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June 17, 2005

Eyes Wide Shut

Stanley Kubrick - 1999
Warner Brothers Region 2 DVD


No deliveries from Netflix or Nicheflix, so I finally got around to watching my DVD of Eyes Wide Shut.

I made a point of buying a British copy as I wanted to see the film as Kubrick made it. Keep in mind that because Kubrick died only four days after he delivered his final version to Warner Brothers, that the alteration of his film for North American release was done by his producer and brother-in-law, Jan Harlan. True, Kubrick was contractually obligated to make an R rated version for Warner Brothers, but one will always wonder if the digitally inserted people who partially block the orgy scenes are what Kubrick intended. This is especially of concern in noting that the MPAA, as I understand it, never saw the original version of the film. I have problems with the ratings anyways because: they are often abitrary, I believe that some films are not intended to be seen by children or by people under a certain age, parents have proven to be stupid by bringing babies and young children to R rated films, and the film companies have realized that they can make more money by releasing unrated versions of movies on DVD instead of or in addition to the rated theatrical version. One bit of irony, Warner Brothers has an unrated version of True Romance on DVD for North American audiences, but has thus far refused to release a Region 1 unrated version of Eyes Wide Shut.

You're wanting to know if getting that extra bit of nudity was worth it. Yes, it was.

I recall some so-called critic complaining that Stanley Kubrick made a film about sex that was not erotic. Well, gee, I think that was the point. By baring all, as it were, we are able to share in Kubrick's dispassionate view of the world. It's no accident that Kubrick's New York City is filmed in the same style as 2001 and Clockwork Orange. What too many less than thoughtful viewers of this film forget is that Kubrick's films since Lolita represent a viewpoint of detachment from the world. There is discussion on love, sex and the erotic in Eyes Wide Shut, but the sex and nudity in the orgy scenes are about class and power.

Just as Kubrick short circuited expectations by making a film about sex that was deliberately not erotic in the most graphic moments, he reduces Tom Cruise to a reactive character. Only Kubrick could get away with having a scene where Cruise is hassled by a group of men he passes on the sidewalk with accusations that he is gay. Unlike the real Cruise who has successfully won libel suits, or Cruise's typical screen persona who would fight back, Kubrick's Cruise avoids fights and encounters of possible negative consequence.

I would say Kubrick was smitten, yes, smitten is the correct word, with Nicole Kidman. Not only is she the character with the most power, but Kubrick gives her the last word, not only of this film, but significantly, of all Kubrick movies.

About thirty years ago, my friend Ric Menello told me about an interview that Pauline Kael did in the late fifties with two Hollywood directors, an established veteran, and a newcomer.
The veteran was Nicholas Ray, the newbie was Kubrick. As the story goes, Kael had asked the two directors what they most wanted to film, and they both responded that they wanted to show a couple fucking. Maybe they were having a laugh at Kael's expense. Kubrick did first announce plans to film Dream Novel, the literary basis of EWS, in the mid 70s, so that it is clear that the Dream Novel was a dream movie for quite a while.

Going back to the discussion of the two versions of EWS, I have to wonder if Kubrick and the film would have benefitted from being made about thirty years earlier. During the brief time between Midnight Cowboy and Last Tango in Paris, studios supported films for an adult only audience. Kubrick's home base of Warner Brothers released not only Clockwork Orange, but also Ken Russell's The Devils, Visconti's The Damned, and Roeg and Cammell's Performance. Kubrick almost always had a problem with his films being appreciated during the time of their initial release. Then again, made during a time when the President of the United States was impeached for his sexual activity, Kubrick may have been making a comment on our new era of puritanism.

Posted by peter at June 17, 2005 05:52 PM