Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” screens on 35mm film at 11:30 p.m. Saturday at O Cinema Miami Beach, 500 71st St., presented by the Secret Celluloid Society. Tickets are $10. Here is the feature story that originally appeared on July 18, 1999, during the film’s original theatrical run.
When Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman agreed to go to London and star in “Eyes Wide Shut” for director Stanley Kubrick, the movie was supposed to take 12 weeks to shoot — an average, reasonable schedule for a $65 million studio production.
Except that Kubrick, who died last March at age 70, was not your average, reasonable filmmaker. The man who directed “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Shining” and “A Clockwork Orange” and “Lolita” and “Dr. Strangelove” was a notorious perfectionist, willing to shoot 100 takes of a simple scene, even daring to start from scratch with new actors if he wasn't satisfied.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Accordingly, the shooting of “Eyes Wide Shut” ended up taking a year and three months. Midway through, Kubrick replaced original cast members Harvey Keitel and Jennifer Jason Leigh with Sydney Pollack and Marie Richardson because they were too busy to give him the time he demanded. And even after shooting was complete, Kubrick took another year to edit the film.
All the while, rumors swirled that “Eyes Wide Shut” would be the sexiest film Hollywood had ever made. But instead of the big-budget blue movie everyone was expecting, Kubrick delivered an intimate, morally conservative ode to monogamy. Cruise and Kidman play William and Alice Harford, a Manhattan couple whose nine-year marriage is threatened by jealousy and infidelity after she confesses that she thought about having an affair.
Although “Eyes Wide Shut” does have its share of bare skin (including one of the most lavish, outlandish orgies ever seen in a mainstream film), the movie is relatively chaste. The lack of explicit sex in the film — Cruise and Kidman share only one erotic moment together — has caught people by surprise.
That surprise was not spoiled by Cruise and Kidman, who kept their lips wide shut throughout, refusing to reveal even the tiniest detail about the movie, in honor of Kubrick's admonition of absolute secrecy.
But now that “Eyes Wide Shut” has finally opened, Kidman can break her silence. And, curled up on a couch inside a Beverly Hills hotel suite, she is visibly eager to do so.
‘A CLOCKWORK ORANGE’ WITH SEX?
"People were expecting it to be ‘A Clockwork Orange’ with sex, which it's not, " Kidman says. "The first time I saw it, I kept saying to Tom, 'This is so elegant!' It's a disturbing film, but it has great subtlety. I've used the word 'Kubrickian' to describe it, and some people look at me funny. They ask me to define it, and I say 'Why define it? Don't you just know what I mean?'"
"Kubrickian, " of course, refers to the arch, sterile style that is Kubrick's instantly recognizable trademark. His movies seem to travel in an alternate universe, one tangentially related to our own but strangely mannered, cerebral and baroque. Nothing in his films was left to chance: He labored over even the simplest camera movement or choice of incidental music. He paid as much attention to the aesthetics of his films as to their storytelling — often, critics claimed, at great cost.
The most common jab at Kubrick's films is that they are mechanical, airless works by a man who disdained spontaneity and emotion, a filmmaker so obsessed with his craft that he ignored the human elements of his stories. In her scathing review of 1987's “Full Metal Jacket,” critic Pauline Kael wrote, "Moviemaking carried to a technical extreme — to the reach for supreme control of his material — seems to have turned Kubrick into a machine."
But the way Kidman describes her experience on “Eyes Wide Shut,” Kubrick was no such automaton. When she and Cruise visited Kubrick's estate in London for their first face-to-face meeting with the director, she says she was "terrified. I was sure I wasn't going to live up to his expectations. I was nervous about having to walk into his kitchen ready to have something extraordinary and profound to say about the script. But he was not interested in that. He didn't even want to talk about the script. He just wanted to get to know us as people.
"Stanley had no interest in going on about the movie before it was made, " she adds. "He loved it when people talked about his movies afterwards — not that he was going to give you any answers — but he did not want people to start to psychoanalyze them before he had made them. But though he knew exactly the movie he wanted to make, he also left a slight area open for it to grow, for the film to find its own voice."
COLLABORATING WITH KUBRICK
On the closed set of “Eyes Wide Shut,” where Kubrick often doubled as cameraman, Kidman discovered that the director was much more collaborative than he was rumored to be. "You would throw a million ideas at him, and he'd say, 'Oh, absolutely not!' But when you gave him an idea he responded to, that would be it. I would ask him, 'Are you sure, Stanley? You don't want to lock into that.' But he'd say, 'No, that's fine, that's good.' He was so bizarrely confident in his choices."
For example, in the 20-minute sequence that opens the film, William and Alice attend a lavish party where she sips a little too much champagne and gets tipsy while fending off a persistent suitor.
"As it was originally written, there was no talk of Alice being drunk, " Kidman says. "When we were rehearsing that scene, we went over it 20 or 30 times and I started getting bored. There were all these waiters walking around and I thought, 'Oh, maybe I should have a glass of champagne.' So I sort of sculled a glass and Stanley saw me — he observed everything on the set, even when we weren't shooting. Suddenly he decided to write in a moment where Alice walks off and has a glass of champagne, and slowly the scene evolved into what you see in the film, where she's drunk.
"So much of my character evolved through little things like that, just me doing things and him watching. He did that with my performance in particular, because I think my character baffled him, so he listened to me a lot, wanted to know what a woman - what I — felt about it. Then he'd go off, write some more and come back with a better idea."
Kidman also reveals that the set containing William and Alice's Central Park West apartment was an exact replica of the New York apartment Kubrick and his wife Christianne lived in before moving to London — down to the furniture, the colors and even the artwork hanging on the walls (all painted by Christianne). It's a telling sign of just how personal “Eyes Wide Shut's” story of sexual jealousy was for Kubrick.
Once the set was built, Kubrick encouraged Kidman to decorate it to her liking, so it would feel more like home to her and Cruise. "He said, 'Walk around this bedroom and make it yours. This is your bedroom, so whatever you want to do. If you don't like that color lamp, we'll get rid of it.' He wanted me to bring in my own clothes, fill the cupboards with them even if they weren't seen in the film. He even wanted me to put my own toiletries and makeup in the toiletry cabinet. It sounds mad, but it's so helpful, because then it becomes your room."
Even the Chris Isaak song “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing,” which plays over an erotic interlude between Kidman and Cruise in the film — and became an integral element of the movie's marketing campaign — came from the stash of personal books and CDs Kidman kept on the set. "When we were getting ready to shoot that scene, Stanley said, 'Put on a song that you think is really sexy.' And that was that."
Kubrick wanted to make his actors feel like they were home — and thought it imperative to cast a real-life married couple in the film — so the film's portrayal of domestic bliss would ring genuine. Kidman says working opposite her husband made it "easier for the film, because you're being touched by the same person who touches you a lot, so you don't have to spend time getting to know an actor you don't know. There's no worry. When Tom touches my breast, he touches my breast. He doesn't have to say, 'Oh, I'm so sorry!' after the scene is shot.
"But it also makes it harder on your life, " she adds. "As an actor, you can't help but take your work home, and in this movie you're dealing with sex, jealousy and desire . . . all of those things. We were both living with our characters, and we both had different things going on. My character was bored with her marriage, while his character was obsessed and angry and insane with jealousy. So it made things . . . hard sometimes.
"But all that ends up helping scenes like the one where they're in the bedroom about to have sex, and then there's one wrong thing said, and suddenly it's gone, and you're not having sex tonight, " she says, laughing heartily, as if she was familiar with the situation. "It makes me laugh because it's so real."
Another challenging aspect of the role was coming to grips with Kubrick's very specific demands on his actors. Unlike most contemporary filmmakers, who strive for a sense of casual, street-level realism, Kubrick aimed for exaggerated, highly stylized performances from his cast — a kind of subtler combination of the staccato abruptness of David Mamet's dialogue and the floridness of a David Lynch loony.
"He has a particular acting style, in terms of rhythm, " Kidman says. He would slowly direct us into the rhythms he wanted. He had particular inflections he liked. It was very interesting as an actor having to make that real, try to work with it while not letting it flatten you."
Like every other actor who ever worked with Kubrick, Kidman was forced to do certain scenes again and again — sometimes so many times she lost count. One moment sticks in her memory: "The shot where I had to drag on the spliff. How many different ways can you drag on a spliff, right? But he wanted the camera to move in a particular way and for me to drag on it in a particular way at a particular time. So I did that a lot. A lot.
"But I actually relished the whole process, " she adds. "I used to think doing 10 takes was hard, but I love to do it now. Stanley made me love it. He taught me you can do the same thing over and over again, many different ways, and discover something different every single take. It's a lot like working on the stage, actually."
Unlike her husband, who keeps his clothes on for most of “Eyes Wide Shut,” Kidman was required to bare all for Kubrick's camera. The first shot in the film is a beautifully lit image of Alice slinking out of an elegant black dress, and there is also a recurring image in the film of Alice making love to a man that plays in William's mind, driving him to seek out an affair of his own.
"In Australia, when you go to the beach, you're topless most of the time, but that really wasn't me, " says Kidman, 32, who was raised in Sydney. "I was always a little embarrassed and shy about that. But there's something that happens when you're playing a character that allows you to do it. My own vanity and hang-ups shouldn't come into play, because that's Nicole, and when you're doing a role, you become that person. You are there to help the director's vision. I did not want to say to Stanley Kubrick, 'I'm too shy and I'm not willing to do this.' and therefore destroy his vision and the possibility of what he might do with it. I just thought it would be wrong.
"The film is about desire, but it's not gratuitous. Once Tom and I agreed we were willing to do anything for Stanley, we did whatever he liked. He had the opportunity to shoot whatever he wanted, and we supported his choice. I don't think we'll ever give another director that privilege ever again. But I had a great belief in this man, that he would protect me and not exploit me, or use me in a way that I would be embarrassed. There is something so gratifying for an actor to be able to trust someone like that."
The bond between Kubrick and his two leads became so strong that when they learned of his death in March, only days after having seen his final cut of the film, Kidman was devastated. It is only now that she finds herself able to talk about it without actually breaking down.
"When I heard Stanley wasn't alive, it was the biggest shock I've ever had in my 32 years, " she says, choosing her words carefully. "He had become such a big part of my life, just his opinion. It just didn't seem possible. He had so much more to say and do.
“I have a photo of him when he came down to see me in a play [The Blue Room] in London. It was a big thing for him to come to that. I was so nervous the night he came. Afterward, he and Christianne were standing in my dressing room, drinking champagne, and I was thinking, 'Wow! Stanley Kubrick is standing in my dressing room in London!' To think that he's gone . . . it's something I still can't quite believe."