THE FIRSTTAKE CLUB
Filling in those filmic blind spots, one person at a time
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.
EYES WIDE SHUT IS OUT NOW ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND DOWNLOAD