I was, if you can believe, probably about five or six years old when I had my first glimpse of a Stanley Kubrick film. It was the middle of a sunny, Sunday afternoon, and I was visiting my father, stepmother and sister. For some reason that would probably merit a visit from child services today, Dad had The Shining going on the VCR.
Now, while I don’t remember everything from that particular day, I do remember images – young Danny Torrance, Jack Nicholson as his maniacal father, and the Grady Twins. I do know that I wasn’t frightened. I think I was too young to really understand what I was seeing on the tv screen. But the images, they stuck with me. Into adolescence. Into my teens and twenties. Today, when I pass myself off as an adult. Now I get it.
In my mind, Stanley Kubrick created one of, if not the greatest horror film of all time with The Shining. Which should come as no surprise, as he’s created one of the greatest war films of all time with Full Metal Jacket; the greatest science-fiction film of all time with 2001; and arguably two of the greatest cinematic sexual tales of all time with Lolita and Eyes Wide Shut.
When I tell people that the latter film is ensconced in my personal top ten films list (alongside The Shining, I might add), their reaction is often one of bemused disbelief. I recall sitting in the theatre on opening night, on what may or may not have been a date (I could never tell), and being captivated by Kubrick’s visual sensibilities. He had recreated New York City in his image (the director only filmed in England at this stage in his career), and I traveled its strange roads alongside Tom Cruise’s Dr. Bill Harford. The film was this surreal nighttime adventure, one that immediately captured my imagination. My date’s, not so much, as she continually, loudly whispered to me “this movie is so weird”.
For me, it wasn’t. It isn’t. To me, Eyes Wide Shut was and is yet another Kubrick masterpiece. Even if it was one that was a long time coming.
“Stanley pondered (Eyes Wide Shut) for 30 years,” the director’s widow, Christiane told me in an email interview as she was preparing to come to Toronto for Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition, opening this weekend at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. “He bought the rights in 1970. It’s a very difficult film; he tried all sorts of different interpretations but returned in the end to Arthur Schnitzler. He was very happy with Tom Cruise in the lead and I remember he was at first reluctant to use Nicole Kidman since he thought a real-life couple might be a disadvantage. But he then was so enchanted by her other performances that he dropped his concerns. He was delighted with the whole cast.”
Christiane has helped organize the travelling road show that I first saw at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the spring of 2013. While that was indeed a wonderful exhibit, TIFF Director of Programming Jesse Wente and Director of Exhibitions Laurell MacMillan have completely redefined the experience for me. The exhibition is set up as a flowing experience, divvied up into rooms devoted to Kubrick’s films. There’s a replica monolith from 2001 alongside the original Starchild. Costumes from Spartacus and Barry Lyndon are also on display, as is an outstanding room devoted to The Shining that comes complete with Jack’s typewriter and a replica of the hotel’s iconic carpet.
The final room is devoted to Eyes Wide Shut, complete with masks worn during the film, along with Cruise’s apparel from the most infamous costume gathering in film history. As Wente explained so well, in the 15 years since its premiere and Kubrick’s death just days after handing in the final cut, Eyes Wide Shut has enjoyed a resurgence in the eyes of both critics and fans, suggesting that, like so many of Kubrick’s work, audience have finally caught up to the film.
“When you have a visionary artist, I think the work tends to be ahead of its time,” says Wente. “Kubrick’s work, in a weird way, has remained ahead of its time. Even after all that’s been written, I’m not convinced we’ve caught up yet.”
“I know that he considered Eyes Wide Shut his greatest film,” says Christiane Kubrick. “All the ambiguities are very deliberate – it is important to let each viewer find his or her own link to personal experiences along those lines.”
For me, Eyes Wide Shut is one of Kubrick’s greatest. After all these years, it’s nice to know I’m not alone.
Eyes Wide Shut screens this Saturday, November 1st at the TIFF Bell Lightbox at 7:30 pm, with an introduction by Christiane Kubrick and Jan Harlan. The Stanley Kubrick Exhibit runs October 31 through January 25th, 2015. For more details visit TIFF. Thanks to Christiane Kubrick and Jesse Wente for their time, and to Danyel McLachlan for making it happen, and her constant support of Biff Bam Pop!