Venice, from the archives of the Biennale Kubrick’s first film – Culture & Entertainment


Venice, from the archives of the Biennale Kubrick’s first film – Culture & Entertainment
Written by aquitodovale

Stanley Kubrick’s first film, Fear and Desire, premiered at the 1952 Venice Film Festival under the title Shape of Fear. The discovery emerged in the context of research related to the historical volume on the exhibition created by Gian Piero Brunetta, the result of the collaboration between the Biennale and the publisher Marsilio. The story was for the first time entirely reconstructed through letters and documents from the Historical Archive of Contemporary Arts (ASAC) of the Venice Biennale. It will be presented on Saturday 9 July in Venice.

The story of Stanley Kubrick’s first film, Fear and Desire, is an ancient and singular story. The 23-year-old American director submitted his first work Shape of Fear to the Venice Film Festival (renamed Fear and Desire in 1953, in Italy Fear and desire). He was already an established photographer. From the correspondence with the director of the exhibition at the time, Antonio Petrucci, all his unique personality and self-awareness of his skills as a director emerges.
The screening of the film took place on August 18, 1952 at the Palazzo del Cinema del Lido, at 10 am, in the section called the Festival of scientific film and art documentary.
The importance of reconstructing the story – in addition to certifying the importance of the documents kept at the ASAC for further research, and to fill in an as yet undefined piece of Kubrick’s artistic biography – lies precisely in identifying, in the management of this first film, the genius of one of the greatest masters in the history of cinema. It also catapults the dynamics of the festival into another historical dimension. It all started with a letter dated July 15, 1952 sent by the New York distributor Joseph Burstyn – who at the time imported quality European cinema into the United States – to the director of the exhibition Antonio Petrucci: “Dear Dr. Petrucci, a year ago, when we were together in Rome, you asked me to keep you informed if I saw or heard of any good original independent film. Well, I saw one! The title of the film is Shape of Fear, made by a 23 year old named Stanley Kubrick. In my opinion it is one of the best films I have seen in recent years, it could provoke great discussions and it could be the big surprise of your festival “. However, Petrucci decides, “for length and characteristics”, not to accept Shape of Fear (1 hour and 2 min.) In the main selection of the Exhibition (“big Festival competition”), as he himself writes to Kubrick in a telegram of 7 August 1952, and has it screened in the section called Festival of scientific film and art documentary, on a date (18 August) prior to the period of the main exhibition (20 August – 12 September).
It is for this reason that the presence of the film does not appear in the catalog of the exhibition of that edition. It was the year at the Mostra di Europa ’51 by Roberto Rossellini, A Quiet Man by John Ford, Federico Fellini’s White Sheikh and Ingmar Bergman’s A Summer of Love. The jury, chaired by the critic Mario Gromo, was still made up of Italian personalities and also included the poet Giuseppe Ungaretti. Stanley Kubrick in turn writes a couple of letters to Antonio Petrucci, the first on July 21st in which he states that the post-production of the film has not yet been completed, and if it is selected, he promises to send the complete opening credits so that it is enough to simply glue them. In the second letter of August 26, Kubrick wrote to the director of the Festival: “I would be grateful to know what the ‘reaction’ to my Shape of Fear film was. Then, the fact of which he informed me, namely that ‘characteristics and length ‘of the film prevented him from being included in the main selection, they left me very much in doubt as to what exactly she has in mind. ” This first work by Kubrick, written by the future Pulitzer Prize winner Howard Sackler, is also valid as a forerunner of those themes then developed by the director in Horizons of Glory and Full Metal Jacket. It is an apologue on the nonsense of war, between two deliberately unidentified nations.
Four soldiers who survived the downing of their plane find themselves in enemy territory. Overwhelmed by panic, they lose their minds and ignite a series of senseless violence, including the capture of a girl who stands in their way. The performers (Steve Coit, Frank Silvera and Virginia Leith) were almost all from the theater, except the future director Paul Mazursky, then a college student. The question of the presence of Kubrick’s first film in Venice emerged – underlines the Biennale – in the recent monograph by James Fenwyck Stanley Kubrick Produces (Rutgers University Press, 2021) based on documents preserved in the Stanley Kubrick Archives at the London College of Communication


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