Posted by: Tony – Jul 15, 2009
With his first film release since 1987's Full Metal Jacket Stanley Kubrick returned to American cinemas with Eye's Wide Shut on July 16. 1999 . Initial reports of the film were based on rumors and secrecy. Finally in theaters the controversy surrounded a film that wasn’t made, many critics and general public missed what was. Like all his work EWS was ahead of its time and with the years spent in existence the themes and subtext have come into perspective. The world catches up and with Internet speculation on current sociopolitical world alignment the film has become a touch point for the end of the 20th Century. Kubrick said in a 1987 Rolling Stone interview, “critical opinion on my films has always been salvaged by what I would call subsequent critical opinion.“
Re-exploration and attention has been paid to Eyes Wide Shut not surprisingly it has led to bleak and conspiracy-laden thoughts and responses. The polar sides are on one side an artist responding to reality with a thoughtful metaphoric exploration of social order in a challenging film the other side a paranoid truth seeker who was killed for being a part of vast attempts to enslave mankind’s modern mind. From the same Rolling Stone interview, the set up is Tim Cahill’s “you don't make it easy on viewers or critics. You've said you want an audience to react emotionally. You create strong feelings, but you won't give us any easy answers.” Kubrick answers, “That's because I don't have any easy answers.” Kubrick has laid it out for us to come up with our own questions from his presentations and that viewer can cross-reference the film with recorded human history to come up with his or her own answers.
In a computerized world of data doing that is possible, Kubrick would have read every book or article pertaining to a given subject, and if the viewer does that same research the films open up in fascinating ways. There are countless articles online breaking down and cataloging his symbolism. In my time as a teacher I have attempted to answer interpretative questions from students about his films. It is fun for me as I have done exhaustive readings, but reading their interpretations in the film essays I assign is where I get new insight. Combined with reading the responses of film critics, professors, psychologists, sociologist, historians, and paranoid fringe theorists a rather nuanced collective unlocking has happened. The leads referenced in EWS go from ancient times to modern and opens the mind to all sorts of secret corners of global human rule, how sex, money, and power drives it all. It is also a case study of marriage between man and woman.
The most telling game that Kubrick plays is the references to his own films, as obviously as the soundtrack to 2001 in A Clockwork Orange record store or Quilty calling Humbert, Spartacus in Lolita, to more subtle things like having the name Bowman on the side of a building in EWS. Kubrick himself affords himself a cameo in the Sonata Café. If you can see these details then it is also up to you to see what all else is in the film. The first time I saw the trailer I mocked myself for thinking that his wife must have done a painting in the background, when I found out she had, predictability became obvious and my ability to read his work transcended beyond just plot and camera technique.
His photographic perspective before he started making films shows how his mind and eye were shaped in the 40's and 50's. His career was made on a photo reflecting the word of the death of US President Franklin Roosevelt in print surrounding a newspaper salesman. Followed by photo series of boxers, New York jazz clubs, showgirls, actors, circuses, zoos, baseball games, dentist offices, and horse race tracks shot on assignment for Look Magazine. In these settings he took pictures of people watching the performers or animals often without their knowledge, he knew more about large groups of people than he let on. Those photos show the real world he was soaking up to put in his films.
It is said that Kubrick wanted to adapt Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzter in the early 1970’s it took him about 30 years to bring the film to the screen. Having his films, Paths of Glory, A Clockwork Orange, and Lolita banned to entire countries, few filmmakers have elicited so much censorship over a career. The studio obscured some of the more graphic sexual images at the masked orgy to avoid an NC17 rating altering EWS digitally. Sadly the only CGI in his films is the shoddy black-cloaked figures hiding the action. Shortly after the films release a bootleg uncensored clip circulated online as an AVI file and on IMDB one can find record of the alternate DVD versions. One of the obscured vignettes was of a servant on his knees with a hooker on his back as a masked man fucks her. This statement of subservience so charged with power and dominance is lost to the viewer. The other thematic element lost forever in the posthumous editing is the audio of a passage from the Bhagavad Gita the quote actually draws attention back to the teachings of that sacred text even in its controversial use those that find it can receive what Kubrick shared.
In the void created by the lack of career capping interviews there are lots of holes and assumptions the computer-based devotees of Kubrick can get lost in. Kubrickian conspiracies are claimed to surround everything from the CIA, FBI, LSD, NASA, fluoride, Manifest Destiny, Royalty, Buddhism, the Kennedy assassination, pedophiles, Satan worship, Sun worship, phallic worship, systematic abuse of women, Jewish, Mason, secret society ruling class theories, nuclear holocaust, prison systems, military conditioning, numerology, Aliens, chess, all schools of philosophy and so many other sub theories it can be a challenge to separate lore and legend from artistic prophecies and true intent. That A Clockwork Orange is rife with it's own presentation of conspiracies as is Dr. Strangelove and many of the passages of dialog in 2001 directly speak of government plans in withholding evidence of extra terrestrials or conditioning the population slowly to accept there presence by design doesn’t help separate what is his belief and what is his satire. EWS is in some ways an extension of The Shining’s pleasure retreat of the world rich and elite as Wendy is told "All the Best People" have stayed at the hotel, directly across from the gaze of a Native American Chieftain. On the surface it is about child abuse but the subtext of The Shining is the annihilation of a people and the expansion westward. Hollywood is in some ways the end result of moving to the west coast and crossed with his observations about making and watching war movies in the middle of his own war movie Full Metal Jacket and with how Lolita’s mentions the “Art Films” Quilty makes, the red carpet rituals in EWS might reflect some thoughts on the Hollywood beauty factory. A Clockwork Orange is in some ways a treatise to the subliminal power of music and the programming power of drugs and movies. Barry Lyndon is the same to visual art and how to read a painting, secondly how to read a movie visually thru symbols and composition. Cross-referencing his films in this way may be over thinking, but better to think than to miss it all.
In the Rolling Stone Kubrick says of his reputation “Part of my problem is that I cannot dispel the myths that have somehow accumulated over the years. Somebody writes something, it's completely off the wall, but it gets filed and repeated until everyone believes it.” His films live in an age where fringe-thinking groups of all philosophies and disparate religious agendas can parse up his work to fulfill their worldview. Strangely Virginia has decided to play off of Eyes Wide Shut for its statewide celebration of women’s contribution to the arts “Minds Wide Open” not to be looked into beyond irony. What gives me comfort reading into his legacy is I’d like to fit his filmmaking model, the end result is a body of work of my own not web based fear mongering or misinterpretations.
The last time I saw EWS in its original run at the Byrd in fall of 1999, I watched the corners of the frame knowing to look for clues in the mise-en-scene, notes written on the back of a check book. Recently with it’s astounding run on late night cable the spring of 2009 I have studied the film’s every second as if running it back in Final Cut Pro. Kubrick edited EWS on an avid system, likely a similar version to what VCU Photo/Film department had in 1999. I cut my 2nd student film on that machine. In hindsight The Flipping Firecracker is an auto-programmed Kubrick homage. The parody character of myself wears A Clockwork Orange shirt as he tries to make a movie about a wannabe wrestler. It was inspiration to come up with my final treatment for the project days after Kubrick died March 7,1999. Richmond Moving Image Co-op co-founder and VCU film history professor Mike Jones recently shared that in the 2nd Unit Photography in Lolita includes a glorious wide shot of Richmond’s Broad Street taken from West Hospital. The shot follows Lolita typing of a letter asking for money, just before Humbert goes to find her the last time. For one of the only city skylines in a Kubrick film to be Richmond is astounding chance, that I lived at 2001 E. Grace and drove that stretch of road daily more resounding personal motivation.
One certainty is Kubrick loved paper. He stockpiled it. Thanks to the documentary Stanley Kubrick's Boxes by Jon Ronson a glimpse into his process has finally been made public and his deepest secret is he got giddy about stationary. Each one of his major films had been based on a book and in most Kubrick films there is a writer character. Lolita a academic writer, A Clockwork Orange a conspiracy far left writer, The Shining is a most horrific meditation on writers block and in Full Metal Jacket a wartime military reporter. In EWS the orgy is mostly shown in a library, as is the final standoff between Ziegler and Dr. Harford. On-screen Newspapers and letters the audience can read also share information key to the storytelling. Kubrick was noted to have props translated into different languages for international releases, he made films for literate people. A lasting legacy of his love for books and reading, with the attention he paid to the stories he loved, it is easy to imagine the amount of material he read and processed to find those few stories he wanted to tell.
Is there a Kubrick Code? There are codes to the way he filed and research so perhaps the editing of the film is the final synthesis of that material. Kubrick had his perspective of the sociological order of Earth and there is something more to his work than just entertainment. Simply illustrated by everyone who has said his films are boring, his films are not an excuse to stop thinking and go for a ride. Stanley Kubrick's reputation is debated in film programs, cinema chat rooms, forums, and message boards. A friend once criticized me for how easy and unoriginal it was to admire Kubrick, as if it was more virtuous for a young filmmaker to hate his films. No filmmaker has been as rewarding in the details and depths of interpretation as Kubrick.
In 1999 cinema saw one of the most important years for modern motion pictures. Released late in 1998 Terence Malik's The Thin Red Line was still in theaters at the start of 1999. Films released that year included the return of Star Wars with The Phantom Menace the return to directing by George Lucas was a milestone, good or bad is irrelevant. His process changed the way big budget and low budget blue-screen films are made forever. The first Matrix movie was released as well as its thematic counterpoint David Cronenberg's eXistenZ. David Fincher's cult film Fight Club, David Lynch's The Straight Story, Luc Besson's The Messenger, Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out The Dead, all released that fall. Spike Jonze's first feature Being John Malchovich started the onslaught of Charlie Kaufman penned scripts. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. The Insider by Michael Mann portrayed both the tobacco and media industries of the 90’s. Johnny Deep made another film with Tim Burton Sleepy Hollow. The Best Picture that year was the Dreamworks produced American Beauty directed by Sam Mendes with a script by Alan Ball (who has gone on to HBO to pen Six Feet Under and True Blood). Roman Polanski returned to Satan with The Ninth Gate. Robert Altman released Cookie's Fortune Kevin Smith Dogma, Alexander Payne Election Sam Raimi For the Love of the Game The Sixth Sense skyrocketed M. Night, the Blair Witch Project was the alternative in summer horror. The Studio's were pushing Wild,Wild,West on America and other films released Girl Interrupted Go The Green Mile Julian Donkey Boy The Iron Giant, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, The Limey, Man on the Moon, Office Space, Ride the Devil, The Red Violin, Romance, Run Lola Run, Summer of Sam, Sweet and Lowdown, Titus, Toy Story2, Three Kings and other rounded out a spectacular year for movies.
Great article on Stanley’s work at Look Magazine
For a full investigation of the Bhagavad Gita use in Eyes Wide Shut please see this link
www.brightlightsfilm.com/35/eyeswideshut3.html from 2002 by Robert Castle
links about Jon Ronson’s Documentary on Kubrick’s research methods.
KUBRICK LINKS (all content found on these links is open to interpretation material ranges in all directions)
Todd Raviotta is a Richmond based filmmaker and VCUarts adjunct professor in the Photo and Film Department. On twitter as @naturalscience