Saturday, December 24, 2011

700 - Fear and Desire review

“Fear and Desire” is Stanley Kubrick’s famously unseen first film, a work the auteur despised so much that he went all out in trying to ensure that cinephiles couldn’t see his freshman effort. Now, after an airing on TCM, I see why. It’s bad enough that even Robert Osbourne was just barely able to avoid describing it in pejorative terms. Present in here is virtually none of the craftsmanship or thematic sophistication that distinguished everything he made from his third film up.

Pic centers around four soldiers trapped behind enemy lines during a fictional war, ostensibly to comment on the universality of the war experience, one I suspect more aimed at budgetary constraints. When they stumble upon the chance to assassinate an enemy general (in a foolish plot that seems to make a point of divorcing itself from plausibility), they discover that, *gasp*, the general and his aide looks like a couple of them! This sort of faux-insightfullness couldn’t be farther from the grim absurdity of his other war masterpieces, “Paths of Glory” and “Dr. Strangelove,” both of which were made soon enough after this that one could be forgiven for not believing they were by the same director. Its seriousness of intent separates it from other B pictures of the time that exist for sensationalistic thrills, but here Kubrick is an artist who knows what he wants to say, but lacks the skill and means to do so.

The only unmistakably Kubrickian element of the film I caught during my single viewing was what my film professor Scott Cawelti referred to as his “bottomless pessimism,” a near-complete absence of faith in the decency of man. Here, even a seemingly heroic soldier is in actuality making a desperate grab for purpose, and a captured civilian girl meets the grisly sort of fate not common even in today’s films. But these horrific moments are diluted by clumsy direction and hammy, dialed to eleven performances. Should this ever see a proper video release, I’d have to endorse it for comparison’s sake; screen this, then “The Killing” or “Paths of Glory,” and discuss what difference a couple years can make.

2 out of 5

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