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|Eyes Wide Shut
"... I have seen one or two things in my life, but never, never anything like this." -- Todd Field as Nick Nightingale.
Legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick died shortly after completing Eyes Wide Shut, which he is rumored to have considered to be his best work. Regardless of whether said rumor is true or not, Eyes Wide Shut was the best film of 1999, as well as a provocative farewell gift from one of the greatest directors of all time.
"If you men only knew!" -- Nicole Kidman as Alice Harford.
Before attending a swanky party, Alice asks her husband Bill (Tom Cruise), "How do I look?" He answers without so much as a glance. At said party, she spies Bill flirting with two models. Sick of being taken for granted (and high on marijuana), Alice later confesses to Bill a torrid fantasy she had involving a stranger, which induces the frustrated, jealous, and lustful husband to venture through New York City's sexual underworld ... or is it just a dream?
"... no dream is ever just a dream." -- Tom Cruise as Dr. William Harford.
Author Arthur Schnitzler's "Traumnovelle" -- which translates to "Dream novella" -- inspired Kubrick and co-writer Frederic Raphael to concoct what became the most misunderstood film in recent memory; i.e., due to Eyes Wide Shut's risqué ShoWest trailer (which featured Kidman and Cruise, both nude, making out to the tune of Chris Isaak's Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing), and despite an otherwise ambiguous marketing campaign, the media promoted the movie as a sex-fest.
Consequently, would-be voyeurs hoping to see Cruise and Kidman screwing each other's brains out for two hours were no doubt confused and/or disappointed when they got a story about fidelity, rather than sex.
Presumably, the film's subtext was lost on such viewers, as well; e.g., Kubrick's color scheme (for starters, consider that Alice has red hair and blue eyes, and remember what the story is about).
Inexcusably, such themes and schemes were also lost on many film critics. For example, in her TV Guide capsule review, Eleanor Ringel Gillespie wrote, "Stanley likes to watch. Tom wants to be more than a matinee idol. Nicole has a great butt. That's pretty much what we learn from Eyes Wide Shut." Tsk! Points two and especially three are indeed valid, but a professional reviewer shouldn't so lazily overlook Kubrick's intent.
"You know what they say, once a doctor always a doctor." -- Tom Cruise as Dr. William Harford.
A variation of that adage -- i.e., once a "matinee idol" always a matinee idol -- doesn't apply to Cruise (Top Gun), because, as Gillespie observed, the actor transcends such a persona with Eyes Wide Shut. As Dr. William Harford (a.k.a. Bill), Cruise adequately evinces the subconscious arrogance that could befall someone of said character's good looks, profession, and wealth.
"So, because I'm a beautiful woman, the only reason any man ever wants to talk to me is because he wants to fuck me? Is that what you're saying?" -- Nicole Kidman as Alice Harford.
Not at all. Like Alice, Kidman (Birthday Girl, The Hours, Moulin Rouge, The Others) is much more than a sex object with a "great butt." As Alice, the actress convincingly manifests drug-induced glee, frustration, and outrage (and that's just during the aforementioned confession scene). I've said this before, but I don't mind saying it again: Nicole Kidman is the best actress working today, period.
Moreover, the complaint that Cruise and Kidman "have no chemistry" in Eyes Wide Shut is erroneous; i.e., being in a stale marriage, Bill and Alice aren't supposed to have good chemistry.
Another common complaint, that nude shots of Alice are gratuitous, doesn't hold water, either; the revelation that Dr. Harford would even consider extramarital sex despite having such a gorgeous partner at home -- and Kidman's stunning nude physique emphasizes that point -- constitutes a fascinating observation about not only Bill's psyche, but also those of many real-life spouses who behave the same way.
"Now, where exactly are we going ... exactly?" -- Tom Cruise as Dr. William Harford.
Said ratings board objected to an orgy sequence -- which I've seen uncensored -- that includes numerous simulated sex acts: a female bouncing up and down atop a male's pelvis; a male and a female copulating on a table; two females performing oral sex on each other; males and females groping one another's breasts and/or buttocks; a male penetrating a female from behind; and a male and a female copulating on a crouching male's back; all of which is intentionally disturbing, rather than stimulating.
Since Kubrick and cinematographer Larry Smith shot the sequence at a distance, without the gratuitousness one would experience with, say, a typical Jenna Jameson flick, only a prude would associate such artistry with pornography.
Therefore, MPAA President Jack Valenti must be a prude, because he lumps films like Eyes Wide Shut with hard-core pornography via his fiscally unviable NC-17 rating, which was the official replacement for the old X rating.
Worse yet, then Warner Brothers chairman Terry Semel apparently judged Eyes Wide Shut based on its rating, rather than its content. Via film critic Roger Ebert, Semel explains, "We're not in the NC-17 business ... NC-17 is a whole industry. It includes triple-X-rated porno films. So to us, that's just not a business that we're in. Never have been." (Sigh.)
In exchange for a box office friendly R rating (the real reason Eyes Wide Shut was censored domestically, since Kubrick was contractually obligated to deliver a film so rated, and because it was released uncensored overseas), the studio obscured sex acts during the orgy sequence with computer-generated "people." The result is obvious, distracting, and an insult to the viewer's intelligence.
"You're very upset right now and I don't think you realize what you're saying." -- Tom Cruise as Dr. William Harford.
Incredulously, Warner Brothers also censored the Region 1 Eyes Wide Shut DVD, when they could have easily released separate R and unrated versions, as Universal Pictures did with American Pie.
To make matter worse, the studio's claim that the movie is presented on disc via "the full aspect ratio of the original camera negative, as Stanley Kubrick intended" is dubious; i.e., while much of the presentation may indeed be open matte, one scene, when compared to the aforementioned ShoWest trailer, appears to be pan-and-scan, with significant portions of the camera negative hacked off along both sides and the bottom.
"Don't you want to go where the rainbow ends?" -- Stewart Thorndike as Nuala Windsor.
If the rainbow ends at the checkout lane, discriminating consumers may discover that the proverbial bucket of gold is actually filled with pyrite.
Although the disc's video and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio quality are generally first-rate, and interviews with Cruise, Kidman, and Steven Spielberg -- who wrote, directed, and co-produced Kubrick's longtime pet project A.I. -- add to the package's value, the aforementioned issues mar an otherwise top-notch product.
Stanley Kubrick deserves better, and so do you. -- Thomas Michael Goff / 03-25-00 / 08-26-00 / 10-18-00 / 09-06-02 / 12-03-02
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