American auteur Stanley Kubrick is one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of cinema.
His filmography is a rare example of an almost perfect collection of multiple masterpieces like 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange and more. Each of these films are critically acclaimed and are counted alongside some of the best works in cinematic tradition. Cinephiles all over the world obsessively watch Kubrick’s work and are familiar with almost all of them. His 1957 WW-I film starring Kirk Douglas, Paths of Glory, has garnered widespread commendations and is considered to be one of his finest works but it is rare for any of his works before ’57 to get the same kind of attention.
However, Kubrick’s first feature film, Fear and Desire, was released in 1953 and it is probably his least watched effort. He spent decades trying to cover up the existence of this hour-long existential take on war, a concept that he explored in many of his films, including Dr. Strangelove. The film begins with a prophetic investigation of the nature of ideas, of conflict:
“There is war in this forest,” a narrator states. “Not a war that is fought, or one that will be, but any war and the enemies who struggle here do not exist, unless we call them into being. This forest, then, and all that happens now, is outside history. Only the unchanging shapes of fear and doubt and death are from our world.”
Kubrick made the film at the age of 24 by raising funds from his wealthy uncle who owned a drugstore and also earned some money while shooting a documentary on Abraham Lincoln. Most filmmakers tend to look unfavourably at their earliest works but being the perfectionist that Kubrick was, he hated Fear and Desire. He called it “a bumbling amateur film exercise” and “completely inept oddity”.
To prevent people from seeing it or distributing it, he burned the negative. However, despite Kubrick’s best efforts, Fear and Desire has survived the purge and is a part of the public domain now. Even though it is much cruder than any of his other works, the 1953 film is an important part of the discourse because it sheds some light on Kubrick’s early influences and helps us to effectively trace the evolution of one of the undisputed masters of the art of cinema.
Watch Kubrick’s debut film in its entirety here: