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Kubrick's Early Odyssey: 'Fear and Desire' and 'Killer's Kiss'

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood November 9, 2012 at 3:13PM

As the much-anticipated Stanley Kubrick exhibition opened at LACMA on November 1, the museum hosts a parallel film retrospective of the director's 13 feature films, screening in chronological order. This puts Kubrick's two least-seen yet remarkable works, "Fear and Desire" and "Killer's Kiss," as the inaugural double-header for the film series on November 9.
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"Killer's Kiss"
"Killer's Kiss"

The mannequin sequence is the best and best-known of the film, and communicates the running themes of isolation and anonymity in the big city. (In an early scene, Davey stares through a fish bowl, as if looking at himself and his best friend in the same moment.) But numerous sequences and shots are totally striking. Kubrick's previous job as a Look Magazine photographer is apparent in Davey's boxing scene opposite Kid Rodriguez, as the camera moves fluidly in the ring and under it, showing both the full-body athleticism of the match and the up-close facial anguish of a young man already too old for his sport. When Gloria tells Davey about growing up in the shadow of her ballerina sister, we cut to an extended flashback-within-a-flashback of a dancer en pointe fluttering lithely across an illuminated stage.

Whether or not Darren Aronofsky has seen "Killer's Kiss" I don't know, but Kubrick's film foreshadows a number of themes and images Aronofsky has shown interest in. The stylish, chiaroscuro ballerina sequence is a clear predecessor to the opening sequence of "Black Swan," while Davey's physically degrading matches in the ring, intercut with Gloria at her dime-a-dance job, precedes the parallel between the wrestling and stripping worlds in "The Wrestler."

Meanwhile, "Killer's Kiss" has an understanding of emotional ambiguities. True to the title, the film pivots around kisses, and the obsessions that emerge as a result. The kisses are shared by killers, but which killer is the most treacherous is up for the viewer to decide.

"Fear and Desire" and "Killer's Kiss" screen November 9 at LACMA. For those who can't make it to the screening, Kino Lorber recently released a beautifully restored DVD and Blu-ray of "Fear and Desire."

Complete LACMA Kubrick screening lineup:

November 9 | 7:30 pm Fear and Desire, plus Day of the Fight and Flying Padre

November 9 | 9:20 pm Killer’s Kiss, plus The Seafarers

November 10 | 5 pm The Killing

November 10 | 7:30 pm Paths of Glory

November 16 | 7:30 pm Spartacus

November 17 | 7:30 pm Lolita

November 30 | 7:30 pm Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

December 1 | 7:30 pm 2001: A Space Odyssey

December 7 | 7:30 pm A Clockwork Orange

December 8 | 7:30 pm Barry Lyndon

December 14 | 7:30 pm The Shining

December 15 | 5 pm Full Metal Jacket

December 15 | 7:30 pm Eyes Wide Shut

This article is related to: Stanley Kubrick, LACMA, Features, Reviews, Reviews, Classics, DVD and VOD


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.