Kubrick-fest 01 - Fear and Desire & Killer's Kiss

So to start off, we’ll have two Kubricks this week, Fear and Desire and Killer’s Kiss. Both are about an hour long, and made when he was 25 and 27 respectively. Fear and Desire could be considered a student film really. Why start with two Kubricks, and risk stomach upset? Well, they are short, one is free and they are fairly immature works. I kind of expect most people participating to watch one and not both (I shall view both, for the first time!). Next week’s film really deserves its own thread - its fantastic and many of the Kubrick-familiar may not have seen it or even know of it.

The way this thread works is simple - when you finish watching one or both, feel free to comment and discuss here.

If you don’t want Spoilers, stay away until you’ve watched it (them).

Future threads will be the same and I’ll be getting them up on Thursdays, giving those who wish to keep up a full week kinda starting with a weekend to watch that week’s film(s). That next thread will be posted here.

Streaming Info

Fear and Desire

Amazon Prime (Free if you have Prime):

Mounted Free at Wikipedia:

Youtube (2.99):

Its on Kanopy too. Itunes for 3.99, etc.

Killer’s Kiss

On every major streaming platform for 3.99 rental. Here’s Amazon:

Fear and Desire is also on Amazon Prime in the UK, while Killer’s Kiss is VOD on Amazon and Apple

This is cool, Navarone. Thanks for setting it up. I’m going to try to keep up when I’m able, and will definitely be watching and commenting on Paths of Glory, as I’ve never seen it all the way through and it was already on my to-watch list.

Good to have you on board!

I do like me some Kubrick, but I’ll wait until next week…

This is a great idea, BTW!

Likely a good move. Post-viewing entry from me coming this afternoon.

Fear and Desire

The Soldier at the bottom? His expression fully captures how I felt watching the film.

This was a tough watch. I kind of expected it; it was the equivalent of a student film for Kubrick, who was a young 25 year old (but noticed and respected) New York City-based Look Magazine photographer at the time. He wanted to make a film and made this one on a very low budget, largely funded by his uncle, a wealthy drug store chain owner in California. The script was by an old high school friend, Howard Sackler, who later in life would pen the play The Great White Hope. Kubrick had made a few documentary shorts prior, but this is his first attempt to tell a story on film, and in doing so, he is essentially experimenting with the form and trying things for the first time. Kubrick didn’t want us to see this. He tried to pull every print out of circulation starting in the late ‘50s, and we wouldn’t be seeing this if a print hadn’t been found in a film lab in Puerto Rico in 1980, after the film had lapsed into public domain, and was given to the Library of Congress. Kubrick referred to it as “a child drawing on a refrigerator.”

And it shows. An anti-war film, it attempts to explore the impact of Fear and Desire on combatants and non-combatants in a conflict; following the crew of a military aircraft who have bailed out behind enemy lines in their attempt to safely return to friendly lines. All human beings in the film, other than the poor peasant girl played by Virginia Leith, are warped and their motivations and drives, perverted by the war, cause nothing but harm on themselves and others. An attempt to “bravely” assassinate an enemy general by the survivors is ostensibly motivated by an attempt to “do something worthwhile” but is really motivated by the aforementioned Fear and Desire (get it?). We know this because we are subjected to endless voice-over narration by the characters as they relate inner monologues. I keep saying “the War” because it is not rooted in time and place. No nations, countries or specifics are mentioned, possibly to achieve a universality of message, but more likely because it would have broken the budget.

Of note, the whole thing is overdubbed, as Kubrick and his crew of 15 screwed up the location sound work in the Hudson Valley (or Long Island, or wherever). Reportedly, that is what made the film take a loss even after being sold as a B-feature to independent film distributor Joseph Burstyn. It’s like watching a film with Red Zone Cuba-level funding and written by someone poorly imitating a Eugene O’Neill play (in fact Mike & the bots would probably really make this one worthwhile!). The acting is stilted, and the best performance and shots in the film revolve around the capture and near escape by the peasant girl, who has no dialogue in the film. Unless you are a Kubrick completist there is absolutely no reason to see these refrigerator scrawlings. You can see some interesting camera angles here and there, but this is the low budget work of someone who hasn’t learned how to tell a story in a film or even make you compelled to look at the screen. I wanted to turn it off after 15 minutes, but it was only an hour long and I was committed to the venture of the Kubrick-fest. Anyone participating, you have been warned! Feel free to say, “Navaronegun watched Fear and Desire for our sins; so we wouldn’t have to.”

I’ll give a more complete thought later, but I largely concur.

One quick hit, the framing of characters. I generally dislike the headshot framing used often here. The artificiality of a character bust looking straight into a camera and talking just is off putting to me.

It’s also a technique that has fallen almost completely out of favor, for good reason. It can be used well I suppose, and a surrealist dream state framing using that can be quite effective. But as it is used here, to cut between different characters framed in bust, I just dislike it.

But yeah, very rough overall, and lots of indications of a director grasping for things out of his reach (yet). Particularly the dinner scene, clearly there is an artistic motif to the shots of food, being squeezed by hands, and the intended symbolism. Clearly he is going for a Citizen Kane style moment. But it is clumsy here. However it seems to hint at things to come for Kubrick, as this symbolic cut is one of the things I know his style most for In my limited experience.

I looked up Virginia Leith AND—

So the MST3K connections aren’t just suggested by the budget!

Simply marvelous!

Killer’s Kiss

This film is an adequate film noir (kinda…we’ll get to that in a bit) set in New York City. A washed-up boxer impulsively gets involved with a willowy blonde neighbor who lives in his building. He pretty much falls in love with her at first meeting and they plan to run away to Seattle together (he’s got family there) and start a new life together. But her seedy boss who runs a Taxi Dance Hall (noted hotbeds for prostitution back then, the film basically hints that he may be her Pimp – thank you Hayes Code) in Times Square has other, more violent ideas.

I liked this. I probably wouldn’t watch it again, purely for entertainment, but it’s serviceable noir at times.

First the good. The shots are tremendous. A combination of well-framed scenes, especially in the two apartments, really make use of perspective (the Boxer and the Lady are in the same building and their windows look in on each other’s apartments). Kubrick uses these shots to good effect in terms of foreshadowing and plot advancement. The acting is middling, but acceptable. Frank Silvera, a holdover from Fear and Desire , turns in the best performance as the volatile dance hall boss, leading you to wonder if he is playing her and the boxer, or he is being played by her. The boxing match scenes are amazing; they presage Raging Bull in my opinion (without the blood – Hays Code…). Kubrick masterfully went guerilla a bit with his external shots of Times Square and NYC and they are really wonderful to behold. There are quite a few scene cuts or transitions to items or trivia that provide foreshadowing or accentuate events in the film. He is really growing and finding himself as a director and cinematographer. There is a haunting death scene in an alley worthy of Fritz Lang you see up under this post’s title.

Now for the meh. Story-wise, this thing is pretty simple. There is a running use of voice over narration in this one by the boxer, as the story begins at the end, with him at Penn Station, telling us the tale in his mind. This is for two reasons. Firstly, Kub fired his sound people who kept “getting their equipment in his shots” so the whole thing has dubbed dialogue. Secondly, after the debt incurred by the loss taken on Fear and Desire (which was covered by Kub doing some documentary work for a guy in Kentucky) his moneybags Uncle had no desire to fund this project. So most of the initial budget was covered by Morris Bousel, a Bronx pharmacist who was rewarded with a co-producer credit (Kub’s dad was a wealthy doctor, hence all the medical connections here). However, United Artists offered to pay $100,000 for this film another $100,000 for a second film. But they wanted a happy ending. To a Noir. Whatever. So the Penn Station framing device was tacked on to create a happy ending.

Another befuddling decision was to have a digression filming a ballet dancer performing on an empty stage while the blonde tells our boxer fella her life story, which is a long digression completely unrelated to the plot. This is a 68 minute film, folks. Gotta keep it moving. Not surprisingly this is Kub’s wife at the time, Ruth Sobotka. So Kub really watered down a lot of impact this film could have had with bad decisions on the sound, and compromises - personal, code-driven and professional.

But watching this really made viewing the dreadful Fear and Desire worthwhile as comparisons. And knowing what his next picture is, you can really see the near-logarithmic growth of the artist as a Filmmaker.

Wow, Fear and Desire was really not what I was expecting. I wasn’t quite as turned off as some in this thread, but the voiceover/monologues were really overbearing and it certainly had a sophomoric feel. Totally agreed on the framing too - it’s fascinating how this filmic language evolves over time.

Yeah, I wanted to look at it objectively a bit as opposed to as “the disowned work of the future master”. But, I did want to just stop watching 15 min in. Not only is it not good, it’s bad.

shouldn’t it be exponential growth? Sometimes you can use a logarithmic scale to represent exponential growth… otherwise, great text!

Lol, I am not a math nerd. Now other nerd stuff…

Logarithmic is probably correct in this case. But while gestating in his mother’s womb he must have been an awful awful film director.

I recommend you confirm by viewing Fear and Desire.

By freaky coincidence, my DVD rental service is sending me The Bad Sleep Well at the same time as the Killer’s Kiss/The Killing set. So I’ll be watching not one but two (well three I suppose) near-contemporary film(s?) noirs by directors not mainly known for the genre.

That really sounds like a fine mini-film festival.

Kubric-fest 02 is up at the below link. Don’t let that stop commentary here by anyone at any time, though