Old Masters | The Nation


Old Masters

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It's a hollowness not of technique but of conception. In his later years, Kubrick seems to have forgotten that you can't have psychology without people (those inconvenient beings who demand to be listened to and watched). And so Bill comes across as a disembodied syndrome: male neglect of female sexuality. Such syndromes do manifest themselves--even on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, even in the nineties. But only in Eyes Wide Shut do they manifest themselves without credible human agency.

For contemporary reactions from Nation critics to the films of Stanley Kubrick, follow these links: Lolita (1962), Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Shining (1980), all reviewed by Robert Hatch, and Full Metal Jacket (1987), reviewed by Terrence Rafferty.

About the Author

Stuart Klawans
The Nation's film critic Stuart Klawans is author of the books Film Follies: The Cinema Out of Order (a finalist for...

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To grow rich as a doctor to people who are richer still, a man needs both charm and a sense of command. Through such traits he makes his place in the world, and can lose it at home. But since Eyes Wide Shut never links public life to private, we might conclude that Bill's blindness to his wife is nothing more than the error of bumptious youth. When circulating at a posh party, Bill hides behind a forced smile--except when he encounters an old medical school buddy, with whom he lapses into the playful arm-punching of a high school jock. Never once did I believe that the wealthy would entrust their lives to this man. Nor was I convinced that Bill (surely a social climber) would drink canned Budweiser; that he would discover a Village jazz club with a tuxedoed headwaiter and a last set ending at midnight; that in present-day New York, he would find a cab driver named Joe who speaks English as a first language. When a film leaves you time to notice such improbabilities, it's a sign that the fictional world before you is not surreal but sub.

As for the wife whom Bill neglects: So, too, does Kubrick. All we know about Alice is that she once managed an art gallery in SoHo (the walls of her home are covered with pictures no self-respecting SoHo merchant would touch) and that she now spends all her time caring for a school-age daughter. Such taxing unemployment may have been common among upper-middle-class women in Schnitzler's Vienna, but it would be seen as odd in Kubrick's setting. This isn't to say that married women on the Upper West Side are necessarily happier than their old Viennese counterparts. They're just more interesting than Alice.

I think Eyes Wide Shut is the work of an artist who long ago stopped paying attention to the world around him. If you are someone who cares about film culture, you will want to see it anyway, perhaps more than once. Respect for the rest of Kubrick's work would demand no less. But here the final chain clanks onto the film.

Because the rating board of the Motion Picture Association of America objected to some images of crotch-to-crotch thrusting in the masquerade sequence--about sixty-five seconds' worth, according to the stopwatch of Variety's Todd McCarthy--Warner Bros. altered those shots to secure an R rating. In what the distributor calls the "international release version" (that is, the film as Kubrick made it), the thrusting will still be visible. But in the "domestic version" (meaning the one deemed suitable for American eyes), Warner Bros. has inserted computer-generated figures into these shots, to block your view of the action.

I suppose I shouldn't object. Thanks to the MPAA and Warner Bros., the masquerade now has the element of risibility I'd desired. But the least one should do for a Kubrick film--even one of his lesser works--is to see it. In the United States, it is now impossible to achieve that minimum. Maybe, in making this picture, Kubrick should have kept his eyes open wider to the world around him; but there's no reason for our own eyes to be shuttered.

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