The Movie Stanley Kubrick Never Wanted Anyone To See

It's hard not to be a completist when it comes to the films of Stanley Kubrick. The famed director of "A Clockwork Orange" and "2001: A Space Odyssey" inspires a special kind of fandom, even two decades after his death. Once you've seen one awe-inspiring Kubrick film, you have to see them all, because no two are alike and each seems to demonstrate a different element of the filmmaker's mastery over his craft. So how are we meant to handle a movie the director never wanted us to see?

This isn't just a thought exercise: Apparently, Kubrick himself hated one of his own movies so much that he had it pulled from circulation. Naturally, it was the filmmaker's first effort that he wanted to see buried. The 1953 anti-war film "Fear and Desire" is only 62 minutes long, and Kubrick serves as editor on the film as well as being the director and producer.

Kubrick Thought His First Film Was Terrible

"Fear and Desire" was apparently made on a shoestring budget. According to Kubrick collaborator Malcolm McDowell (via Entertainment Weekly), the young filmmaker gathered the money by "hustling chess games in Central Park." "Fear and Desire" star Paul Mazursky added that the small cast and crew actually had to stop filming at one point so the director could "pressure a pharmacist uncle into giving him the money." Upon release, the film gained some positive attention from critics, but it wasn't a financial success. Still, this was obviously the first step in a long, successful career.

"Fear and Desire" could have gone down in history as a great example of guerrilla filmmaking, but Kubrick seemed eager to not only move on from the dissatisfying experience, but make sure the rest of the world did, too. "Stanley tried to have the negative burned," Mazursky said at an event in the filmmaker's honor, before adding emphatically, "He hated the movie. Hated it." 

Kubrick himself even went on the record often to dismiss his own first film. In 1994, when the movie was set to screen publicly for the first time in decades, Kubrick and Warner Bros. shared a press release stating that the film was "written by a failed poet, crewed by a few friends, and a completely inept oddity, boring and pretentious," per Mental Floss.

The Film Is Finally Available Again

For about 40 years, the film was unavailable outside of private collections and bootlegs. This was partly because Joseph Burstyn, the film's sole distributor, died the year of the film's release. Eventually, the film fell into public domain, and was screened publicly a few times before Kubrick's death in 1999, though not with his approval.

So is "Fear and Desire" any good? Well, if your interest in Kubrick's early filmography outweighs your respect for the late director's wishes, you can finally see for yourself. Kino Lorber has released a Blu-Ray version of the film, as has Eureka Entertainment. Kubrick's intense desire to keep the film from seeing the light of day puts fans who want to complete his filmography in a tough position, but all reports indicate that the film isn't nearly as bad as he thought it was and was never even seen as such. Several critics pointed out that the director showed promise, with The New York Times even writing that "Mr. Kubrick's professionalism as a photographer should be obvious to an amateur." 

In the end, there's only one way to know whether or not the movie is worthy of the strong reactions it received: by watching for yourself.