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Reprinted from "Film Quarterly" Vol. William "Bill" Harford Critical disappointment with Eyes Wide Shut was almost unanimous, and the complaint was always the same: The national reviewers sounded like a bunch of middle-school kids who'd snuck in to see it and slunk out three hours later feeling horny, frustrated, and ripped off.
Kubrick was old and out of touch with today's jaded sensibilities, they said. The film's sexual mores and taboos, transplanted straight out of Arthur Schnitzler's fin-de-siecle Vienna--jealousy over dreams and fantasies, guilt-ridden visits to prostitutes, a strained discussion of an HIV test that echoes the old social terror of syphilis--seemed quaint and naive by the standards of the sordid year One last time Stanley Kubrick had flouted genre expectations, and once again, as throughout his career, critics could only see what wasn't there.
The backlash against the film is now generally blamed on its cynical, miscalculated ad campaign. But why anyone who'd seen Kubrick's previous films believed the hype and actually expected it to be what Entertainment Weekly breathlessly anticipated as "the sexiest movie ever," is still not clear.
The most erotic scenes he ever filmed were the bomber refueling in Dr.
Strangelove and the spaceliner docking in He mocks any prurient suspense in the very fist shot of this movie; without prelude, Nicole Kidman, her back to the camera, shrugs off her dress and kicks it aside, standing matter-of-factly bare-assed before us for a moment before the screen goes black like a peepshow door sliding shut.
You can almost hear the director's Bronx-accented voice: All right, show's over. Can we get serious now? The main title then appears like a rebuke, telling us that we're not really seeing what we're staring at.
In other words, Eyes Wide Shut is not going to be about sex. The real pornography in this film is in its lingering depiction of the shameless, naked wealth of millennial Manhattan, and of its obscene effect on society and the human soul.
National reviewers' myopic focus on sex, and the shallow psychologies of the film's central couple, the Harfords, at the expense of every other element of the film-the trappings of stupendous wealth, its references to fin-de-siecle Europe and other imperial periods, its Christmastime setting, even the sum Dr.
Harford spends on a single night out-says more about the blindness of the elites to their own surroundings than it does about Kubrick's inadequacies as a pornographer.
For those with their eyes open, there are plenty of money shots. There is a moment in Eyes Wide Shut, as Bill Harford is lying to his wife over a cellphone from a prostitute's apartment, when we see a textbook in the foreground titled Introducing Sociology.
Strangelovetelling us that prostitution is the basic, defining transaction of our society. It is also, more importantly, a key to understanding the film, suggesting that we ought to interpret it sociologically--not as most reviewers insisted on doing, psychologically.
Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times tells us that Kubrick "never paid much attention to the psychology of characters, much less relationships between men and women," and in fact "spent his career ignoring or avoiding the inner lives of people, their private dreams and frustrations.
She is, first of all, wrong; Kubrick examines his characters' inner lives through imagery, not dialogue; as he said, "scenes of people talking about themselves are often very dull. Secondly, and more importantly, she misses the point: Kubrick's films are never only about individuals sometimes, as in the case ofthey hardly contain any ; they are always about Man, about civilization and history.
Even The Shining is not just about a family, as Bill Blakemore showed in his article "The Family of Man," but about the massacre of the American Indians and the recurrent murderousness of Western civilization.
Strangelove to human error. The Harfords may seem as naive and sheltered as the Victorians in, say, Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga, but to wish that the characters had been more complex or self-aware misses the point. To understand a film by this most thoughtful and painstaking of filmmakers, we should assume that this characterization is deliberate--that their shallowness and repression is the point.
Think of Bill in the back of the cab, his face a sullen mask as he tortures himself by running the same black-and-white stag film of Alice's imagined infidelity over and over in his head.
Anyone who doubts that it is the character, rather than the actor, who lacks depth and expressiveness should watch Cruise in Magnolia. Or of Alice giggling in her sleep, clearly relishing her dream about betraying and humiliating her husband, only to wake up in tears, saying that she had "a horrible dream"; her repression is complete and instantaneous.
She's like Jack Torrance in The Shining waking up shouting from "the most terrible nightmare I ever had," about chopping up his family, about twelve hours before he actually tries to do it. The itensely staged vacuity of the Harford's inner lives should tell us to look elsewhere for the film's real focus.
One place to look is not at them but around them, at the places where they live and the things they own. Most of the film's sets, even the New York street scenes, were constructed on sound stages and backlots, just like the Overlook Hotel, which was as central to The Shining as its actors.
Precision of visual detail is as integral to the meaning of Eyes Wide Shut as is the use of gorgeous faces famous from the covers of glossy check-out-aisle magazines to play a conspicuously attractive high-society couple not unlike his choice of handsome, bland-faced Ryan O'Neill to play eighteenth-century social climber Redmond Barry.
In Kubrick's work, nothing is incidental. Kubrick and his collaborator, Frederic Raphael, discussed exactly how much money a New York doctor like Bill Harford must earn per year. Harford is on call to that class of person who can afford not to wait in emergency rooms or die in hospitals--people like his friend Victor Ziegler, whose name denotes him as one of the world's winners.
Bill uncomfortably tries to compliment the prostitute Domino's apartment by calling it "cozy" and her use of the standard joke "maid's day off" to excuse the leftovers and mess only draws further awkward attention to the class gulf between thembut his own place looks cramped and cluttered compared to Victor's.
Ziegler's house is reminiscent of the Overlook Hotel, with its vast ballrooms and grand staircases, its mirrors and gilt, its bedroom-sized bathrooms. And even Ziegler's place seems modest compared to the opulent Moorish palace of Somerton, where the secret orgy takes place in Schnitzler's novella it is "a one-story villa in a modest Empire style.Paul Kingsnorth is a writer and poet living in Cumbria, England.
He is the author of several books, including the poetry collection Kidland and his fictional debut The Wake, winner of the Gordon Burn Prize and the Bookseller Book of the Year Award. Kingsnorth is the cofounder and director of the Dark Mountain Project, a network of writers, artists, and thinkers.
Aug 02, · The Food Network can now be seen in nearly million American homes and on most nights commands more viewers than any of the cable news channels. The following overview should help you better understand how to cite sources using MLA eighth edition, including the list of works cited and in-text citations.
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