Saturday, August 14, 1999

Audience's "Eyes" shut for 65 seconds

When Stanley Kubrick’s final film "Eyes Wide Shut" is released on Friday, July 16 to North America, chances are some viewers are going to feel betrayed.

In a recent, dreadful development from last Saturday’s press screening in Burbank, California, producer Jan Harlan revealed that the distribution of the film to the US and Canada will feature 65 seconds of "digitally tampered" footage, in order for the film to safely secure an "R" rating. The MPAA apparently considers these excruciatingly revealing moments some of the most sexually charged footage ever captured in filmmaking, and told Warner Bros. that, if it had not been edited, they would have to enforce the notorious NC-17. Since the studio is not about to put extra limitations on Kubrick’s highly anticipated final film, they made the edits without much objection, although Harlan admits that Warner Bros. wasn’t too happy about them.

Already these modifications are generating badmouthing from critics. Roger Ebert, who was one of those who screened the versions last Saturday, said that that the digitally-masked release "will distract from Kubrick’s work as a whole, because audiences will be trying to spot the digital effects just at the moment when, in Kubrick's original cut, a sense of erotic dread is building." And Jeffrey Welles, columnist for Mr. Showbiz, comments that "there’s nothing remotely funny about this technique being used to paper over "Eyes Wide Shut." It’s embarrassing, is what it is."

The scene in question takes place at a mansion, in which Tom Cruise is guided through several rooms of a costume party where couples engage in simulated sex. Instead of seeing these acts, as Kubrick filmed them, they are covered by digital extras who stand in between the camera and the action. This is an effect that produces grainy and disagreeable results, especially since most of the sexual acts are not up close and are not filmed in extreme detail (according to Ebert, no genitalia are revealed on screen). Why the MPAA considers sexuality, rather than gratuitous violence, eligible for NC-17 is beyond me.

Stanley Kubrick, who is literally considered the finest director that ever lived, died somewhat unexpectedly this March, shortly after finishing the filming of "Eyes Wide Shut." The project had been underway for quite some time, and was so secretly filmed that not even Harry Knowles’ spies from "Aint-It-Cool News" were able to pick up on any information regarding the film’s premise. For awhile (actually, since April, when the first footage was shown), the rumor was that the film would be a new step in adult entertainment, in which Cruise and Kidman played two psychiatrists who experiment with sexual fantasies on their patients. Now, after the screenings, that does not appear to be the case. The movie is instead a echo of the forces that bind together a married couple. In other words, an exploration on love, trust, and mutual relationships.

I have not seen any advanced screening. I will be seeing the "blocked" release, as everyone else, this Friday. Next week, when my review appears, I shall warrant a star rating according to the movie’s artistic merit and not according to what Warner Bros. has done.

Written by DAVID KEYES