"Lost" is an exaggeration: it's always existed in private collections and, more recently, as dodgy online copies. A couple of years ago however, we reported the surprise news that an actual original negative of Stanley Kubrick's first film Fear And Desire had been found in a defunct film lab in Puerto Rico. Now, as was hoped at the time, a full restoration has finally been completed, overseen by the Library of Congress, and is set to be released by Eureka.
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 to prevent its ever being seen again. Caroline Frick Page, however, curator of the George Eastman House, which took charge of the "new" negative, believes that's just 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’”.
Kubrick did, however, admit to Fear And Desire's place in his personal development as a filmmaker. "Before the advent of film schools and lightweight portable equipment, it was important to have those experiences to see with what little facilities and personnel one could actually make a film," he said. "Today, I think if someone stood around and watched even a smallish film unit, he would get the impression of vast technical and logistical magnitude. He would probably be intimidated by this and assume that something close to this was necessary in order to achieve more or less professional results. Fear And Desire and Killer's Kiss freed me from any concern again about the technical or logistical aspects of filmmaking."
Anyone who's slogged through a ropey YouTube version will testify that Fear And Desire is far from vintage Kubrick. But, says Masters Of Cinema producer Craig Keller, "This gorgeous restoration, which can at last be widely circulated, stands as a forceful affirmation of the picture's qualities and historical importance. All of Kubrick is already present, even in nascent form, in Fear And Desire. Stanley Kubrick's millions of fans are likely to find it of a piece with his astonishing body of work. Kubrick achieved a perfection that is as ruthless as it it open-ended - and endlessly rich. Fear And Desire is at the entrance to his vision."
Fear And Desire will be released on DVD and Blu-ray - its first ever wide release in the UK - in late January next year. For the greatest films Stanley Kubrick never made, check out Empire's feature.