Eyes Wide Shut

Started by Teddy, April 27, 2003, 09:46:02 PM

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Read most of this thread last night. The theories behind this one, like Mulholland Dr for example, are all valid to me, that's how tight this film is constructed -- they're all part of Bill and Alice's dream environment. The Shining has been tougher for me to enjoy reading about, because so many of those theories, to me, don't connect to its emotional core. Maybe one day I'll read The Shining better.

Possibly my fav trailer??

Dig the lunar analysis by mstrmnd, wish it was more complete. The wrongwaywizard one is completely gone from the internet, unfortunately. Only archived page is its intro, seems like.


An Oral History of an Orgy

Staging that scene fromEyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick's divisive final film.
By Bilge Ebiri


Something curious happened in New York around Christmastime 2016. For a few weeks, most of the rep houses in the city were screening Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. The director's final film had become, somehow, a holiday staple. This was a fate no one could have predicted back in July 1999, when it was released to dismissive reviews and disappointing box office, owing in part to a fully revved-up Hollywood hype machine that touted the sex appeal of stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman and prepared audiences for a much different film.

But look hard enough at this tale of an embittered husband seeking sex in the wake of his wife's admission of adulterous longing, and you can sense a familiar structure. Cruise's Bill Harford wanders a nocturnal landscape of potential transgressions, all of which remind him of the warmth of domestic life. Or, to put it another way: Eyes Wide Shut may have been based on Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 Traumnovelle ("Dream Story"), but it also plays like a sex-drenched variation on It's a Wonderful Life, a warning to its protagonist to learn to appreciate his lot in life and love.

Eyes Wide Shut was accused of being out of touch at the time, but Kubrick was clearly after something stranger and more captivating. He'd allowed the dreamy, Mitteleuropa-n mood of Schnitzler's original novella to seep into his picture. The film stock itself had been pushed two stops and had taken on a grainy, otherworldly look. Some scenes had been lit solely with Christmas lights. And then there was the deliberate, trancelike cadence of the performances.
Crucial to the director's vision is the film's notorious central sequence, a ritualistic masked ball and orgy that Harford infiltrates on a tip from his piano-playing pal, Nick Nightingale (Todd Field). A sinister gathering attended by the rich and powerful — there are sleek limousines waiting outside, while our hero unwittingly arrives in a yellow cab — it's a cavalcade of carnality filled with couplings and triplings and quadruplings that ends with Harford humiliated and threatened. Just then, a mysterious woman intercedes and sacrifices herself in order to save him.

These scenes, which Kubrick and his team developed and rehearsed over months, have since passed into legend, being referenced in works from Moonrise Kingdom to Get Out to Men in Black: International to HBO's Succession. And as with Kubrick's earlier The Shining (another initially dismissed film that is now a classic), there have been plenty of conspiracy theories around it, mainly from overzealous viewers connecting the film's secret society of possibly murderous, mega-wealthy hedonists to all sorts of shadowy organizations allegedly operating in the real world.

Of course, in recent years we've discovered that the indulgences of the mega-wealthy have little of the mysterious, cloaked menace of what happens in Eyes Wide Shut. Jeff Bezos, it turns out, sends awkward sexts. The owner of the New England Patriots allegedly patronizes low-rent massage parlors. Britain's royal family cheats in the most boring ways. The rich are too busy screwing the world over to screw each other with any imagination.

But Kubrick wasn't after realism with these scenes. He initially enlisted one of Britain's top choreographers to help conceive a far more surreal and suggestive series of vignettes and tableaux for the orgy. It was only after months of rehearsal and improvisation that the sequence took its final shape. In truth, fashioning the orgy and the scenes around it may well have been one of the biggest challenges of Kubrick's career. Though his films had always had provocative elements, the director had never tackled something so directly about sex and jealousy and fantasy before. The results were strange, disturbing, creepy, erotic, ridiculous, and unforgettable. Here, his collaborators discuss how it all came to be.

Researching the Perverse
Brian Cook (first assistant director): I used to say to Stanley, "We should get Adrian Lyne or Tony Scott to come and shoot this stuff for us. They know how to do this, Stanley. You don't!" We used to have a laugh about that. But really, [the orgy scene] kept getting pushed back and back and back in the shoot. Stanley wasn't keen on doing it in many ways. It wasn't his stuff, to be honest with you. It was complicated, and so was finding the right places to do it. But we had every piece of research for years and years to do this stuff with.

Anthony Frewin (assistant to Stanley Kubrick): I had a friend who lived in the south of France, G. Legman. He supplied us with a lot of information about secret societies and sexual mores in Vienna at the time of Schnitzler. He also sent over a lot of illustrations of secret-society rituals and the Black Mass, mainly from the 19th century. We had a lot of illustrations, contemporary and even much older, of some ceremonies. Legman also recommended Félicien Rops, a very famous artist who specialized in all sorts of weird erotica.
BC: When we were doing the glimpses of Nicole Kidman [with the naval officer], I used to have to go with pictures, blown-up pictures, and ask her what she was prepared to do. "What do you fancy doing?" She'd say, "No ... Absolutely no ... Maybe ... Yes ... No ... That's okay."

Leon Vitali (assistant to Kubrick): We looked for the barriers we just would not be able to cross. I did watch some soft-core porn and Red Shoe Diaries, just to see really what the general idea of the limits was. And then I had to find, of course, the people who were willing to be a part of that. I went through every modeling agency, every dance academy. One of the problems was that they had to be totally natural. No Botox, no breast enhancements, anything like that. I made it very clear to everybody who came and their agents. But there were a couple of times when we [agreed to use] somebody and their agents actually made them go out and get breast enhancements. I also reached out to Yolande Snaith, a choreographer with her own dance company. For months, we'd call them in once or twice a week and I would take a video camera and we'd improvise a lot of stuff.

Yolande Snaith (choreographer): I spent a lot of time in the rehearsal studio with the models. Stanley wanted these sort of erotic vignettes and situations. I think the words he used were surreal and suggestive. But not explicit. He described the whole scene being in this secret huge mansion with this secret society of men with prostitutes.

Abigail Good (the Mysterious Woman): They took this space which is now a really beautiful hotel in St. Pancras. A very grand building with a big staircase. It was all very surreal because we were doing these weird ceremonial movements for months. We would meet and rehearse and come up with ideas. And every day, Leon would record it and come back with feedback from Stanley.

Julienne Davis (Mandy): Stanley said, "It's not gonna be any of this," and he made a thrusting gesture. Instead, he said it would be more a kind of modern dance with the inference of sex.

Russell Trigg (dancer): Yolande's practice involves lots of contact work and improvisation, so that guided the rehearsal. It's a deliberate kind of movement. She was trying to get a more kind of sensual approach to it. One time, I was working with somebody else, and we had to move along a wall and against each other. There was another scene on beds or sofas. The pressure and resistance of bodies against bodies, bodies against tables or walls or other kinds of props.

YS: I'm not sure that Stanley knew entirely what he wanted. It felt like a sort of research period, with me playing around with ideas and presenting them to him, and him looking at them and feeding back. Jocelyn Pook was a composer I knew, [who had a piece called] "Backwards Priests." I was using that in the rehearsal studio because it felt very appropriate. When Stanley was looking at the tapes of rehearsal, he asked, "What is that music?"

Jocelyn Pook (composer): Stanley said, "I've heard this piece from your album. I'd love to hear more stuff." I remember a car came within a few hours to collect the little cassette I made. And the next day, the car returned to pick me up, and I went to see him in Pinewood studio. He was really excited about some music he was listening to, and he talked me through the section he wanted me to work on. Of course, it was a very intimidating situation to be in, because I hadn't ever scored a film before. At the beginning, he just asked me to try some ideas for the masked-ball scene and the orgy scene. I was asked later to do the rest of the original music.

LV: We were taking so long that sometimes the leases ran out on where we could rehearse. I was having trouble holding on to some of the girls I'd found because they had other obligations and jobs. And then we had to find some more because we realized we didn't have enough. It was all very Stanley.

A More Literal Orgy
YS: I think his vision of the orgy scene over the course of the time we worked on it became much more of a literal orgy. There was a problem because the models would have to be paid a lot more to do that, and some of them didn't want to do it.

AG: Leon came back one day with pictures from the Kama Sutra and said, "Stanley would like you to draw inspiration from these images," at which point we were all sort of like, "Okay, that's not really what we signed up for." But we knew each other very well at this point, so taking on more of a sexual nature was not so shocking.

YS: Stanley had a whole collection of Italian masks, the commedia dell'arte masks. He invited me to select the ones that were the most striking. It was a collaborative process, but I did feel I was more of an artistic assistant for Stanley to develop a clearer vision of what that whole scene was. After a few weeks, he started to talk to me about the ritual, the masked ball, and the disrobing ritual. We were playing around with different ritualistic formations. Lines, roads, walking, processions towards a threshold or towards an altar. At a certain point, it became clear to Stanley he wanted it to be a circle. He wanted them to start on the ground. [After] the emphasis shifted onto that, I went out with him and Leon and the production designer to look at different locations, one of which was the big venue we eventually used.

LV: Elveden was this house that was owned by the Guinness family. It was built by a [maharajah] in the 1800s, with a corridor that is hand-carved marble. When he built it he had to build a railway line to supply all the building material that he needed. It had been used during the war for a secret command center. It was the weirdest place you've ever seen. There was another house we used which had belonged to the guy who discovered Tutankhamen's tomb. There was a very extensive museum in his basement.

Todd Field (Nick Nightingale): The ball began at Elveden Hall. When I first walked inside, other than the musical equipment onstage, the place was empty. I took a seat at the keyboard and started rehearsing "Backward Priests." At a certain point, the music stopped. I stood, looked around, and saw Stanley standing alone on the other side of the room, holding up a blindfold. I went over, he spun me around, tied it on my head, and said, "Now you're ready."  I was the only person on set with their eyes shut.

YS: We did a lot of work with [the models], doing yoga to get them a little more flexible, spending a lot of time getting them to do things in perfect unison, which was a challenge. And that was because Stanley wanted this very particular body type, a sort of Barbie-doll type. At the time I found it somewhat frustrating, 'cause I, as a woman, have a very different view of women. But that was part of the whole psychology of [the scene]. There was one woman, Abigail, who ended up having this larger role. She hadn't trained as a dancer, but she was a natural mover.

AG: Stanley said I reminded him of Lady Lyndon from Barry Lyndon. But yes, I wasn't directed to walk like that really. I was a model and I'd done a lot of catwalks, so I knew how to walk in heels. God, I sound like a bit of a bimbo! "Oh, I'm really good at walking." But no, there is a way of walking, to me, that creates a strong character.

YS: There were a few male dancers we were working with initially on the erotic dances. And one of them, Russell, had been dancing in my company. He's the one playing the master of ceremonies [in the red cloak] with the incense burner in the middle of the circle. And then in the later scenes, it's Leon [playing him]. Because you never see his face. A lot of the timing of that whole scene was queued by Russell because he had his stick. When he bashed it on the ground, that would indicate when [the girls] had to begin to come up from the floor. And Stanley wanted the smoke coming out of the incense burner to be in the shot in a particular way, and smoke is fairly uncontrollable. We did that shot so many times. We just did it again and again and again to get the timing right.

JD: Our rehearsals for that lasted a month. We were kneeling up and down on four-and-a-half-inch heels. I injured a fascia on my leg. I remember going back to London and telling my doctor, "Give me anything to get me through these scenes."

AG: We were sitting there for hours and hours, and they had to bring frozen peas for our knees.

RT: I remember getting very, very precise instruction from Stanley Kubrick and Tom Cruise about the timing for that scene, about when Tom Cruise enters the room. What was fascinating for me was how, depending on the particular angles and the particular shots, the circle of women would be reorganized every time.

JD: Stanley had asked me to be in the orgy scenes, but I felt so vulnerable and uncomfortable with the idea of doing that kind of action in front of a crew. I'm not a prude, but I didn't see the point in doing that stuff, especially if I'm in full mask. I had been sexually assaulted on the street in London just a few years earlier, and being attacked does things to you. I told him, "It's not that I'm saying that I won't do it; I'm saying that I can't do it." I was upset. I'm not going to lie. I wasn't willing to be accommodating. I stuck to my guns about what I would do.

Peter Cavaciuti (Steadicam operator): Stanley's precision was the thing I remember most. I had three lasers on the Steadicam, pointed to the ground, and when they all lined up, a grip would drop a plumb line from a string from the lens; then I'd line my lasers up, and then the grip would talk me into the mark, saying I was two inches, one inch on the mark. That level of precision was pretty exceptional. You'd very rarely do less than 20 takes. So physically and intellectually, it was demanding. Very often, Stanley would say to me that I wasn't on my mark. I'd look down and I had my three lasers, so I'd say, "Well, I am on the mark, Stanley." And one time Tom Cruise whispered to me, "Just move the camera, Pete." [I realized] it was just code for saying that Stanley wanted to put the camera in a different place.

YS: Tom Cruise was very charming. The first day he was there and they were just shooting him entering into the ballroom, he was standing there with his mask on. Then when he had a little break, he came straight over to me and put his hand out and said, "Hello, I'm Tom. So nice to meet you." And he started talking about a film that I'd made for TV called Swinger. He was throwing all these compliments at me about this little film. All I could say was, "Oh, well, I really like your films, too, Tom." [Laughs]

LV: When Tom was shooting that picture, he was the biggest box-office star in the world. For every movie he made, he was getting $20 million, $25 million up front. And when we were shooting Eyes Wide Shut, it took Tom as long as it would have taken him to make three movies. There were some people saying, "Oh, if you make direct eye contact with Tom Cruise on the set, you're gone." That was crap. He was great. And the same with Nicole.

AG: I remember being on set one day. There were so many crew, so many extras, so many people on set, and nothing was happening. And we as the actors were sort of like, "What's going on?" And what happened was Stanley had noticed that there was a light out. Somewhere in that scene, he said, there was a light out. "There's not, Stanley. Nobody's been here, nothing's been touched." "Yes, there is. Find it. We're not starting until you find it." He was a perfectionist. And probably drove people mad. But he was one of those annoying people who's always right.

JP: For the orgy scene, Stanley was a bit vaguer musically, because it was going to be less stylized. He said, "Yeah, I really don't know what the music should be here, but try something — sexy music." [Laughs.] That was my brief! I came up with a weird piece called "Dionysus," which didn't ultimately get used in the film. It actually got used in Gangs of New York. I don't know if Martin Scorsese knows it was originally written for Eyes Wide Shut.

The piece he did use was originally on my album. It used a vocal sampled from another earlier recording. The vocalist had been improvising and had used some words from the Bhagavad Gita. Some in the Hindu community happened to notice those few words, and it became a bit of a media frenzy. In the end, the Kubrick family felt rather uncomfortable about it, and they recalled all the films and I had to rerecord it again with a different vocal. It was an expensive mess-up.

Choreographing As They Went Along
LV: There were certain things that Stanley wanted to use [in the orgy]. Like there was a bit of an homage to Clockwork Orange. We had a man on his hands and knees with a woman on his back being fucked by another man. It all was choreographed as we went. Stanley could change a whole scene just because it suddenly made sense to him in a different way. It wasn't an easy thing to do because none of them were porn actors or actresses; they were all models and dancers. They had guts.

JD: They came to us and said, 'There's been a change of plans." They explained that the women would no longer be wearing their G-strings and that the men would be completely naked except for a cup over their bits. I and another girl, we opted out. I said to the other girls, "If you do this, that's a completely different scenario. I would ask for more money if I were you."

AG: They would just say, "Right, okay, you bend over, and you do that one like that, and you lie there, and you do it like that." I know we were wearing masks and we had our anonymity and we could have just never told anybody we'd done it, but it's not an easy thing to do.

YS: By the time we got to working on the orgy scene, I had a commitment to a project that I was doing with my company. I didn't think the orgy really needed a lot of choreography in the end, from what it became. But when I look at the scene, I think what we did in the studio [during rehearsal] definitely influenced the whole feel of that scene. We had the couches and beds and chairs and armchairs, and all the little choreographies that we made were on and around pieces of furniture in these different groupings of quartets, trios, couplings. They were erotic, but there was no humping going on.

LV: I think it was the profane and the graceful. Women were posing in very graceful ways on the table, and at the same time there was this rather repelling kind of scene going on. Stanley wanted it to go as far as we could possibly go. But of course there are so many limitations when it comes to decency or obscenity.

AG: When all the other girls left, I was in this amazing position of being able to work with two incredible artists. I was on the set with Tom and Stanley, finding things on our own. Stanley asked my opinion a lot. Me and Tom were among the last people he ever filmed; Stanley died before the dubbing was done. And I always wondered before the film came out whether they were going to dub me, because I didn't have an American accent.

LV: It was Cate Blanchett! That was her voice. We wanted something warm and sensual but that at the same time could be a part of a ritual. Stanley had talked about finding this voice and this quality that we needed. After he'd died, I was looking for someone. It was actually Tom and Nicole who came up with the idea of Cate. She was in England at the time, so she came into Pinewood and recorded the lines.

Scrambling for an R Rating
Paddy Eason (supervising digital compositor): Fairly soon after [Kubrick's death], my producer Rachel Penfold and I were called up to the Kubrick place to have a meeting about something to do with Eyes Wide Shut, with the inner circle charged with finishing the film. They had a huge problem. When Kubrick died, the cut was known to be locked. And he was a very hands-on editor. But the agreement between Kubrick and Warner Bros. was that he was contracted to deliver an R-rated film. Nobody had had the conversation with Stanley before he died about how he was going to square that circle, because the orgy scene as it stood wasn't an R-rated scene.

LV: The cut was locked a week before Stanley had showed it in New York to Tom and Nicole, and he told them that was his final cut. But he was conscious that we were treading in pretty dangerous territory. I'm glad he wasn't alive to go through this whole [MPAA] thing 'cause it was ridiculous and stupid. That same MPAA approved the South Park movie! Remember the South Park movie? It's full of obscenities, full of implied or actual sexual entendres.

PE: The cut was sacred; they weren't going to change one frame of it. They didn't want to have anybody be able to say to them, "You've cut these shots out!" or anything like that. We went through the shots and picked out the offensive bits of sex and tried to work out the least annoying way of covering it up. We put some CGI characters, both male characters in black cloaks and female characters, to hide certain areas of frame. It was quite fun to us when certain people who were arguing negatively about this would point to certain figures in the scene and say, "Oh, that's CGI. I can tell. Why have they done that?" In some cases they were pointing at the wrong figure — they were pointing at somebody real in the scene. It was all quite dramatically lit, which helped. And a lot of the characters stood still — that was part of the style of the scene. But all the [CGI] figures are moving slightly. I remember one of our animators, Sally Goldberg, talking about animating what people do when they're standing still. They do change their balance a little bit.

AG: The premiere was quite interesting. The length of the shoot caused a lot of press. The fact that it was Tom and Nicole caused a lot of press. "Oh my God, the two biggest stars in Hollywood are going to be walking around naked." And it was Stanley and the fact that then he died.

LV: I spent years getting telephone calls from Illuminati fans, and they'd always start off with "Where's the power? Where's the power?" You were making a film about the Illuminati, wasn't it? It's about the cover-up in the Catholic church, wasn't it?" The very first one or first two that came through, I said, "Well, what made you think that?" When it began to be just a maelstrom of these calls, I would hang up.

You know, there's apparently an Eyes Wide Shut club in L.A. They actually have women there in masks and guys in evening suits who patronize them. I've never been. It's somewhere up in the Hollywood Hills, or around that area. When we were shooting, somebody said — I think it was Tom — "Do you think these places really exist?" And Stanley said, "Well, if they don't, they will soon."


QuoteWell we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out and show ourselves
When everyone has gone
Some are satin some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They're the faces of the stranger
But we love to try them on

Well, we all fall in love
But we disregard the danger
Though we share so many secrets
There are some we never tell
Why were you so surprised
That you never saw the stranger
Did you ever let your lover see
The stranger in yourself?

Don't be afraid to try again
Everyone goes south
Every now and then
You've done it, why can't someone else?
You should know by now
You've been there yourself

Once I used to believe
I was such a great romancer
Then I came home to a woman
That I could not recognize
When I pressed her for a reason
She refused to even answer
It was then I felt the stranger
Kick me right between the eyes

You may never understand
How the stranger is inspired
But he isn't always evil
And he isn't always wrong
Though you drown in good intentions
You will never quench the fire
You'll give in to your desire
When the stranger comes along.

Spoiler: ShowHide


the most recent Balenciega campaign scandal conflates child sex trafficking with elite consumerism and 'designer' "provocations"



In a sense, a christmas tree iz its own triangle


Behold the "sewing circle" of the Droogs