From '2001' to 'Eyes Wide Shut,' Stanley Kubrick's legendary status is
Stanley Kubrick, whose psychological thriller "Eyes Wide Shut" has been stirring comment and controversy for weeks before its release today, was an artist of many contradictions.Skip to next paragraph
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He was an American who lived in England for much of his career. He was an ivory-tower intellectual who craved a mass audience, and a high-tech wizard who enjoyed adapting literary works. He was at once the genial philosopher who lifted his thoughts to the heavens for "2001: A Space Odyssey" and the fiery provocateur who etched nightmarish evil in "A Clockwork Orange" - which he personally withdrew from English theaters when its horrors were imitated in real-life crimes.
Not the least of his contradictions was his double life within the film industry. To countless admirers, he was Kubrick The Genius, spending years to conceptualize his projects, then shooting and editing them with obsessive attention to the tiniest details.
But he was also Kubrick The Businessman, releasing his movies through major Hollywood studios, keeping close tabs on promotion. In a recent article, screenwriter Frederick Raphael recalls him checking the size of "Full Metal Jacket" ads in an Indonesian newspaper. Kubrick took celebrity-struck pleasure in working with big stars.
Ironically and perhaps inevitably, the release of Kubrick's final film, which he completed just before his death last March, has now been snared in a final conflict between artistic aspirations and commercial realities.
Advance buzz over "Eyes Wide Shut" has been swelling steadily, and it's easy to see why. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are two of Hollywood's most talked-about personalities; early reports have stressed the picture's sexual content, always effective for sparking curiosity and concern; and Kubrick's name still carries a magical charge among moviegoers.
Yet the studio releasing it in American theaters, Warner Bros., refused to preview it for critics and other journalists until the last possible moment before its premire. This surprised reviewers who recalled how differently Twentieth Century Fox handled the summer's previous must-see movie, "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace," screening it almost two weeks in advance so the press could evaluate it thoughtfully.
While it's not rare for a distributor to withhold a new picture as long as possible, this usually signals a lack of confidence in the movie's quality - a fact noted by the influential New York Times, which jumped into print with an item speculating that "Eyes Wide Shut" might be "a disappointment, despite all the hoopla."
Why, then, would a competently run studio hide an eagerly awaited work by a cinematic giant? Two answers spring to mind, both linked to Kubrick's offbeat relationship with the motion-picture establishment. One is that Warner Bros. was displaying the arrogance of a major studio that thinks it has a critic-proof movie on its hands, certain to make millions (at least on its first weekend or two) whether pundits like it, hate it, or write about it at all.
The other is that Kubrick would have handled things exactly the same way. His penchant for secrecy was legendary - he tore the covers off books he wanted to adapt, so even his collaborators were sometimes mystified about their source material - and it's possible he would have orchestrated the film's unveiling just as Warner Bros. did, holding his cards close to his vest as long as he could.
This scenario brings Kubrick The Genius and Kubrick The Businessman into a harmonious whole, since both insisted on Making Things Perfect before displaying their artistry to a waiting world.