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BEFORE WE BEGIN: American movie theaters will show a CGI censored version of Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. It has nothing to do with a lack of corporate cajones on Time-Warner's part. No, the folks at the MPAA, fearful that 65 seconds of frenetic thrusting in a simulated sexual frenzy would warp our little minds, initially rated Kubrick's final cut a deadly [NC-17]. To attain a commercially viable [R], a couple of computer generated bodies, some clothed some not, were inserted (so to speak) with permission of Kubrick's producer (his sister-in-law). You try to figure out the MPAA thinking on this. "Thrusting" is OK when it's, like, a spear through an eyeball (pick a slice 'n' dice flick) or a fireplace poker through (and castrating) a man's genitals (The Rage: Carrie 2). But a little heterosexual ass wiggling is verboten. Someone at the MPAA needs a reality check.
Well, you need some anecdotal background first, thoughtfully provided by director Peter Bogdonavich whose oral history of Kubrick ran in the New York Times Magazine (the link is free, but registration is required). In it, Jerry Lewis recounts a conversation he and Kubrick had when they were in adjoining editing suites, Kubrick working on 2001: A Space Odyssey and Lewis on something only the French would like. Lewis said to Kubrick "You cannot polish a turd". Kubrick responded "You can if you freeze it."
IN SHORT: A highly polished turd. [Rated [R], 2 hours 40 minutes]
Eyes Wide Shut is visually stunning and emotionally cold. It moves as slow as molasses, and the damn piano thumping (heard in the teevee commercial) soundtrack is incredibly annoying. As for the performances, my colleague, Harvey Karten, put it better than I ever could when he wrote: "Conversations ... are almost painfully deliberate, as though Kubrick were petitioning his audience to lean on each word as though concocted on Mount Sinai." Cranky cannot praise or condemn the work of Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman or Sydney Pollack because the heavy hand of Kubrick's direction has squashed any emotional nuance they could have delivered to the density of a black hole.
That being said, those film students inclined to see Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut will do so regardless of what any critic says so, in deference to them: As with The Shining, the cinematography is outstanding. That Kubrick intentionally shifts to a grainy look at the very end of the flick is a symbolic move that is in keeping with the meticulous production planning he is known for. The title of the movie itself is itself symbolic, as researched and explained by Entertainment Tonight as psychologically indicative of a waking dream state. Cranky's real time experience indicates that "Eyes Wide Shut" is more indicative of his struggle to keep his eyes open while waiting for the film to make its point, which it does only in the final line of dialog, nine thousand seconds or so after the initial, visual revelation that Nicole Kidman's character is averse to wearing underwear. By the time that final line of dialog hit, Cranky didn't care.
Cranky writes for the people that pay cold cash for their movies, and reports that paying full ticket price for Eyes Wide Shut would be a waste of your money. It is definitely a waste of your time.
Dr. William Harford (Cruise) and his lovely wife Alice (Kidman) have been invited to a Christmas party, they are not sure why, by the fabulously wealthy Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack). At the party, Bill sees his wife dancing way too closely with a smooth-talking Hungarian Sandor Szavost (Sky Dumont). Alice sees her husband flirting with, and disappearing with, models Gayle and Nuala (Louise Taylor and Stewart Thorndike). She assumes the worst but doesn't slip off with the Hungarian. Post party, fueled by a couple of tokes on a doobie, the couple get into an argument about marital fidelity and Alice reveals that, once, she thought about cheating with a naval officer she met in a holiday hotel. Bill is shocked (Shocked! I say!) by the admission and can't get the fantasy images (thoughtfully photographed in black and white just in case we, the viewing audience, can't distinguish fantasy from reality) of his wife and her naval officer out of his mind.
When presented with the opportunity to do something about it (ie. cheat with a damn fine looking street whore, played by Vinessa Shaw, who comes on to him after he's been assaulted by some drunken collegiates who assume this good looking guy wandering down Christopher Street, a known gay area in New York, is gay), he doesn't. In short order, Bill is tempted by a teen slut (Leelee Sobieski); crashes a super-exclusive orgy in which the emotionally vacant super-rich, all in masks and robes, watch the hired help copulate; is threatened with great bodily harm for crashing said orgy; is again tempted by the teen slut, this time with full encouragement of said slut's father (Rade Sherbedgia). Then his friends get beat up and various acquaintances start dying, all in a 24-hour period. It may be coincidence. It may be conspiracy. It may be someone screwing with his brain. Regardless, It is boring as hell.
Cranky wonders if Kubrick is cackling from the Great Beyond at the critics who have missed the point of Eyes Wide Shut; that point being you can read way too much into any situation and blow your perceptions up into a delusion bordering on the epic. Having worked on big budget films, I report from experience that no professional filmmaker that I've met intentionally sets out to make a bad film but, based on what I saw at the screening, I'm wondering if Kubrick did just that. In his best work (Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange and The Shining) he pushed genre and expectations far beyond any previously conceived boundary. So why not create a plodding, tedious, emotionally tight-fisted two hour and forty minute endurance test just to see how many film critics would write knee jerk acclamations based on nonexistent symbolism they interpret to have a greater meaning? Having set the high bar for political satire, SF, horror and war flicks, why not out do Ed Wood? It's the only explanation that makes sense.
Wood's final film masterpiece, I Woke Up Early The Day I Died, starring Billy Zane, will probably take the title back when it's released in September.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Eyes Wide Shut, he would have paid...
For what you would spend on a pair of tickets, you could buy legitimate Kubrick masterpieces on VHS (and dontcha know that clicking these links will allow you to do just that): Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange; The Shining or just buy the Stanley Kubrick Collection and get most all of the director's work in one swell foop.
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