When you think of the director Stanley Kubrick and war movies, you might think of 1957’s Paths of Glory, 1964’s Dr. Strangelove, or 1987’s Full Metal Jacket. The filmmaker was certainly obsessed with the multiple existential issues that grow from humanities obsession with war, illustrated in the depravity of authority in Paths of Glory, to the absurdities of battle in Dr. Strangelove. Aside from Kubrick’s historical epic Spartacus, however, there is one other war movie the iconic director would prefer you to forget altogether.
In the mid-1940s, before Kubrick’s foray into cinema, he was a budding photographer with a meticulous artistic eye. Having sold photography to Look magazine for many years, he moved on to short film features, releasing documentaries Day of the Flight, and Flying Padre in 1951, putting the money he had raised from showcasing these films into his first feature-length project Fear and Desire in 1953.
This anti-war film, directed, produced and shot by Kubrick, followed four soldiers trapped behind enemy lines who are forced to confront their ‘fears and desires’ as they try to escape to safety. Made with a production team of just fifteen people, Kubrick’s directorial debut co-starred a young Paul Mazursky, a director later responsible for highly acclaimed critical success including Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, and Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Later, when Mazursky was asked about his collaboration with Kubrick, he was less than complimentary, saying: “I thought he was a crazy guy with black eyes”.
Kubrick’s dogged determination to complete his debut project seemed to overwhelm him as if an obsession. Without enough money to complete the film, the director reportedly raised part of the budget by hustling chess games in Central Park, whilst the rest he demanded from a pharmacist uncle during Fear and Desire’s production. “He got so determined — ‘I’m going to get the five. I’m getting the five thousand’ — that he spat on the windshield. That kind of determination I’ve never seen,” Mazursky reported.
Of course, Stanley Kubrick’s intent spitting led to the completion of his debut film, even if he wasn’t too happy with the result, considering the film “a bumbling amateur film exercise” and a “completely inept oddity”. He was so possessed by his resentment toward the film that according to Marzursky: “Stanley tried to have the negative burned. He hated the movie. Hated it”. The director also managed to succeed in pulling the film from circulation, so much so that for years it was only available as a rough bootleg, however as the director’s fame grew, so too did the interest in his debut feature. 22 years after his death, with help from several restorations from private copies, the film is now readily available and even in the public domain ready for your viewing pleasure down below.
The film itself is an interesting exercise in anti-war filmmaking and certainly far from a disaster, even if Kubrick considered pyromania to rid it from history.