Whenever studying an artist’s work, it is important to note not just the home runs, but also the near misses. Perhaps even the failures. This is because most often technique can be spotted within those early, easily dismissed achievements, and upon witnessing the raw potential without polish, one can spot the growth. What is to be found there? Think of the great, later works of any writer or artist and ask yourself how often do you feel lost within that approach. Sure, Wallace Stevens’s “Sunday Morning” reads great but what the hell did he do to achieve that? How does he make it look so easy? How about Michelangelo’s David, where the sculpting Master claimed that all he need do was to ‘chip away’? Again, all looks great but if one is a young sculptor, how does he get there? On one hand, 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of those ever so perfect films with a narrative that unfolds like a poem. But what did Kubrick have to undertake to create it? Well, the answer resides in his early films.
Fear and Desire and Killer’s Kiss are both early films that I’ll not bother summarizing with excessive detail. At their best, both show potential differently. Each finishing at around an hour, brevity seems to be their strongest quality, as anything longer would surely bore the viewer. To begin, I will first address Fear and Desire. As a war story, Kubrick tried to have all versions of his film destroyed, as he thought so little of it. (Amateurish was the word used.) While not a good film, it isn’t terrible either. I might even give it a slight pass, as in 60/100 if for nothing else at least there are some good shots. To contrast, think of Herk Harvey’s first and only film, Carnival of Souls that, like Fear and Desire, is also a B film full of hammy acting. The difference, however, is that Carnival of Souls moves about as if one were in a dream, and so the situations that might otherwise come off forced, actually work. Such is not the case with Fear and Desire. So where to begin? […]