Thursday, May 16, 2019

Review: 'Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and the Making of His Final Film'

From his decision to adapt the scandalous Lolita to the world-annihilating cynicism of Dr. Strangelove to the unflinching anti-storytelling of 2001 to the horrific physical and psychological violence of A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick made a career of shocking viewers. He seemed to save up his most unrelenting succession of shocks for what turned out to be his final film. Kubrick’s decision to film a lengthy orgy extreme enough for U.S. censors to demand its actions be obscured with digital censors was shocking. The fact that the film required an excruciating 18 months to shoot was shocking. The way the long, long, long awaited film from the man many rated as cinema’s greatest living artist baffled, repelled, and bored many viewers was shocking. Kubrick’s sudden death shortly after completing the first cut of Eyes Wide Shut was the biggest shock of all.

Even if you are among those viewers who loathe Eyes Wide Shut, the shocking nature of its making may still compel you to read Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and the Making of His Final Film. Robert P. Kolker and Nathan Abrams uncover new shocks that enrich the story of an already labyrinthian film. Although I knew that the film gestated in Kubrick’s mind for a long time, I was surprised that it did so for as many as 40 years. Kolker and Abrams imply that Kubrick’s obsession with bringing Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle to the screen may have infused much of his earlier work, including Lolita, A Clockwork Orange, and The Shining (Kubrick annotated his copy of Stephen King’s novel with ideas for scenes that seem straight out of Schnitzler’s), and unproduced projects such as Burning Secret and Laughter in the Dark. Though there is a lot of humor in the finished product (particularly in its oft-misunderstood orgy sequence), I was also surprised by the wealth of evidence that Kubrick seriously considered adapting Traumnovelle as a comedy, and that he’d considered casting Woody Allen and Steve Martin in the lead role and communicated with Terry Southern about writing it.

While I noticed at least one exaggeration (Kolker and Abrams called the Eyes Wide Shut shoot history’s longest, but the 12-year shoot of Boyhood and the 5-year shoot of Eraserhead easily beat its 18 months), the book is well researched (materials include Kubrick’s personal faxes and notes he made on scripts and in books) and doesn’t oversell its conclusions. I’m not sure if it will spur Eyes Wide Shut haters to reevaluate the film, but Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and the Making of His Final Film will give them some fresh insight into the seemingly impenetrable mind of Stanley Kubrick.

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