Fill­ing in those filmic blind spots, one per­son at a time

Empire (Australasia) - - Review - PAUL FRANKLIN ON EYES WIDE SHUT

THE IDEA BE­HIND the First-take Club is sim­ple: we ask a no­table some­one to watch a film they haven’t seen be­fore (cho­sen from our 301 Great­est Movies Of All Time list, pub­lished in 2014), watch it, and write about it. This month’s in­ductee is Paul Franklin, who’s won two Os­cars, for his work as vis­ual ef­fects su­per­vi­sor on In­cep­tion and In­ter­stel­lar, and is about to make the leap into di­rect­ing. But even an Os­car win­ner can miss a clas­sic, and Paul had never seen the fi­nal film from Stan­ley Kubrick. So, would Eyes Wide Shut leave his eyes wide open?

Let’s get some­thing straight: I am a huge, huge Stan­ley Kubrick fan. I have spent end­less hours watch­ing and analysing his films (and hap­pily pinch­ing any clever stuff I can put into my own work as a vis­ual ef­fects de­signer). So why have I never seen Eyes Wide Shut? The an­swer is sim­ple: it’s the last one. Once I’d watched it there would never be any more Kubrick films to look for­ward to. But there it was on the list, tempt­ing me…

To be per­fectly hon­est, I didn’t know much about Eyes Wide Shut other than it was set in New York, fea­tured two of the world’s big­gest movie stars, and there was a huge orgy scene at the heart of it all. When it first came out it got a bit of a mixed re­cep­tion, with some crit­ics clearly want­ing to be meaner to the film than they felt they could be in the light of Kubrick’s sud­den death just af­ter he com­pleted his fi­nal cut. But over time it has gained in stature — per­haps it just needed a bit of

dis­tance from all the hype sur­round­ing its re­lease.

Af­ter watch­ing it, I re­ally, re­ally wish I’d seen it in 35mm in a proper big cin­ema rather than on my com­puter, but even on a dig­i­tal screen the mes­meric power of Kubrick’s film­mak­ing is plain to see. Eyes Wide Shut is long and lan­guid, but you have to pay at­ten­tion as ev­ery sec­ond counts. It’s not a film that gives up its se­crets eas­ily — is Tom Cruise’s char­ac­ter, Dr. Bill Har­ford, as naive as he ap­pears in the open­ing scenes or is the crazy ad­ven­ture he sub­se­quently em­barks on some­thing he’s done be­fore and will do again? Does Ni­cole Kid­man’s pot-fu­elled con­fes­sion re­veal what her char­ac­ter, Alice Har­ford, re­ally feels about mar­ried life, or is she just stoned? And just what is go­ing on in the in­fa­mous orgy scene? Are these peo­ple ac­tu­ally the sex-crazed Satanists they ap­pear to be or is it noth­ing more than tit­il­lat­ing the­atri­cals for the ben­e­fit of Man­hat­tan’s jaded mega-rich?

The vis­ual pal­ette of the film is sump­tu­ous: sat­u­rated warm tones de­fine the el­e­gant in­te­ri­ors (as well as the acres of naked flesh on view) and deep moon­light blues hint at some­thing dark and threat­en­ing out­side. The pro­duc­tion de­sign is ex­quis­ite. De­spite its US set­ting, Eyes Wide Shut was filmed en­tirely in the UK (save for a few es­tab­lish­ing shots of New York City) with the usual ex­pla­na­tion be­ing that Kubrick didn’t like air travel, but re­ally I think he just wanted the to­tal con­trol that shoot­ing on stages and a back­lot af­ford a di­rec­tor. Noth­ing is left to chance, whether it’s the place­ment of the items in an apart­ment kitchen or the dis­tri­bu­tion of cars on the com­pletely con­vinc­ing New York street sets. One of the key stylis­tic sig­na­tures of the film is the use of Christ­mas lights (the film takes place over three days in the fes­tive sea­son) which suf­fuse al­most ev­ery scene with an ethe­real, multi-spec­tral glow. But its not a ‘Christ­massy’ film — there’s no warmth or to­geth­er­ness in this tale. Eyes Wide Shut casts a dark, hyp­notic spell over the viewer as the cam­era glides through Kubrick’s world which, whilst grounded in an ob­served re­al­ity, is stylised and height­ened in all man­ner of ways. I need to go there again soon.


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