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Stanley Kubrick Online
© 1999 by H.B. Koplowitz

To state that Stanley Kubrick's final film, "Eyes Wide Shut," is controversial would merely be redundant. Over 40 years and 13 films, "Kubrick movie" has become synonymous with controversy. The brilliant, reclusive, fiercely independent and ultimately indefinable director of such diverse pictures as "Spartacus," "Lolita," "Dr. Strangelove," "2001," "A Clockwork Orange," "Barry Lyndon" and "Full Metal Jacket" died March 7 at age 70, but his rich film legacy lives online.

A tale of sexual jealousy and obsession, "Eyes Wide Shut" stars Hollywood's reigning glam couple, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. It is set in the opulent condos and decadent sin pits of contemporary New York City, although 19th century Vienna was the original setting of Arthur Schnitzleron's 1927 novel "Traumnovelle," on which Kubrick's and Frederic Raphael's screenplay is based. Like most Kubrick movies, it was filmed in England.

A native New Yorker who lived in Britain, Kubrick was known for being secretive and a perfectionist, maintaining total control over his projects, including pre-movie hype. Thus, Warner Bros.' official Web site for "Eyes Wide Shut" <www.eyeswideshut.com> has no T-shirts or plot summaries, only a link to the Web site of his last wife, Christiane, and Quicktime videos of the steamy promos Kubrick made just before he died, which most TV stations have refused to air unedited. The uncensored trailer of a nude Kidman and Cruise kissing and fondling in front of a mirror can be found at several Web sites including "Eyes Wide Shut"   <members.xoom.com/_XOOM/eyeswideshut/index.htm>.

Four sites with filmographies, essays, reviews and multimedia on all his movies are "The Kubrick Site" <amk.atc.dmacc.cc.ia.us>, "Stanley Kubrick: The Master Filmmaker" <pages.prodigy.com/kubrick>, "The Kubrick Multimedia Film Guide" <www.indelibleinc.com/kubrick>, and a Kubrick page at the Web site of the "New York Times" <www.nytimes.com/library/film/kubrick-index.html>.

The director has been taking on controversial themes since his first major movie, "Paths of Glory," based on Humphrey Cobb's true account of the court-martial and execution of three innocent French soldiers on charges of cowardice during World War I. "The Times" site has a 1957 review that credits star and executive producer Kirk Douglas for bringing to the screen "a novel that has been a hot potato in Hollywood for twenty-two years."

His next movie, 1961's "Spartacus," smashed the McCarthy Era blacklist by giving screenwriting credit to Dalton Trumbo. Also produced by and starring Douglas, Kubrick disowned the movie because Universal Studios made the final cut. The studio edited out many of the politically incorrect scenes of slaves rebelling against their Roman masters, along with the homoerotic "Oysters and Snails" scene between Laurence Olivier and Tony Curtis. "Oysters and Snails" was restored in 1990, but many of the battle scenes have been lost.

An essay by Duncan L. Cooper at "The Kubrick Site" describes "the gross distortion of history which 'Spartacus' became," and the ideological battle between Kubrick and Trumbo, as well as Trumbo and another blacklisted writer, Abraham Polonsky, who had written a competing script based on Arthur Koestler's novel about Spartacus called "The Gladiators." The two scripts had differing interpretations of the slave revolt, which in turn reflected differing interpretations of the leftist politics of the '50s.

Next came "Lolita," Kubrick's film adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's wry look into the mind of a pedophile. The poster slogan for the movie was "How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?" and a 1962 review at "The Times" site tries to explain that "they didn't." The review notes that the Lolita of the movie, Sue Lyons, looked "a good 17 years old ... definitely not a 'nymphet.'"

In 1964, Kubrick took on the absurdities of the Cold War with his apocalyptic spoof, "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb," adapted from "Red Alert," a doomsday novel written by ex-RAF intelligence officer Peter George. "The Kubrick Site" has a memoir by Terry Southern, who collaborated on the "Strangelove" screenplay, describing their hassles with Columbia Pictures, which was concerned the movie would be perceived as "pinko."

Changing genres again, Kubrick teamed up with sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke to create his 1968 special effects masterpiece "2001: A Space Odyssey." Mystical to some, mystifying to others, "2001" became the ultimate stoner movie and the template for subsequent sci-fi epics like "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." "The Kubrick Multimedia Film Guide" has pictures and sound from the movie, and a quote from the director explaining he "intended the film to be an intensely subjective experience that reaches the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does."

Perhaps his most controversial work was "A Clockwork Orange" in 1971. Billed as "the adventure of a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven," an essay at "The Kubrick Site" notes that the movie's depiction of a young gang raping, mugging and vandalizing a futuristic Britain got a similar reception to Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers" -- it was accused of glorifying and provoking copycat violence, causing Kubrick to take the film out of distribution in England.

Next came the languorous period piece "Barry Lyndon" in 1975, and 1980's commercial horror flick "The Shining," based on the novel by Stephen King and starring Jack Nicholson. In 1987 he weighed in on the Vietnam War with "Full Metal Jacket," which, along with "Apocalypse Now" and "Platoon," is considered among the epochal movies on the war. Then, nothing, for over a decade, until this year's sexual suspense thriller, "Eyes Wide Shut."

One of the few to breach the wall of silence surrounding "Eyes Wide Shut" was film critic and Kubrick confidant Alexander Walker of London's "Evening Standard," whose sneak review with spoilers can be found at the newspaper's Web site "This is London" <www.thisislondon.co.uk/html/hottx/film/top_direct.html>. The "Drudge Report" <www.drudgereport.com> was one of the first to pick up the "Evening Standard" review, as well as a "Daily Variety" report that for the movie to get an R rating without being cut, 65 seconds of an orgy scene underwent a "digital adjustment." Similar to the way TV blurs the faces of trial witnesses, digitally created hooded figures and nude women have been superimposed over the actors, obscuring simulated sex deemed objectionable by the Motion Picture Assn. of America. Up to the end, Kubrick's movies drew controversy.
 
 

copyright 1999 by H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved.

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