MOVIE REVIEW | ***DIRECTOR DEBUT WEEK*** Kubrick: Fear and Desire (1953)

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I know I should love Kubrick, but for some reason, his movies just don’t do it for me.  A Clockwork Orange is too over the top.  I don’t mean the violence, that’s fine.  I mean the acting, sets and camera work.  I never got on board with the deliberate artificialness of it.  2001: A Space Odyssey is just so self-indulgent and wanky.  Barry Lyndon looks amazing, but it’s probably best enjoyed with the sound down so you don’t get discouraged by the boring story.  I do however, really like Full Metal Jacket and Dr Strangelove.  But even though his misses out number his hits in my limited experience with his work, I don’t disagree with Kubrick’s status as a legend.  So I was still really interested to see where it all started, with his first feature, Fear and Desire.

Stuck behind enemy lines in a non-specified war, four soldiers devise a way to make it past their enemy and back their own base.  There’s the leader Lt. Corby (Kenneth Harp), the grizzled, seen-it-all veteran Sgt. Mac (Frank Silvera), the burnt out wacko Pvt. Sidney (Paul Mazursky) and the other one, Pvt. Fletcher (Stephen Coit).  Plans to build a raft and float to freedom are derailed when they take a local girl prisoner and spot an important enemy colonel who’s vulnerability makes an attack a little too tempting to resist.

The pacing isn’t slow, it’s awkward.  And had this been the debut feature of anyone else, I’d put it down to in experience.  But because this is Kubrick, even as an amateur first timer, I wouldn’t be surprised of every awkward pause, slightly too long close up and uncomfortable hesitation was planned and directed to within an inch of its life.

The performances are pretty wooden and the camera is never quite in the right place to make the editing smooth.  But the real downside to Fear and Desire is the over dubbed dialogue.  It seems that not a single piece of audio was recorded while filming.  Every single word has been dubbed in later and it almost never syncs in a way that even comes close to convincing.

The version of Fear and Desire I watched must have been some new, remastered update.  Because for a movie that’s more than 60 years old, the resolution looked almost as crisp and clear this year’s two black and white stand outs, Nebraska and Frances Ha.  While it looks amazing, the sharpness makes the relentless over dubbing of dialogue stand out even more.  If things were a little muddier, it may not have been so obvious every single second of the film.

As a movie, Fear and Desire is a little too simple, the direction a little too obvious and the overall result a little too hokey.  But if you’re an aspiring film maker, you really need to see this.  Kubrick has a reputation as one of the greatest artists the form has ever known.  So to see that even he had a pretty shakey start, yet went onto greatness, has to be reassuring to anyone else wanting to have a red hot crack at the pictures.

Fear and Desire
Directed By – Stanley Kubrick
Written By – Howard Sackler

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