelove over the course of his illustrious career. Regarded by many as a pioneering auteur who changed cinema forever, Kubrick’s filmography was nearly flawless except for one or two projects he himself had a burning contempt for.

The most famous example of this is his debut feature Fear and Desire, a project that he hated with all his soul. One of Kubrick’s most neglected works (according to the director’s own wishes), the aspiring filmmaker constructed an interesting existential exploration of war at the young age of 24. Scholars would recognise many elements from this debut which evolved into other tropes in some of his later works.

However, Kubrick wanted to destroy every copy of the film in existence and called it “a bumbling amateur film exercise”. Not being able to see past the film’s completely inept oddity, Kubrick burnt the negative but the film has survived and is now part of the public domain thanks to the work of film preservation specialists.

Apart from Fear and Desire, there was one other film which the director hated after making. In an interview with Joseph Gelmis, Kubrick revealed: “I did two scripts that no one wanted. A year went by and my finances were rather rocky. I received no salary for The Killing or Paths of Glory but had worked on 100 per cent deferred salary — and since the films didn’t make any money, I had received nothing from either of them”.

He explained how he had to survive on loans and even tried writing a screenplay for a Western he was going to direct but ultimately lost the project: “I subsisted on loans from my partner, Jim Harris. Next I spent six months working on a screenplay for a Western, One-Eyed Jacks, with Marlon Brando and Calder Willingham. Our relationship ended amicably a few weeks before Marlon began directing the film himself”.

Desperate to sign onto something new, Kubrick hastily agreed to direct a historical epic starring Kirk Douglas in which he examined the resilience of human will through the story of Spartacus. A leader among the slaves who organises a rebellion against the powers that be, Spartacus is transformed into a symbol of resistance through his actions.

The director admitted that he should have never gone into the agreement without making sure that he had creative control: “I had spent two years doing nothing. At this point, I was hired to direct Spartacus with Kirk Douglas. It was the only one of my films over which I did not have complete control; although I was the director, mine was only one of many voices to which Kirk listened. I am disappointed in the film. It had everything but a good story.”

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