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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

10 Years Later: Still Missing Kubrick, Still Loving Eyes Wide Shut

When I found out that Stanley Kubrick died on the morning of March 7th, 1999, my eyes welled up with tears like I had lost a family member. It might seem silly that I was crying over the death of a filmmaker who I had never met, but it had only been about six years prior that the man had completely changed my life.

When I was ten years old, my friend Jeremy had a Clockwork Orange t-shirt and I remember thinking that the image on that shirt was so evocative; the false eyelash, the eyeball on his cuff, the bowler hat, the blade, and of course the strange title. Something about it intrigued my ten year old brain and I became motivated to see the film. My mother, being the wonderful and encouraging parent that she was, bought me the VHS tape because I had been telling her how badly I wanted to see the film. At that point, I already had a particular affinity for film in general and a penchant for memorizing the credits of movies better than I could remember my math assignments.

So, I popped the VHS into the player with high hopes but zero expectations; after all, at this point I still didn’t really have an idea what the film would be about. When the film ended, I didn’t move a muscle; the tape simply ended and then rewound itself and I watched it again right there from start to finish.

I’m not going to pretend that I was the most precocious ten-year-old in history and that I understood everything about the film – I’m still surprised by new things I find when I re-watch it – but I do know that I felt something that I had never really felt before from any media. It’s that combination of total bewilderment mixed with a profoundly visceral attachment. It was like doing a drug for the first time, a high that I have chased ever since.

After I watched A Clockwork Orange, I knew I wanted to make someone feel the way that I had felt, whether it be by being a filmmaker, being a novelist or simply by helping to introduce people to the great work that I had seen. Before I watched that film, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but after it was over I felt like I had something to strive for. Basically, the film gave me a purpose.

I soon found out that the person most directly responsible for my enjoyment of that film was a man by the name of Stanley Kubrick and so, in an effort to find more great films, I rented everything Kubrick had ever made that I could get my hands on. So over the next few years, I continued to watch Kubrick’s films, falling in love with each of them in their own way.

By watching his films, I got to understand what an “auteur” is and how filmmakers can have themes that stretch over the course of their filmographies like Kubrick’s ongoing analysis of dehumanization. I got to see how music can be used to wonderful effect in everything from2001’s spaceship ballet to Barry Lyndon’s final duel to Full Metal Jacket’s end credits to the haunting and heartbreaking finale of Paths of Glory and to, of course, his use of “Singin in the Rain” in A Clockwork Orange. I saw how lighting could effect mood and how important camera placement could be to how the audience feels about a scene, like when Jack Nicholson is locked in the pantry in The Shining and he’s shot from below. Basically, watching Kubrick films helped to give me a baseline for which I would judge not just all great films, but all great works of art in general.

So when I found out that Kubrick had died on that fateful March day, it was less than a month from my sixteenth birthday and about four months from the release of his final film. At that point, so little was known about Eyes Wide Shut that I was desperately trying to get a fake ID; not for anything cool like buying beer, but so that I could get into the movie if it was rated NC-17 as had been rumored. Knowing that there was one final Kubrick film on the way provided some bit of relief, but it also twisted the knife deeper in a way because a film that I had thought was going to mark Kubrick’s return to the cinema would now just be his final bow.

I tried to go into the film as blindly as possible, knowing that I would never again get a chance to watch a Kubrick film for the first time. During production, there were rumors all over the internet that Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were going to be playing married psychologists who have affairs with their patients. Harvey Keitel and Jennifer Jason Leigh shot their roles, but were then replaced by Sydney Pollack and Marie Richardson and rumors abounded as to why this was so, but mostly it was just because it took three years to shoot and edit. And then, of course, I watched (many times) that brilliant teaser with Chris Isaak’s “Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing” playing while Tom Cruise caresses and kisses a naked Nicole Kidman, while she stares into her own eyes in the mirror. But when Alexander Walkerreviewed the film in the London Evening Standard prior to the release, I made my mother read it and tell me, without giving anything away, what the reviewer said.

Eventually the fateful day arrived and my friend and I bought tickets for the very first show on July 16th, 1999, at about noon. I was so filled with excitement and anxiety that when Nicole Kidman showed up on screen and reveals her bare buttocks in the first frames, I nearly passed out. But I managed to settle in after a few scenes and I wound up forgetting about all my expectations and got hypnotized by the gauzy lighting and languid pace. By the time it ended, with the most interesting and loaded use of the word “fuck” in movie history, I knew that I had seen a masterpiece and not just because I so desperately wanted it to be one. Know how I knew? Because I walked right back to the ticket counter and asked for another ticket to the 3:20 showing and that’s not something I’d ever done before and it’s not something I’ve done again since.

But, of course, like with every other Kubrick release, the critical community was divided about the film. It seems, though, that like every other Kubrick film, it has gained in esteem as time has gone by. Each frame of the picture is a little piece of art, but what is so impressive about the film is the way that the story pushes forward without any real external conflict; the only conflict in the film is the one that Bill Harford has with himself, his own feelings of insecurity about his marriage and his self-image as a sexual being. Despite having the opportunity (real or imagined?) to have a threesome with two models at Ziegler’s party, his wife’s admission of wanting to cheat and leave him because of a glance from another man shatters Bill’s illusions of stability. His marriage and his life now seems so very fragile to him, so he tries to get her back in “real” life for the fantasy his wife had.

But what follows is potentially a dream. Practically everyone in the film from that point onward reacts to Bill sexually, offering themselves to Bill in a way that he imagines his wife would have to her fantasy lover. A grieving daughter, a prostitute, the prostitute’s roommate, a hotel concierge, a costumer shop owner’s daughter, etc. all come on to Bill and he so coolly dismisses all of them. A woman is even “killed” so that he could live, the type of fantasy that most men would hope their wives would do for them, but Bill can no longer have that fantasy because of his wife’s admission. And then there is the scene where Sydney Pollack’s Ziegler character explains how all of what Bill has seen has been a ruse, further inflating Bill’s own sense of self-importance, that this elaborate hoax would be played – by what Ziegler describes as some of the most important people in the world – strictly for his benefit.

The entire film is, in essence, one man’s journey to re-inflate his own ego so that he can keep his marriage together. Critics complained that the movie showed how conservative Kubrick’s point of view was because he made a film with a “happy ending” about a man who returns home to his wife. Um, I guess that’s one way of looking at it, but it seems to me that the film is a dark and depressing story about how vulnerable folks can be in relationships and how, instead of talking things through, most people stew on their own until their partner uses sex to patch things up. Kubrick didn’t paint a picture of a happy marriage, but one that is decaying, one in which they go to a party together and spend their time apart, one in which the wife is eating cereal and watching television without caring very much where her husband might be.

So, ten years later, I still miss Kubrick but the wonderful thing about the films that he has given us is the way that they grow and change over time in conjunction with my own growth and changes as I get older. While there might not be another Kubrick film in the pipeline, I can look forward to news films by guys like David Fincher or Paul Thomas Anderson and a whole generation of filmmakers that have been influenced by Kubrick’s dedication and perfectionism. But it’s all a small solace because the truth of the matter is that nobody did it like he did.

– Noah Forrest
March 9, 2009

Noah Forrest is a 25 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon