Kubrick's Fear & Desire Uncovered

Negative find may lead to restoration

It's not exactly a "lost" film, but 1953's Fear and Desire is one of Stanley Kubrick's least-seen works, existing only in private collections and in dodgy umpteenth-generation copies online. That may be about to change however, since the surprise find of an original negative in a defunct Puerto Rican film lab.

Kubrick's first feature was shot for an estimated $10,000, and involves four soldiers in an unidentified war crashing behind enemy lines. It was written by Howard Sackler, a classmate of Kubrick's who would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1968. Paul Mazursky, the director of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, plays a mentally disturbed grunt who accidentally kills a captive.

Kubrick himself called it "a bumbling amateur film exercise" and did his best to bury it. There were even stories that he was personally buying up all known prints of it to prevent its ever being seen again. Caroline Frick Page however, curator of the George Eastman House which has taken charge of the "new" negative, believes that's Kubrick mythmaking, and that the film was basically lost due to its relative obscurity. "We’re talking 60s and 70s pre-internet, with a few screenings here and there," she says, "so nobody really knew about it until Kubrick was really ‘Kubrick’”.

Technically, the film is out of copyright and in the public domain, which is why it's okay to watch ropey copies on YouTube. But Page believes that Fear and Desire, properly restored, deserves a new lease of life, and a reappraisal as an important early work (or at the very least a curio) by a great director. "Restorations are a very expensive process," she says "but it would be great to see what can be done. It's not necessarily a complete negative, but I think you could potentially see a high-quality DVD that’s a collaboration between the country’s biggest archives."

And if it's ethically murky territory to release a film against a director's express wishes (discuss), Page insists that Fear and Desire's potential restoration and re-release will go ahead with as much sensitivity as possible.