Eyes Wide Shut     Stanley Kubrick

Eyes Wide Shut     Stanley Kubrick

Eyes Wide Shut     Stanley Kubrick (UK/USA; 1999;) Nicole Kidman; Tom Cruise

viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 3rd March 2022; ticket: £7



My thoughts after viewing Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ were that this movie represented the aging director’s personal search for the elixir of youth in the form of placing himself in proximity to hundreds of nubile semi-naked young women. This is the mother of all ‘bare tit’ movies outscorring any putative rivals by a factorial amount: ‘tits’ at the beginning, the middle and the end, in long shot and close up. ‘Eye’s Wide Shut’ looks like an old man’s attempt to command vicarious exposure to the delights of the flesh by virtue of his elevated status as a ‘famous’ film director.

The film opens with a series of domestic shots set to the soundtrack of a Shostakovich waltz. Perhaps Kubrick thought that using this waltz, he could emulate, albeit on an intimate scale, something of the impact of the Strauss music he used with effect in 2001. But what works with the epic doesn’t necessarily synch up in the same way to the intimate. In fact Kubrick is not a film director who is able to handle the intimate, it is a domain that is alien to his nature. Kubrick’s best films are about power relations, thinking in terms of Paths of Glory, Strangelove and certainly the Hal / Dave subplot in 2001. But intimacy seems a foreign language to him cinematically. His successful characters for the most part are developed along the lines of one emotional dimension, though it is a dimension that is examined in some depth. But in Eyes Wide Shut, Bill and Alice, as played by Kidman and Cruise, seem to have slipped off a Times Sq electronic billboard. Having nothing more to offer than the expected complexity of characters in a ad, they do not so much act rather they perform as sales agents. Kubrick is to Relationship Movies as Eric Rohmer is to Hollywood Westerns.

And Kubrick’s script for ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ lays bare his inadequacy as a writer of dialogue for the sort of film he’s directing. The stilted nature of the writing is heard in the early party scene where Alice is aggressively propositioned by an old Hungarian roué. The overtly theatrical dialogue, in particular that which is put into the mouth the old Count (who does a stentorian job in keeping a straight face) is toe nail curling, comprising the sort of cod lines one might hear in a bad European play of the 1930’s. In fact most of the dialogue is written and delivered in a sort of mock theatrical style that does little for the concept of film intimacy. The idea may have been to compose the sort of lines for the main characters that a playwright such as Edward Albee might pen, lines that would stand up to this style of delivery. But Kubrick and co-writer Frederic Raphael are not in Albee’s league, and instead of incision and intuitive psychic insight, there is mainly banality and trite riposte. The exception is perhaps Alice’s early monologue to Bill, in which she talks to him about herself as a woman and her desire.

And then we come to the film’s centre piece: the in-calling ritual, the invocation orgy. This scene is probably based on the reasonably well known and documented rituals devised by occultist high priest Alistair Crowley. But all that can be said of Kubrick’s attempt to create a believable representation of such a spectacle is that he should have left this sort of stuff to Hammer Films, or even the British Carry On series. They did this sort of thing much better. They did it better because in particular, in the case of the House of  Hammer, these sort of ritual/orgy scenes were always composed stylistically to create a distance between the shot and the audience. Such sequences were ‘hammed’ up to a certain extent, which enabled the audience avoid any sort of investment in the putative meaning of what they were seeing. Hammer knew how handle these things – not too seriously.  Kubrick in comparison seems clueless: he has no filmic recourse other than replication. Replication may have served him well artistically in some of his movies (as well as perhaps feeding serving his own dictatorial nature) but it doesn’t wash well with Black Magick stuff. The reason of course is that with mere replication you cannot embed the meaning for the participants of what is happening for them. It is those very subjective elements that collectively fill out the the psychic space of ceremonial practice and lend it power. Kubrick fails to fill out this set piece with anything other than Bill’s uncomprehending gaze, and the long scene, filled out only with titillation, drained of significance, elides into tedium.  The scenes look what they are a bunch of people doing what the director tells them.  We are pleased when Bill finally leaves or rather is kicked out, and we no longer have to watch Kubrick’s empty spectacle.

‘Eyes Wide Shut’ Kubrick’s final movie was 400 days in production and after a protracted edit, he delivered his ‘cut’ to Warner Bros on 1st March 1999, five days before his death. On the face of it, it looks like a chronicle of time wasted.

adrin neatrour









Author: Star & Shadow

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