Fear & Desire Plays New York

Official transcript from the program All Things Considered, National Public Radio, 01/19/1994
Copyright ©1994 National Public Radio, All Rights Reserved.

Robert Siegel, Host: Director Stanley Kubrick is in Ireland making a new movie...and in New York City this week, Kubrick's first feature film, Fear and Desire is getting its first commercial release in 40 years. The director who went on to create Dr. Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyssey was 24 years old when he made Fear and Desire. Apparently, he's a little embarrassed by his fledgling effort and he tried to block Film Forum from showing it. From New York, David D'Arcy has more.

David D'Arcy, Reporter: Fear and Desire is a war drama about four soldiers trapped in a forest behind enemy lines. They wear what look like World War II German uniforms, but we don't know where or who they are or whom they're fighting. The only weapon they have among them is a pistol and that belongs to a smug, wise-cracking lieutenant.

[Dialog from the film:] You know, there's nothing so refreshing as an afternoon out of doors in enemy territory. It's really too bad that the sun doesn't burn us green instead of brown. Camouflage. Well if you see some strange faces across the way, just wave to them casually and try to look as native as possible.

The film's script was written by the young Howard Sackler, who later won a Pulitzer Prize for his play, The Great White Hope. Fear and Desire is filled with earnest references to The Tempest, Shakespeare' s late play about noblemen marooned on an enchanted island. Sackler asked a 20-year old student named Paul Mazursky to try out for the role of an innocent soldier named Sidney. Mazursky, who went on the direct such films as An Unmarried Woman and Moscow on the Hudson remembers auditioning for Kubrick.

Paul Mazursky, Director-Actor: I went up into this apartment and there was this fellow, he seemed to be a couple years older than me. He had a wife and I think a Doberman Pinscher and suddenly I was reading and I read and I read and I read the whole script. And he said to me at the end, he was very intense, dark hair, round eyes, and I was not nervous so much as impressed by a fellow pretty much my own age with his own apartment and a wife, my gosh. He said OK you got the part. We leave Monday, unscheduled flight from Newark Airport. We pay $100 a week, room and board. And I said well, I have to go to the dean to get permission....

D'Arcy: Mazursky took the role. He flew with Kubrick, the other actors and a small crew to the San Gabriel Mountains in California. Kubrick operated the camera and directed. The cast and crew slept in bungalows and ate sandwiches. The movie cost $9,000 to shoot.

Fear and Desire opened in 1953 in Rockefeller Center but since then, even film scholars haven't been able to see it. The George Eastman House in Rochester recently restored a print and Bruce Goldstein of New York's Film Forum, jumped at the chance to show the young director's debut.

Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum: It is a very pretentious movie, the way the shots are composed. It looks like he was studying some of the early Russian master works and in that respect there are a few scenes that are very flashy and expressionistic, but there is a definite talent there. There's no doubt about it. It's a very accomplished movie, especially for a 24-year old.

D'Arcy: But Stanley Kubrick hates the film and to keep it off the screen he threatened Film Forum with copyright violations, even though Fear and Desire is in the public domain. Through a Warner Brothers' publicist, Kubrick called his first feature `a bumbling amateur film exercise'.

Goldstein: Kubrick had Warner Brothers send a letter out to all the press in town saying that the picture was boring and pretentious and of course, that only drew more attention to it. So it now, now it really is a must see, because now it's the picture Kubrick wants to suppress. So that makes it even sexier as a box office attraction. So I think he's increased our attendance four-fold.

D'Arcy: In fact, Kubrick's admirers braved sub-freezing weather on Friday to come to the film's opening.

1st Man: "Because it's Kubrick, Mr. Stanley Kubrick. We're kind of fans."

D'Arcy: Among the many fans who came on Friday was James Lee of Shanghai, China, where he says none of Kubrick's film were shown when he was growing up.

James Lee: "Right now he is a major director in America, right. So I want to know what's going in 1950's." D'Arcy: Maybe that's just what Kubrick doesn't want the public to see, scenes such as this one in which Sidney, played by Mazursky, loses his mind after killing a girl he and the other soldiers have captured.

[Dialog from the film (Mazursky):] It wasn't my fault. The magician did it. Honest. Prospero the magician. First we're a bird and then we're an island. Before I was a general and now I'm a fish, hurrah for the magician. Ahhhhhhhhh....

It's been 40 years since Paul Mazursky has seen Fear and Desire and more than 25 years since he's spoken to Kubrick.

Mazursky: I don't remember it as studying acting lessons so much as a fellow who knew what he wanted it to look like and my memory is that some of the things in it looked quite wonderful. But still, even to this day, I have memories of certain images in it which I' m sure later we saw in Paths of Glory and other films of his. That's where he learned how to make a movie.

D'Arcy: The same audiences may also recognize the temperament that sustained Stanley Kubrick's career according to Film Forum's Bruce Goldstein.

Goldstein: The thing he should be proud of, instead of denouncing the film, is that he did it his way from day one. He was an independent and he has remained an independent. He's really made his films on his own terms since the very beginning.

D'Arcy: Fear and Desire, Stanley Kubrick's first film, plays through tomorrow at Film Forum in New York. No other bookings are planned but the George Eastman House in Rochester expects other theaters to show the movie over Kubrick's objections. For National Public Radio, I'm David D'Arcy in New York.