Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Project A-Z: Eyes Wide Shut

(One Day I cut an alphabetical swatch through my DVD collection for shits and giggles. Picking the first film that inspired me to write in alphabetical order. This is the result.)

Now that the dust has settled and Kubrick’s “ten year rule” has been proven once again can we all take a moment to acknowledge just how silly much of the initial critical reaction to Eyes Wide Shut was. All that howling over what a supposedly “unsexy” film Kubrick made, as if the critics were appalled and disappointed that the film wasn’t two hours and twenty minutes of Cruise and Kidman fucking. I know it’s tough to believe that a lot of critics at the time were disappointed that the last film by a great director wasn’t porn starring famous people, but go back, check the tape. They were.

Make no mistake Eyes Wide Shut may be an “unsexy” film but it’s profoundly erotic one. Not erotic in the sense of simple titillation, but in the deeper darker sense. Bill Hartford is a man who steps through the floor of his own mind and gets caught in the riptide that lies beneath it.

After being somewhat horrified by the thetan flopping in Vanilla Sky, a performance I’d previously found moving, it’s kind of amazing how well Cruise’s performance holds up in Eyes Wide Shut. How much of Cruise’s impenetrable surface Kubrick penetrates. It’s maybe the first time that Cruise has ever played someone small, someone completely overwhelmed by the things going on around him. Whether it be the demands of his patients, a marijuana buzz, his wives fetish for sailors, or a masked orgy. The twin slight repeating jokes, that everyone from the hotel concierge to the drunken Brooklyn kids making their way home from the bar, in the movie reacts sexually to Cruise and that Cruise is continuously, almost compulsively self identifying as a doctor take on an almost tragic light in this dimension. He keeps claiming himself as a doctor so he can claim that he is something. It’s as if he’s attending a party where everyone is having a good time but himself, and every time he makes a move to join in the consequences promise to be dire.

Kubrick famously considered shooting the story as a straight farce staring Steve Martin. The shocking thing about that isn’t that the idea is absurd but that it’s very plausible (You can still see it peeking through in the costume shop sequence which even goes so far as to feature wacky Japanese businessmen. The essential ingredient of dated 80’s comedy). The escalating episodic structure is exactly the same as a farce, and one can easily imagine Martin’s ever growing sense of frustration as he desperately tries to have sex with someone.

Of course that’s not the film we get and that’s the thing that makes Eyes Wide Shut such a rewarding and maddening film to revisit, it’s that the film that we did get is so elusive. Shifting tones like a prism. It’s an episodic film almost every scene could function independently, the scene between Cruise and the Hooker, plays like a first rate short story by Andre Dubus, The opening party scene with Sydney Pollack at it’s center a figure of desperate masculinity in shirtsleeves and of course the masked orgy centerpiece. Which features in the albino Birdman who leads the woman away one of the most striking death figures in modern art and in the infamous digitally imposed figures block out all the sex at the orgy scene is still one of the stupidest cases of censorship in recent memory. One whose gracelessness is only truly hammered home by the act of watching it (“But if they see sex in a movie about sex they might go mad!”)

The film isn’t perfect. One rather sizable flaw being the scene which sends Cruise out on his odyssey, aided by the most magically potent marijuana in the universe, is one of the most tone deaf in Kubrick’s career (Despite Kidman's best efforts). There is also no denying that the film feels a bit spent (if you’ll forgive the pun) after the climatic orgy. While it’s crucial to the film there’s no denying that Cruise’s half hearted attempts at penetrating the mystery are only so much aftermath further lacking urgency by the film’s very Kubrickian insistence that perhaps there is no mystery at all.

Still for all it’s flaws Eyes Wide Shut remains a masterpiece, and a fitting coda to the great filmmaker’s career (I for one find it his warmest film this side of Spartacus). It has the inconsistencies of a dream, but like the best of dreams it follows you out into the daylight and haunts your steps.


Hans A. said...

Hey Bryce,

I was living in Los Angeles during the two-year period when this film was being made. Before its premiere, when the buzz and gossip about the film was still circling in the media, some footage of the film was distributed to media, presumably by the studio. I don't know if this gesture by the studio extended beyond Los Angeles.

One morning on Good Day L.A. (by the way, I don't know why I watched that show in the morning), the footage shown was a lengthy scene of Kidman and Cruise embracing in front of a circular mirror. (It later became an iconic shot for the film publicity.) The scene was well-over two minutes long, had no dialogue, and Kidman's breasts were optically censored. The version of this scene in the finished film is shorter and less explicit. In some ways, it seemed as if the studio was pushing an "erotic" film, and the critics' expectations came from this source.

Interesting anecdote that you share about Steve Martin and the possibility of Kubrick shooting a straight farce. I still think the finished film is intended to be an Absurdist comedy. A lot of Kubrick's cinema is labeled as "emotionally cold" for the reason is that Kubrick is very good at hiding his emotions in his films. Like most of the intellectual ideas of his cinema, the emotions of a particular work, like Eyes Wide Shut, come particularly in reflection.

By the way, do you know where the origin of the Kubrick "ten-year rule" comes from? I've always been curious. I read an article by Bret Easton Ellis, close in time to Eyes' premiere, and he said in a decade that this film will be appreciated as a masterpiece.

Always enjoy reading your reviews, Bryce, and I've posted a banner on my blog for Raimifest. I intend on contributing, as well. Be cool.

le0pard13 said...

Great look at this Kubrick film, one that I must confess I've yet to watch. I know... I know. I must rectify. Thanks, Bryce.

Franco Macabro said...

I love this movie so much, its such a beautiful film to look at. I like how he contrasts the warm colors during the erotic scenes, with the cold colors whenever Kidman and Cruise are in their most intimate, demonstrating how their relationship was going through a cold period.

I found the exploration of relationships so interesting, the necessity to "fuck" in order to keep a relationship going, the importance of the sex in a relationship. The erotic side. If you dont have it in your relationship, your going to look for it elsewhere, which is what they were both doing.

The scene where they smoke pot and muse on their mental infidelities, I loved that scene, it had an intimacy to it, I loved how suddenly they were telling each other these truths...awesome! This is something that doesnt always happen in a relationship.

Plus, then theres the whole mystery behind the secret sex cult. I loved those masks...and I love the music.

I also enjoyed how it contrasts the sex you have in a relationship with someone you love, and trust and the kind of sex you might find out in the streets, which can be twisted, and filled with many risks, like AIDs. That scene where he discovers how close he was to getting Aids...freaking chilling man!

I liked this one a bit more then you did, to me it was a great swan song for Kubrick, he went out making a great film. Great review Bryce. Wasnt aware of that STeve Martin thing, thanks for the info, it would have been a very different film I think.

Paul said...

I used to be in the military and had a Clockwork Orange poster in my barracks room. I lucked out and had a roommate that was not only a huge film buff but also a huge Kubrick fan.

Turns out my roomie went to film school for a short while before joining up. We stayed up late our first night hanging out, talking about our favorite Kubrick movies, favorite scenes and what makes him such a great director. We were both beyond psyched to see Eyes Wide Shut, which was coming out in a few months.

The next day we woke up and read in the paper that Kubrick had died the previous night. It was just...bizarre...but it was also oddly fitting.

Great writeup!

Unknown said...

Nice write-up. EYES WIDE SHUT has aged quite well and I remember how most New York critics were all bent out of shape at how unrealistic the NYC in the film looked but I always thought that that was the point - this isn't meant to be the "real" NY but a NY of the mind, of Bill's mind, if you will - a labrinythe worthy of the one in THE SHINING.

I agree with The Film Connoisseur about the pot scene between Kidman and Cruise. I think it is a very powerful, intimate scene and Kidman, in particular, really nails it. She goes from giggling to really nailing Cruise's character to the wall with that chilling story. I think that her performance in this film is perhaps the finest acting she's ever done (with BIRTH a very close second).

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Hans: Thanks for the insight! I definitely agree Warners was pushing it as a "sexy" film. Mostly because they didn't know what else to do with it. In all fairness that image before the mirror is one hell of an image.

I've always felt that Kubrick's "cold" label to be a pretty snap judgement. I find this film to be very warm and forgiving.

I don't know who came up with the ten year rule. I only know it wasn't me. lol. I first heard it bandied about when reading the original EWS reviews, and then later with AI and it seems the first film to really benefit from it was Clockwork Orange which got slammed by Ebert Kael and the other big critics on it's first release.

It seems that Lyndon (though that took awhile Longer) The Shining, and FMJ went through similar upticks in opinion. It's just one of those things.

Thanks for your support of Raimifest. I always enjoy your reviews as well. I know I don't often comment on Quiet Cool, but that's because an embarrassing amount of the time I haven't seen the flicks you're writing up.

Which trust me puts you in very exclusive company. lol.

@le0pard13: Oh it's DEFINITELY worth it Leopard I look forward to your review.

@ FC: Thanks for the comment Franco. Completely agree, that's one hell of a last line. And the orgy scene and the AIDS scene are great as well.

I know it's silly to get caught up on the pot scene. But it never fails to take me out of the movie. I mean they get SO high SO fast. I swear to God it's like Kubrick never saw someone high before and just had it vaguely described to him.

I don't want to give the impression that I don't like the movie though. I really love it. And think it's more or less a perfect epilogue for Kubrick's career. I'm not going to suggest that Kubrick was such a perfectionist to plan his own death. But he might have been pleased it worked out that way all the same.

@ Paul: Many thanks, and thanks for sharing the story. There's nothing like bonding over a filmmaker to let you know a friendship is off on the right track.

In speaking of the iconic Clockwork Orange Image, I've just bought a great shirt that Features The triangle, Alex in full droog regalia coming out of it, and the title below it... Only when you look closer you notice that it isn't Alex and the logo reads Ludwig Von Beethtoven.

@JD: Thanks JD. I completely agree. I LOVE the New York that Kubrick creates here. How no matter what time it is there are always people on the streets and lights in the windows. It increases the feeling of dread and paranoia.

Like I said with Franco I know it's a silly thing to get hung up on, but I still do. I agree that Kidman's really giving it her all though.

Chris Wright said...

"The film isn’t perfect. One rather sizable flaw being the scene which sends Cruise out on his odyssey, aided by the most magically potent marijuana in the universe, is one of the most tone deaf in Kubrick’s career"

Tone deaf you say?