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KUBRICK @Feature #13: 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut

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Is Kubrick’s last official feature incomplete? Sure…all of us hardcore fans realize that. Oh, the marketing in 1999 assured us that Stanley had turned in his final cut, just days ahead of succumbing to a massive heart attack in his sleep at the age of only 70. But we all knew that Kubrick would tinker with his work obsessively, often right up until the official opening. Sometimes, even after a premiere (see 1980’s “The Shining”, in a future installment)! It was difficult to comprehend that Kubrick had been taken so quickly, after wrapping up work on what would be his 13th, and final, feature. I visited it twice in theaters that summer of ’99. Later, I scooped up a VHS copy in early 2000. And my latest revisit, was via the unrated European version of the film, in my collection since being released on DVD a number of years ago.

“Eyes Wide Shut” is a near masterpiece, that was initially misunderstood by a number of critics, and a good portion of the film-going public. And I got pretty tired of defending its excellence, to the average fickle and dismissive American mass audience member, back when it was still fresh and new. Certainly, a good lot of them were reacting to the marketing campaign for the film. How could you not? It showcased two sexy U.S.-based movie stars, who were actually married at the time. By this point, I have a theory, as to why certain people are averse to Stanley’s finale. I also tend to back it up, with the fact that no less an authority than the renowned Martin Scorsese, calls EWS one of the 5 best films of the 1990s. Want to argue? Give Marty a call.

Anyway, I doubt that most of the various naysayers are actual Kubrick fans. Sure–a number of them had heard about what a genius he was, and probably a good portion of them had experienced “The Shining”, or even “Full Metal Jacket”, on cable television. But many of them had never sought out a Stanley Kubrick production until this time. And, of course they did! In Tom Cruise, EWS starred the biggest film actor in the world. Plus, his high profile relationship with Nicole Kidman was constant tabloid fodder, along with EWS being their 3rd big release together, in less than a decade. Then Kubrick passed in March of 1999, and the movie went wide that July. And the public was confused. And angry. They felt misled, and/or assaulted. I mean, let’s face it, North American moviegoers weren’t getting more patient by the end of the last millennium. They were getting lazier. That trend continues. Stanley gives a slow burn–not instant gratification. And many were expecting an ultra-erotic psycho-sexual romp. What they got was much more cerebral, with equal parts cinematic flamboyance, along with stone-cold reality. A high percentage weren’t prepared. So, they disparage it until this day.

What “Eyes Wide Shut” actually is, is perhaps the most honest and scathing look at marriage and fidelity that’s ever been commited to film. I thought that then, and it was confirmed in my most recent view. The final shot, and line, cements it.

Wasn’t anyone paying attention? Yes, many were. The overall critical reception for EWS was quite strong, but the post release publicity was hijacked by the negative perceptions. It was also a box office hit. Not a major one, but hardly a failure. And its reputation has only grown in recent years–as is the case with a number of Kubrick releases.

And do you know what surprised me upon seeing EWS freshly? Nicole Kidman’s performance has slipped a bit in my eyes, while her ex-husband’s has only enhanced. If you’re a regular reader of my work, you’re aware that I’ve learned to appreciate the eclectic output of Tom Cruise. Is he a nut? Probably. But as I like to espouse now: “I love Tom Cruise, I hate Tom Cruise”. He’s consistently underrated. Including here. All the talk in 1999, was that Ms. Kidman would get an Oscar nomination (she didn’t). Whereas, Mr. Cruise had no similar Academy buzz (and yet, he did get a nom…but for P.T. Anderson’s “Magnolia”, released later that year). And Tom is pretty mesmerizing throughout this EWS odyssey. In fact, the duality of happenings is represented brilliantly, through his consistent repitition of other character’s dialogue. I adore the device. Ms. Kidman, on the other hand, appears to be pushing more than I remembered. Tom had to be much more patient.

Random observations: The classical music selections of EWS are still freaking potent. Also, as strong as Marie Richardson is as Marion, I’d give a LOT, to see footage of Jennifer Jason Leigh in that role, who had to be cut after Kubrick required reshoots, and JJL was tied up elsewhere. And 400 days of filming!

I used to think Stanley would’ve condensed the billiard room scene with Cruise and Sydney Pollack–now I’m not so sure. Plus, having now experienced the “unblocked” orgy scene, I lament the Puritanical necessity to digitally obscure it with hooded figures, before unleashing on North American audiences. Silly and juvenile.

“Eyes Wide Shut” remains audacious, mysterious, and way ahead of its time. Afterall, it’s Kubrick. And as Bill and Alice Harford learn, you have to truly look before you can see.

Grade:  A-

KUBRICK coming in January: the roll of nine has been cast, and the winner is Stanley’s FIRST masterpiece. Get ready for 1957’s “Paths of Glory”. And happy 100th birthday, Kirk Douglas!

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