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Posts Tagged ‘Stanley Kubrick’

Over at FLAPPERHOUSE, I review Stanley Kubrick’s least-famous Lost Film, Stanley Kubrick’s Shit Happens:

IT’S EASY TO FORGET THAT STANLEY KUBRICK, the pensive, punctilious director of 2001 and The Shining, was also the cheeky, impish ringmaster behind wickedly funny films like Dr. Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket.  Read any critique of Kubrick’s work– even a favorable one– and chances are you’ll find words like “clinical” and “icy-balls.”

Perhaps that’s because so few have ever seen (or even heard of) this esteemed filmmaker’s least-famous Lost Film.

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eyes-wide-shut

(Part 13+13+13 of an ongoing series)

Who do you think those people were? Those were not just ordinary people there. If I told you their names– I’m not going to tell you their names– but if I did, I don’t think you’d sleep so well.

Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack)

“He is morbidly afraid of giving away any of his secrets,” says Eyes Wide Shut co-writer Frederic Raphael of Stanley Kubrick, “the best of which may be that he has none.” Raphael and I agree that Kubrick was a genius, and the Best Director despite never winning “Best Director,” though I’d add that Kubrick’s most genius gift was his ability to create the illusion– nay, the unshakable certainty— that his films contain galaxy-sized rabbit holes teeming with secret meanings, hidden agendas, conspiracy revelations, occult mysteries, coded confessions, esoteric symbolism, and arcane wisdom.

As the recent documentary Room 237 shows, viewers have concocted all kinds of elaborate speculations as to what Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining is really about, from the Holocaust to the genocide of American Indians to Kubrick’s alleged fakery of the Apollo 11 moon landing.* It’s doubtful any of said speculations would’ve been inspired solely by readings of Stephen King’s original novel; similarly, no one ever would’ve dropped Kubrick’s name into their moon-landing conspiracy theories if 2001: A Space Odyssey didn’t feel so uncannily like a space travelogue. Kubrick’s legendary fastidiousness and reclusiveness may have added fuel to this fire of overzealous theorizing, but there wouldn’t have been any sparks to begin with if he didn’t fill every frame of his films with authentic, palpable mystique.

*One night in college, I watched The Shining on repeat for like 10 hours to write a paper for some class with the word “Narrative” in its name. The result was 12 pages on the film’s parallels to the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.

How deliciously appropriate, then, that Kubrick’s final work was an endlessly fascinating, immensely analyzable, Illuminati-laced joint called Eyes Wide Shut.

NSFW VIDEO… BOOBS AND BUTTS EVERYWHERE!

Simply search “Eyes Wide Shut” on YouTube and your results include “The Hidden Messages In Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut,” “Eyes Wide Shut Unveiled, Decoded & Explained,” “Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Illuminati Symbology,” “Eyes Wide Shut – a steganalysis,” and “Kubrick & The Illuminati–” and that’s just Page 1. Of course, when the centerpiece of your movie involves a ritualistic orgy with super-rich folks in masks and robes listening to backwards Latin chanting, you’re begging the conspiracy junkies to watch it frame-by-frame and leap to their own paranoid conclusions. Which, if I may add my own wild conjecture, may have been Kubrick’s intention all along, his own trollish way of singing The Walrus was Paul!

Eyes Wide Shut (an adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s novel Dream Story) is the tale of Bill Harford (Tom Cruise), an Upper West Side doctor who spirals into a surreal psychosexual odyssey after his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) confesses fantasizing about another man– an odyssey that eventually leads him to the aforementioned orgy. According to Frederic Raphael, the idea of the orgy being organized by a clandestine association of wealthy amoralists was his own purely fictional creation. Funny thing is, when he faxed the idea to Kubrick in the form of a classified FBI report, the director actually got a little paranoid himself:

FR: Get the material I faxed you?

SK: That’s the thing. Where’d you get this stuff?

FR: … Where do you think?

SK: This is classified material, how’d you get hold of it? I need you to tell me.

FR: You’re kidding.

SK: I don’t think so. Where’d you find this stuff? Did you hack into some FBI computer by chance, or what?

FR: Hack in? Are you crazy? I can’t hack into my own work without help. You asked me to give you some background on Ziegler and company. I gave it.

SK: Freddie, I need you to tell me totally honestly where you got this stuff. This is potentially…

FR: Stanley, totally, honestly, I got it where I get everything: out of my head.

SK: You’re telling me you made this up?

FR: But only because it’s true. You asked for it, I did it. I enjoyed it, as a matter of fact.

SK: It has no basis in fact?

FR: Stanley, I made it up, okay?

SK: How did you do that?

FR: Making things up is what I do for a living. It’s pretty well all I do. I write fiction. I make things up. I look at the world and… I make things up on the strength of what I see and hear, and guess. I do not mend fuses or water-ski or have a pension scheme. I made it up. It was fun; much more than fun…

SK: Okay as long as we’re not… on potentially dangerous ground here. It’s pretty convincing, you know that?

FR: Nice of you to say so. Think of it as an example of what I do when I’m free to play by myself. An apple for the teacher.

SK: And it didn’t come from anywhere that might be… you know… embarrassing?

FR: Look, it came out of my head, fully formed. How embarrassing is that? I made the whole damn thing up. It was not a big problem.

SK: How long did it take you?

FR: Maybe an hour, but I’m never going to tell you that.

from Frederic Raphael’s Eyes Wide Open: A Memoir Of Stanley Kubrick

Yet even though the whole Illuminati angle sprung from Raphael’s imagination (unless Frederic Raphael IS a member of the Illuminati spreading disinformation!), that doesn’t mean Eyes Wide Shut isn’t one of the most subversive films of 1999. There’s plenty of legitimate evidence that the film is thick with overtones echoing the oppression of the masses by sinister, ultra-powerful elites. Its messages are just a bit more subtle than those in SUBVERSIVE!!!! 1999 movies like Fight Club or The Matrix, a bit harder to notice amid all those sexy, naked women.

Then again, Kubrick’s depiction of sexy, naked women in Eyes Wide Shut is awfully subversive too. 1999 was a breakthrough year for unsimulated sex in non-pornographic films, thanks to Leos Carax’s Pola X and Catherine Breillat’s Romance.  It’s hard to tell for sure if those couples are truly copulating in Kubrick’s climactic orgy (even when they aren’t shielded behind digitally-inserted bystanders), but it’s still pretty hardcore stuff for a big-studio Cruise/Kidman summer multiplex vehicle. (Link EXTREMELY NSFW.)

The subversive use of sexy, naked women doesn’t stop there. While a lot of the sexy, naked women are here for erotica’s sake, Kubrick features others to provoke more complicated responses. We see sexy, naked women in settings that are clinical (receiving breast exams in a doctor’s office), macabre (a hooker unconscious after an overdose, and later dead at the morgue), and borderline incriminating (15 year-old Leelee Sobieski, though not technically naked, struts around scantily clad for all her screen time).

All of which serves to tease and intensify the Sick Desperation of Dr. Bill. Like many straight white males of 1999 movies (Fight Club‘s narrator, American Beauty‘s Lester Burnham, Being John Malkovich‘s Craig Schwartz), Dr. Bill’s Sick Desperation involves a struggle against feelings of jealousy, sexual frustration, and emasculation. The more he tries to transgress the sexual boundaries of his marriage as a means of avenging himself against Alice’s fantasy, the more he fails, the more he’s taunted by strange flesh he can never possess. And to add insult to blueballs, Dr. Bill doesn’t even get the cathartic release of a good Sick Desperate Laugh; he merely gets to hear the Sick Desperate Laughter of Alice as she dreams of cuckolding and humiliating her husband.

Dr. Bill finally achieves closure by learning some valuable secrets, but not the kind of secrets he thought he wanted, the kind that get naughty in Masonic Long Island mansions in the abysses of night. Because, despite all the occult symbology and class warfare that may or may not exist in this movie, it’s ultimately about marriage. It has to be about marriage. It’s right out there in the open. Kubrick’s simply making a film about marriage in a mythical way, where the mundane concerns of mere mortals get caught up in the epic, dizzying dream logic of the gods.

Once again, Frederic Raphael: “…like a man stirring in his sleep, S.K. almost faces the mundane American reality which says that a couple like [Bill and Alice] would ‘get a divorce.’ Yet he has become enough of a European for the marital myth to have leeched onto him. (We are probably the two most long-serving husbands in the movies.) He cannot quite see that the durable myth is pretty well autonomous, and its plot, however elasticated, largely determined: Oedipus and Jocasta will never be able to avert trouble by spending more quality time with the kids…”

The lesson, I suppose, being that love and marriage can survive much more easily when partners are honest and unashamed of their primal desires. Only when deceit and transgression come in to play is love seriously in peril. And even if the world is truly haunted by shadowy, amoral cabals, then you can always take solace in some good make-up sex.

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KubrickAndCat

Stanley Kubrick’s daughter Katharina reads from the meticulous director’s instructions for watching his cats:

When we went to Ireland on Barry Lyndon, he left this 15-page document, Care Instructions: How To Look After The Animals. And the 37th instruction is: ‘If a fight should develop between Freddie and Leo–‘ and that was the father and son tomcats that we had– ‘the only way you can do anything about it is to dump water on them. Try to grab Freddie and run out of the room with him. Do NOT try and pick up Leo. Alternatively, if you open a door and just let Freddie get out, he can outrun Leo. But if he’s trapped in a place where you can’t separate them, just keep dumping water, shouting, screaming, jumping up and down, and distracting them, waving shirts, towels… just try and get them apart and grab Freddie.

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I think that dread I’ve been feeling the past couple days can be best explained by this scene from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, in which I am Shelley Duvall, the typewritten pages are what I imagine season 4 of Community will be like based on all the crestfallen buzz, and I guess Jack Nicholson is NBC?

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Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove

I am not a happy man, Ender.  Humanity does not ask us to be happy.  It merely asks us to be brilliant on its behalf.

Mazer Rackham, in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game

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(not too spoilery)

I’d love to see a Director’s Cut of Prometheus with 33 minutes of previously-deleted scenes- ideally scenes where we just get to hang with everyone, get to know them better, maybe peer into their professional-looking dream sequences a bit more.  Because for Heaven’s sake, if you’re going to drop dream-reading software into reel one, why not make a whole device out of it?  See what kind of elegantly-staged memories are floating around our supporting characters’ consciousnesses?  (Damon Lindelof wouldn’t just be re-hashing LOST, see, ’cause this time there’s an actual character with the actual technology to see other people’s flashbacks.  So it’s totally germane now.)

I forgave the often-inane logic- after all, it’s called Prometheus, it obviously wants to be mythic, and most myths are erupting at the gut with inane logic.  And yet, I yearned for a larger degree of humanity.  I was eager to befriend the crew of Prometheus, but Prometheus was just like that punk geologist who thought he was on a reality show contest: “I’m not here to make friends!”  (Elizabeth Shaw tried to make friends, yes, but our friendship was weakened by her superficially-explored faith.)  OK fine, Prometheus, be that way.  I was just really hoping I could own it on DVD one day, I’d watch it every couple-three years, and it would remind me how awesome it is to be agnostic- full of wonder, gratitude, and horror for what the universe has to offer.  (Or, as Stanley Kubrick so eloquently said in 2001: A Space Odyssey: “God…how the fuck are we supposed to know?”)

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gif courtesy of iwdrm.tumblr.com

The Sopranos is Francis Ford Coppola, duh.  Martin Scorsese‘s a little too flashy for The Sopranos so he gets to be Breaking Bad, with all the shovel-POV shots and such.

Steven Spielberg has to be LOST: heaps of gee-whiz! with a dollop of schmaltz.

I’ve never seen Battlestar Galactica, but I want to say that one’s George Lucas.  Of the shows I have seen, the closest George Lucas might be Heroes– though in fairness to Lucas, Heroes started sucking in way less time.

Friday Night Lights is Robert Altman, particularly Nashville, where country music is high school football and the acting is unbelievably natural.

Louie is obviously Woody Allen, only I think I could actually hang out with Louie’s alter ego without wanting to slap the neuroses out of him.

Mad Men is Stanley Kubrick, I think.  Clinically sterile on the surface, but still very human at its core.  Also because they both feel like Americans who love America but wish they were British so they could see America from a British perspective.

If all those Discovery & History Channel reality shows about dangerous, nature-battling jobs (Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers) procreated with all those A&E and TLC reality shows about mentally-disturbed weirdos (Hoarders, My Strange Addiction), the offspring would be Werner Herzog.

If all those tacky, tasteless MTV & VH1 reality shows (Jersey Shore, Flavor Of Love) fucked each other, the offspring would be John Waters.  (This is meant as a compliment to John Waters, and as an insult to the reality shows.  I’m not sure how that works, but that’s how it is.)

If Wes Craven and John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper and Brian DePalma and Dario Argento had an orgy and the offspring got mostly recessive genes, that offspring would be American Horror Story

Carnivale is David Lynch, because of the genuinely eerie Americana and all the unanswered questions.

The Walking Dead is George Romero if he took his sweet, sweet time a la Terrence Malick.  Though of course Terrence Malick is more Planet Earth. 

30 Rock might have to be Mike Nichols, though of course it has plenty of Mel Brooks too.  But with all the genre-spoofing, Mel Brooks should probably be Community.  And I guess that would mean Arrested Development is John LandisThe Office (US Version) is Hal Ashby (unless Parks And Recreation is Hal Ashby).  The Office (UK Version) is more realistic and uncomfortable to watch, so that’s John CassavetesHow I Met Your Mother is meta-Arthur Hiller (the guy who directed Love Story as well as a couple of Neil Simon scripts).  I can’t think of who It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia would be.  Who’s the most mean-spirited and irredeemably obnoxious 1970s filmmaker?

I have yet to see Homeland or Rubicon, but they’re Alan Pakula, right?  Because conspiracies and shit?

The Wire would have to be Sidney Lumet, with the criminals and the scathing social commentary of modern urban…OK, I’m just guessing on this one too, since I’ve only seen like 4 episodes of The Wire, and I’m ashamed to admit this.

Deadwood is either Walter Hill or Sam Peckinpah, since it takes the brutality inherent in early-20th Century Westerns and reconfigures it through modern…

…all right, I’ve seen zero episodes of Deadwood.

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