Folks this is both a report I've really been looking forward to reading because I've been anxious to read Moriarty's thoughts on Kubrick's final film, as well as being a report that echoes profound sadness in the House of Moriarty. Young death is a terrible waste and hard to come to grips with and I wish Moriarty and his the best, whilst I enjoy his writing. Here's the old man...
Hey, Head Geek...
All the equipment is off and covered in the Moriarty Labs tonight in honor of a friend who has left us in the last 24 hours, and I find myself here with just a small group of intimates. No henchmen tonight... just people who care, who are feeling the same sense of loss, all of us trying to lend some emotional support to one another. It's been a strange, emotional time, and sitting here now, reflecting on it, I'm having trouble getting a grip on all of it. When I find myself in a place like this, there's one thing that has always given me some degree of solace, allowed me to make sense of things, and that's writing. The simple tactile pleasure of sitting at a keyboard clears my head, imbues me with the ability to focus.
Tuesday night began on a real high as I attended a screening of MYSTERY MEN, a chance to see the final version of the film and compare it with the earlier rough cut I saw a few months back. I must commend director Kinka Usher and the film's producers for their efforts in polishing what was a rough gem to start with into a dazzling, funny, eccentric joyride that manages to combine real heart, character humor, and broad superhero satire into something that is both wildly original and familiar in all the best ways.
When I first saw the film (you can check out my original review HERE), I thought it was almost great. The ending troubled me, since I didn't think it was half as funny as the rest of the film. That has since changed in a major way. The ending now is a wonderful way to not only allow each character to shine, but to allow the Mystery Men to actually be the heroes they want to be. One of the film's major charms is that it never makes fun of the characters. Instead, it takes delight in them, in the hysterical way they manage to combine both the mundane and the extraordinary to great effect. The film gives each of the characters real dignity, and the cast takes these great roles and runs with them.
In particular, Bill Macy is a gigantic enormous larger-than-life movie star in this film, and Ben Stiller and Janeane Garafolo continue to prove themselves some of our most accomplished young comic performers. Paul Reubens is always welcome onscreen, and he should enjoy a renewed career as a result of his sweet, somewhat pathetic performance as The Spleen. I could go down the line and compliment particular business from Tom Waits, Geoffrey Rush, Greg Kinnear, Eddie Izzard, Pras (of The Fugees, thank you very much, everyone), Hank Azaria, Louise Lasser, or Kel Mitchell, but instead, let me just offer all of them my congratulations. They are wonderful.
The finished FX work in the picture makes a big difference, but it wasn't something I held against the film to begin with. All it did for me last night was wrap up this great present in the nicest gift wrapping I can imagine. Composer Stephen Warbeck adds his own bow and ribbon to the package with an outstanding score that is very funny, very sincere, and genuinely moving in many places. Macy has a scene where he's saying goodbye to his wife that will break your heart, and a lot of that is due to the wonderful, stirring work that Warbeck did. The selection of songs in the film is canny, and there's a balance of hits (like that insanely catchy Smashmouth song) and classic disco used to great effect. Every technical department on the film made outstanding contributions right down the line, and the finished piece is the kind of film that you will either respond deeply to or not get at all. I hope Universal's dice roll here pays off. It certainly deserves to.
After various misadventures in getting from the theater to the Labs (LA nightlife can be surprisingly seductive when it's this damn hot, especially when the Labs don't cool down quickly enough), I came in to the devastating news that has left all of us here reeling. Without violating the privacy of the immediate family, let me just say that it is a painful and disorienting blow to lose someone so early in life, and the effect on the entire group of friends in orbit around this one person we are now without has been profound. The strangest things run through you when you are given news like this. I wasn't involved in the situation in any direct way, but I still felt guilty about how exuberant the night had left me. I felt like I had done something wrong, going out and having fun.
As the sun came up today, I was looking at a full day of spying. Robogeek, who also infiltrated last night's screening with me, had invited me to join him in an expedition to various FX houses to sneek a peek at all sorts of verboten things. Instead, I begged off, trying to make some sense of the rollercoaster night before. I didn't fall into a fitful sleep until sometime after 9:00 in the morning. When I finally awoke, it was to the sound of my phone ringing. I didn't move fast enough to catch the call, but I quickly called the message up and played it back.
"Professor, be at Warner Bros. tonight at 5:15, and show up with your eyes wide open."
That was all, but I recognized the voice of the caller, a good friend of the Labs. I had to think about it for a few minutes before I realized that I needed to get out. I needed to sit in the dark and let someone give me something else to think about for a little while. Not to forget, mind you... just to give me a few moments off.
I am glad I chose to go. For one thing, I've never been to the Steven J. Ross theater on the Warner lot before, and it's now one of my favorite rooms in town. For another, EYES WIDE SHUT is a masterwork, a fitting summary for one of the true revolutionaries of film. The film is dense, adult, erotic and menacing in equal parts, and it will cause intense disagreements between those who see it. Like any Kubrick film, EWS challenges the viewer to have a real, complicated, fully engaged reaction, and it may well stand as the most human and even hopeful statement ever made by the director.
I've only seen this film once, and I'm sure I will have so much more to say after seeing it again (and again and again), but for now, there are images and emotions that I can't shake, things that made an immediate impression. The opening shot and the last line of dialogue are both brilliant, and they both belong to Nicole Kidman, who hands in a career-best performance here as Alice Harford. She may not have anywhere near as much screen time as her husband, but I was riveted by every line, every moment. She is dazzlingly attractive in key sequences, but it's not her beauty that makes the real impact. Instead, it's the way she pulls aside the "ice goddess" persona to show us someone underneath who's never been caught on film. There's a fragility that somehow wrestles with a real ferocity. She manages to be vulnerable and human without giving up any strength. She manages to give full life to both her motherly nature and her sexual identity, without either one overpowering the other.
Tom Cruise does not shatter the image he has established in film prior to this to the same degree as Kidman, but he does add colors we never knew he was capable of. In the film's early scenes, there's all the same Cruise confidence we're used to, the "Cruise missile" persona firmly in place. As the film proceeds, though, we see cracks in the armor, weaknesses we've never glimpsed, and he becomes more and more human. His performance is classic Kubrick, but I think he's managed to give more than some of the stars who came before him. He seems determined to show us what is happening behind his eyes, and that smile has never seemed like such a desperate trick. The film is his journey, and our impressions of the world that Kubrick plunges us into are formed as a result of the way Cruise moves through that world.
That journey is just as much of a trip as the one that Bowman undertakes in 2001 or that Alex endures in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. It's just a very different one. Even having read Frederick Raphael's EYES WIDE OPEN, I wasn't prepared for the grace of the storytelling. This is a smart, elegant film, constructed with care and restraint, but Kubrick's trademark chilliness (something I've always loved about him) is missing from most of the film. Instead, it's been replaced by something I didn't think he was capable of -- hope, and real human intimacy.
Teenagers may be able to appreciate the film as an experience, but I seriously doubt it will resonate for them on any level. Anyone who's dying to sneak in because they think the film's going to be "hot" should disabuse themselves of the notion. This film is erotic, but it's not pornographic. This eroticism is far more persuasive than just bare skin or simple thrusting. Instead, it's cerebral, intoxicating, dangerous at times, and has to do in large part with the nature of fidelity. All the comments we've heard about the 65 seconds of digitally altered footage are a double edged sword in my estimation. Yes, it's preposterous for Warner Bros. to have altered the film. Yes, it's distracting, but only because I had been set up to look for it. I would greatly prefer the original compositions as shot by Kubrick, but the changes didn't mar the film's overall impact on me as a viewer. All it did was pull me out of a moment. The spell the film weaves is persuasive, though, and I was pulled right back in.
There are many Kubrick trademarks on display in the film in terms of the use of Steadicam, the use of classical music, the style of composition, and there are some moments that seem like almost intentional references to early films by SK. Leelee Sobieski is a nymphet in the grand tradition of LOLITA, while there's a musical homage to THE SHINING that made me actually laugh out loud. This film isn't like any other film Kubrick ever made, though. Even pinning it to a genre is impossible. It's suspenseful, but calling it a thriller seems to sell it short. It's erotic, but that's not what distinguishes it. There's some humor in the film, but it's so black that I would be surprised if anyone described the film as "funny." Instead, Kubrick seems to have finally created his own genre with this film. If this has to be his final film, then it's a triumphant one.
I'm impressed on a deeply visceral level by the film's overall look. Using grain and light in equal measure, Kubrick somehow creates a style that is rapturously lush and also unpolished, rough. The film is positively swimming in light, and the effect becomes hypnotic. I don't have to know that the novel that inspired the film was called TRAUMNOVELLE to describe the film as feeling like a dream. There are moments that depend on coincidence, leaps in logic, and almost disconcerting shifts in time, but Kubrick never draws attention to his technique. Instead, it washes over the viewer, pulling them along.
But even that only describes the way Kubrick made the film. It doesn't hint at the actual content of it. For one thing, it wouldn't really make much sense if I just laid out a summary of the plot in "A-B-C" manner. The narrative is strong, simple, and direct. It's also not the point of the picture. Instead, it's the human moments that stand as the film's real triumphs. There's one in particular between Tom and Nicole, the pivotal scene for the film's first half, that depends on nothing except the two of them and their connection. In it, everything in the marriage between Bill and Alice is laid bare, exposed, and turned inside out. As a viewer, I was surprised to realize in retrospect that I didn't once think about Cruise and Kidman's real marriage in the scene. They are so amazing together as performers that I was able to set aside any preconceptions of them and simply accept the characters.
I am left with two profound impressions from the film and the day I'm just ending. One is a renewed idea of what love, fidelity, and marriage are all about. The film's central question (one that is genuinely controversial instead of manufacturedly so) is which kind of fidelity is more true: (A) A sense of fidelity inspired by the fact that there's no one in the world who you want to fuck more than the person you're with, or (B) A sense of fidelity inspired by a sense of honor to your spouse, despite your real desires? The difference is subtle, but enough to fuel the entire picture. I am not sure what my final feelings are about these people and this journey, but I will be seeing the film again as soon as I can. I can't wait until the rest of you have the opportunity as well.
The second thing I am left with, and the thing I will leave you with, is a renewed respect for the value of life. When it ends early, as it did for one troubled soul last night, the greatest loss is the potential of that life. By enjoying the final statement of one of my favorite filmmakers tonight, I was able to reflect on just what heights someone can achieve when they make the most of that potential. I'm going to take a few days off now and try and use these next few days to help my friends heal. Because of Stanley Kubrick, God rest his special, special soul, I do so with hope.