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Fear and Desire: The Movie Stanley Kubrick Didn’t Want You to See

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The motionless red-eyed lens of an evil computer; gallons of blood spilling out of an Art Deco elevator; a group of sinister, top hat-wearing teenagers strolling down a dreary riverbank in slow motion; an older man watching a young girl sunbathing while wearing heart-shaped sunglasses; an Army Major riding a nuclear warhead like a bull at a Texas rodeo: All of these images from the career of filmmaker Stanley Kubrick have been seared into the collective conscious of cinema history. But there’s one Kubrick film that even the most serious film geeks would be hard-pressed to remember. Kubrick’s debut feature, Fear and Desire, was virtually unknown for decades for one reason: Kubrick hated it, and the legendary perfectionist didn’t want anybody to see it.

The future filmmaking genius was anything but when he was a 24-year-old kid who quit his full-time job as a photographer for Look magazine in the early 1940s. Kubrick was hired by the magazine right out of the Bronx's Taft High School, when he caught the publication's eye after snapping a photo of a newspaperman grieving over the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. He was quickly sent out on assignment, and eventually took photo portraits of a Bronx-born middleweight boxer named Walter Cartier for a January 1949 feature spread called “Prizefighter.”

The rough and tumble world of boxing inspired Kubrick to eventually pitch the idea of a short film to RKO Pathé, a production company that commissioned documentary shorts for a continuing series called The March of Time. The “Prizefighter” spread gave Kubrick the credentials to convince RKO to hire him to direct 1951's Day of the Fight, a 12-minute film about Cartier’s pre-fight routine. The photographer had become a film director.

But making a feature film wasn’t easy. Kubrick sold one more short documentary to RKO called Flying Padre—about a catholic priest in New Mexico who flies around his 4000-square-mile parish to offer his followers spiritual guidance—before venturing out on his own.

Inspired by the Korean War, which broke out in 1950, Kubrick decided to make a war movie, and enlisted his high school buddy Howard Sackler to write the script (Sackler would later go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for his 1969 play, The Great White Hope, and is perhaps best known by movie fans for writing Quint’s USS Indianapolis speech in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws). To foot most of the bill, Kubrick asked his uncle—a wealthy California drugstore chain owner named Martin Perveler—to finance the film’s budget. The movie idea that Kubrick and Sackler called The Trap, then later The Shape of Fear, reportedly cost somewhere between $20,000 and $40,000 to make.

To cast the film, which was about four soldiers who take a woman hostage after they become trapped in a forest behind enemy lines, Kubrick looked in unorthodox places all around New York City for unknown actors. He eventually found a college student and actor named Paul Mazursky, who was acting in an Off-Broadway play called He Who Gets Slapped, to play the film’s sadistic Private Sidney. (Mazursky, of course, would go on to become a filmmaker in his own right, helming films like Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice and An Unmarried Woman.)

“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,” Mazursky said of Kubrick in a 1994 interview with NPR. “He said, ‘Okay, you got the part. We leave Monday, unscheduled flight from Newark Airport. We pay $100 a week, room and board.’”

The skeleton crew shipped out to shoot the film in California's San Gabriel Mountains, which were chosen over a closer New York locale because of concerns about east coast weather. To those who worked on the film—which was basically the cast and three Mexican laborers hired to carry the film equipment—the assured rookie director took on an outsized role in every facet. In his memoirs, Show Me The Magic - My Adventures in Life and Hollywood, Mazursky expounded upon his impressions of the budding perfectionist’s methods.

“There was no dolly track, just a baby carriage to move the camera,” Mazursky wrote. “Stanley did all the shooting. No matter what the problem, Kubrick always seemed to have an answer. To me there was never a question that Stanley was already master of his universe.”

But when Kubrick returned to New York in the winter of 1952 with a completed film, he needed a way to get people to see the movie. He approached a veteran film distributor named Joseph Burstyn, who had only released films from foreign directors like Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini. But the foreign-minded distributor agreed to buy the movie and sell it as a kind of American art film. The sensationalized poster tagline of the young filmmaker’s first film screamed “Trapped ... 4 Desperate Men and a Strange Half-Animal Girl!”

The press at the time mostly sang the film’s praises. The New York Times wrote that, “If Fear and Desire is uneven and sometimes reveals an experimental rather than a polished exterior, its over-all effect is entirely worthy of the sincere effort put into it,” yet also called Kubrick’s direction “far from inspired.”

The movie was not a financial success, and so a dejected Kubrick was forced to take for-hire jobs, like directing a drab promotional short called The Seafarers for the Seafarers International Union. He soon attempted to move on by raising money for his next feature film, Killer’s Kiss, but the filmmaker’s disdain for his own debut feature began to take on a near-mythic status as his own cinematic stature grew throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Legend has it that Kubrick destroyed the film’s original negative and sought to do the same to any leftover prints after the failed film fell out of circulation following Burstyn’s death.

The notoriously guarded Kubrick trashed his first movie as often as he could. He referred to the film as “a serious effort, ineptly done,” and in a 1964 interview with The New York Review of Books, he called his debut “a presumptuous failure.” In Joseph Gelmis’s book, The Film Director as Superstar, Kubrick reminisced about Fear and Desire, saying, “It’s not a film I remember with any pride, except for the fact it was finished.”

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The film’s copyright eventually lapsed, and Fear and Desire fell into the public domain, which allowed it to be legally shown by anyone who managed to find a print of it. Eventually, New York’s famed Film Forum attempted to show a version of the film in 1994 that was found and restored by The George Eastman House. It was the first time Fear and Desire had been publicly screened since its release 41 years prior. Kubrick himself personally sought to put a stop to the screening, tapping Warner Bros. to issue a press release stating that Fear and Desire was “written by a failed poet, crewed by a few friends, and a completely inept oddity, boring and pretentious,” and that it was a “bumbling amateur film exercise.”

In a 1994 NPR interview, Film Forum’s director of repertory programming, Bruce Goldstein, said Kubrick’s hatred of the film only added to the mythos behind it for the screening. “It really is a must-see, because now it’s the picture Kubrick wants to suppress,” Goldstein said. “So that makes it even sexier as a box office attraction. So I think he’s increased our attendance four-fold.”

Kubrick undoubtedly made better films, but the seeds of his cinematic trademarks are there in Fear and Desire, right down to its theme of best laid plans gone awry. The Eastman print was the only available version of the film, except for excerpts seen in the 2001 Kubrick retrospective documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures. A new restoration was made at the Library of Congress in 2012, and released on home video by Kino that same year. You can also watch the film in its entirety below.

Now anybody is free to judge whether Fear and Desire really is an amateur film, or a simple prelude to the masterpieces that would follow it. But just remember: Kubrick wouldn’t approve.

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10 Filling Facts About A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Though it may not be as widely known as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving has been a beloved holiday tradition for many families for more than 40 years now. Even if you've seen it 100 times, there’s still probably a lot you don’t know about this Turkey Day special.

1. IT’S THE FIRST PEANUTS SPECIAL TO FEATURE AN ADULT VOICE.

We all know the trombone “wah wah wah” sound that Charlie Brown’s teacher makes when speaking in a Peanuts special. But A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, which was released in 1973, made history as the first Peanuts special to feature a real, live, human adult voice. But it’s not a speaking voice—it’s heard in the song “Little Birdie.”

2. IT WASN’T JUST ANY ADULT WHO LENT HIS VOICE TO THE SPECIAL.

Being the first adult to lend his or her voice to a Peanuts special was kind of a big deal, so it makes sense that the honor wasn’t bestowed on just any old singer or voice actor. The song was performed by composer Vince Guardaldi, whose memorable compositions have become synonymous with Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang.

“Guaraldi was one of the main reasons our shows got off to such a great start,” Lee Mendelson, the Emmy-winning producer who worked on many of the Peanuts specials—including A Charlie Brown Thanksgivingwrote for The Huffington Post in 2013. “His ‘Linus and Lucy,’ introduced in A Charlie Brown Christmas, set the bar for the first 16 shows for which he created all the music. For our Thanksgiving show, he told me he wanted to sing a new song he had written for Woodstock. I agreed with much trepidation as I had never heard him sing a note. His singing of ‘Little Birdie’ became a hit."

3. DESPITE THE VOICE, THERE ARE NO ADULTS FEATURED IN THE SPECIAL.

While Peanuts specials are largely populated by children, there’s usually at least an adult or two seen or heard somewhere. That’s not the case with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving may be the only Thanksgiving special (live or animated) that does not include adults,” Mendelson wrote for HuffPo. “Our first 25 specials honored the convention of the comic strip where no adults ever appeared. (Ironically, our Mayflower special does include adults for the first time.)”

4. LUCY IS MOSTLY M.I.A., TOO.

Though early on in the special, viewers get that staple scene of Lucy pulling a football away from Charlie Brown at the last minute, that’s all we see of Chuck’s nemesis in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. (Lucy's brother, Linus, however, is still a main character.)

5. CHARLIE BROWN AND LUCY STILL KEEP IN TOUCH.

Though they only had a single scene together, Todd Barbee, who voiced Charlie Brown, told Noblemania that he and Robin Kohn, who voiced Lucy in the Thanksgiving special, still keep in touch. “We actually went to high school together,” Barbee said. “We still live in Marin County, are Facebook friends, and occasionally see each other.”

6. CHARLIE BROWN HAD SOME TROUBLE WITH HIS SIGNATURE “AAARRRGG.”

One unique aspect of the Peanuts specials is that the bulk of the characters are voiced by real kids. In the case of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, 10-year-old newcomer Todd Barbee was tasked with giving a voice to Charlie Brown—and it wasn’t always easy.

“One time they wanted me to voice that ‘AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG’ when Charlie Brown goes to kick the football and Lucy yanks it away,” Barbee recalled to Noblemania in 2014. “Try as I might, I just couldn’t generate [it as] long [as] they were looking for … so after something like 25 takes, we moved on. I was sweating the whole time. I think they eventually got an adult or a kid with an older voice to do that one take."

7. LINUS STILL GETS AN ENTHUSIASTIC RESPONSE.

While Barbee got a crash course in the downside of celebrity at a very early age—“seeing my name printed in TV Guide made everyone around me go bananas … everybody … just thought I was some big movie star or something,” he told Noblemania—Stephen Shea, who voiced Linus, still gets a pretty big reaction.

"I don't walk around saying 'I'm the voice of Linus,'" Shea told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. "But when people find out one way or another, they scream 'I love Linus. That is my favorite character!'"

8. THANKS TO LINUS, THE THANKSGIVING SPECIAL GOT A SPINOFF.

As is often the case in a Peanuts special, Linus gets to play the role of philosopher in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and remind his friends (and the viewers) about the history and true meaning of whatever holiday they’re celebrating. His speech about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving eventually led to This is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers, a kind of spinoff adapted from that Thanksgiving Day prayer, which sees the Peanuts gang becoming a part of history.

9. LEE MENDELSON HAD AN ISSUE WITH BIRD CANNIBALISM.

In writing for HuffPo for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’s 40th anniversary, Mendelson admitted that one particular scene in the special led to “a rare, minor dispute during the creation of the show. Mr. Schulz insisted that Woodstock join Snoopy in carving and eating a turkey. For some reason I was bothered that Woodstock would eat a turkey. I voiced my concern, which was immediately overruled.”

10. MENDELSON EVENTUALLY GOT HIS WAY ... THOUGH NOT FOR LONG.

Though Mendelson lost his original argument against seeing Woodstock eating another bird, he was eventually able to right that wrong. “Years later, when CBS cut the show from its original 25 minutes to 22 minutes, I sneakily edited out the scene of Woodstock eating,” he wrote. “But when we moved to ABC in 2001, the network (happily) elected to restore all the holiday shows to the original 25 minutes, so I finally have given up.”

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13 Great Facts About Bad Lieutenant
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Bad Lieutenant can be accused of many things, but one charge you can't level against it is false advertising. Harvey Keitel's title character, whose name is never given, is indeed a bad, bad lieutenant: corrupt, sleazy, drug-addled, irresponsible, and lascivious, all while he's on the job. (Imagine what his weekends must be like!)

Abel Ferrara's nightmarish character study was controversial when it was released 25 years ago today, and rated NC-17 for its graphic nudity (including a famous glimpse at Lil’ Harvey), unsettling sexual violence, and frank depiction of drug use. The film packs a wallop, no doubt. Here's some behind-the-scenes info to help you cope with it.

1. THE PLACID WOMAN WHO HELPS THE LIEUTENANT FREEBASE HEROIN WROTE THE MOVIE.

That's Zoë Tamerlis Lund, who starred in Abel Ferrara's revenge-exploitation thriller Ms. 45 (1981) more than a decade earlier, when she was 17 years old. She and Ferrara are credited together for writing Bad Lieutenant, though she always insisted that wasn't the case. "I wrote this alone," she said. "Abel is a wonderful director, but he's not a screenwriter." She said elsewhere that she "wrote every word of that screenplay," though everyone agrees the finished movie included a lot of improvisation. Lund was a fascinating, tragic character herself—a musical prodigy who became an enthusiastic and unapologetic user of heroin before switching to cocaine in the mid-1990s. She died of heart failure in 1999 at age 37.

2. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN WAS SUPPOSED TO STAR IN IT.

Christopher Walken had starred in Ferrara's previous film, King of New York (1990), and was set to play the lead in Bad Lieutenant before pulling out at almost the last minute. Ferrara was shocked. "[Walken] says, 'You know, I don't think I'm right for it.' Which is, you know, a fine thing to say, unless it's three weeks from when you're supposed to start shooting," Ferrara said. "It definitely caught me by surprise. It put me in terminal shock, actually." Harvey Keitel replaced him (though not without difficulty; see below), and the film's editor, Anthony Redman, thought Keitel was a better choice anyway. "Chris is too elegant for the part," he said. "Harvey is not elegant." 

3. HARVEY KEITEL'S INITIAL REACTION TO THE SCRIPT WAS NOT PROMISING.

"When we gave [Keitel] the script the first time, he read about five pages and threw it in the garbage," Ferrara said. Keitel's recollection was a little more diplomatic. As he told Roger Ebert, "I read a certain amount of pages and I put it down. I said, 'There's no way I'm gonna make this movie.' And then I asked myself, 'How often am I a lead in a movie? Read it, maybe I can salvage something from it …' When I read the part about the nun, I understood why Abel wanted to make it."

4. IT WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY.


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"It was always, in my mind, a comedy," Ferrara said. He cited the scene where the Lieutenant pulls the teenage girls over as a specific example of how Christopher Walken would have played it, and how Harvey Keitel changed it. "The lieutenant was going to end up dancing in the streets with the girls as the sun came up. They'd be wearing his gun belt and hat, and they'd have the radio on, you know what I mean? But oh my God, Harvey, he turned it into this whole other thing." Boy, did he. 

5. THAT SCENE WITH THE TEENAGE GIRLS HAD A REAL-LIFE ELEMENT THAT MADE IT EVEN CREEPIER.

One of the young women was Keitel's nanny. Ferrara: "I said, 'You sure you want to do this with your babysitter?' He says, 'Yeah, I want to try something.'"

6. MUCH OF IT WAS FILMED GUERRILLA-STYLE.

Like many indie-minded directors of low-budget films, Ferrara didn't bother with permits most of the time. "We weren't permitted on any of this stuff," editor Anthony Redman admitted. "We just walked on and started shooting." For the scene where a strung-out Lieutenant walks through a bumpin' nightclub, they sent Keitel through an actual, functioning club during peak operating hours.

7. A GREAT DEAL OF THE DIALOGUE AND ACTION WERE MADE UP ON THE FLY.

The script was only about 65 pages at first, which would have made for about a 65-minute movie. "It left a lot of room for improvisation," producer Randy Sabusawa said, "but the ideas were pretty distilled. They were there."

Script supervisor Karen Kelsall said supervising the script was a challenge. "Abel didn't stick to a script," she said. "Abel used a script as a way to get the money to make a movie, and then the script was kind of—we called it the daily news. It changed every day. It changed in the middle of scenes." Ferrara was unapologetic about the script's brevity. "The idea of wanting 90 pages ... is ridiculous."

8. AND THERE WERE EVEN MORE IDEAS THAT THEY DIDN'T USE.

Ferrara said a scene that epitomized the movie for him—even though he never got around to filming it—was one where the Lieutenant robs an electronics store, leaves, then gets a call about a robbery at the electronics store. He responds in an official capacity (they don't recognize him), takes a statement, walks out, and throws the statement in the garbage. "And that to me is the Bad Lieutenant, you know?" Ferrara said. 

9. THE BASEBALL PLAYOFF SERIES IS FICTIONAL.

The Mets have battled the Dodgers for the National League championship once, in 1988. (The Dodgers beat 'em and went on to win the World Series.) For the narrative Ferrara wanted—the Mets coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win the pennant—he had to make it up. He used footage from real Mets-Dodgers games (including Darryl Strawberry's three-run homer from a game in July 1991) and added fictional play-by-play. But the statistics were accurate: No team had ever been down by three in a best-of-seven series and then come back to win. (It's happened once since then, when the 2004 Red Sox did it.)

10. THEY HAD HELP FROM THE COP WHO SOLVED A SIMILAR CASE.

The disgusting crime at the center of the film (we won't dwell on it) was inspired by a real-life incident from 1981, which mayor Ed Koch called "the most heinous crime in the history of New York City." The street cop who solved it, Bo Dietl, advised Ferrara on the film and had an on-screen role as one of the detectives in our Lieutenant's circle of friends.

11. THEY DESECRATED THE CHURCH AS RESPECTFULLY AS THEY COULD.

Production designer Charles Lagola had his team cover the church’s altar and other surfaces with plastic wrap, then painted the graffiti and other defacements on the plastic.

12. IT WAS RATED NC-17 IN THEATERS, WITH AN R-RATED VERSION FOR HOME VIDEO.

Blockbuster and some of the other retail chains wouldn't carry NC-17 or unrated films, so sometimes studios would produce edited versions. (See also: Requiem for a Dream.) The tamer version of Bad Lieutenant was five minutes and 19 seconds shorter, with parts of the rape scene, the drug-injecting scene, and much of the car interrogation scene excised.

13. THE "SEQUEL" HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT, NOR DID FERRARA APPROVE OF IT.


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Movie buffs were baffled in 2009, when Werner Herzog directed Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, starring Nicolas Cage. It sounds like a sequel (or a remake), but in fact had no connection at all to the earlier film except that both were produced by Edward R. Pressman. Herzog said he'd never seen Ferrara's movie and wanted to change the title (Pressman wouldn't let him); Ferrara, outspoken as always, initially wished fiery death on everyone involved. Ferrara and Herzog finally met at the 2013 Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, where Herzog initiated a conversation about the whole affair and Ferrara expressed his frustration cordially. 

Additional sources:
DVD interviews with Abel Ferrara, Anthony Redman, Randy Sabusawa, and Karen Kelsall.

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