I like an arty film orgy as much as anyone – maybe more – but that’s not the most fascinating aspect to me of Eyes Wide Shut. What fascinates me most most about this film is best encapsulated in the book “Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and The Making of His Final Film” by Robert P. Kolker and Nathan Abrams. This book studies the film as an exemplar of what film critic Edward Said defined as the “late style” of an artist. The book explains that this style manifests itself when “the artist is no longer under pressure to do other than what he or she wants to do.”
For many artists, the beginnings of their careers are plagued with the compromises and negotiations needed to get a foothold into the creative community, the concerns of money and ingratiating oneself with consumers and their politics and desires. In many ways, Kubrick was removed from many of these concerns before Eyes Wide Shut. He lived reclusively, cast and fired whom he wanted, made movies seemingly when he chose, taking more time away between projects. During the early part of his career, Kubrick took a couple to a handful of years between projects. He used this time to read, research and fill a warehouse with endless documentation to support his next film.
Kubrick never spent as long between projects, though, as he did between his penultimate film Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut: 12 years. That’s an incredibly long time to read and research for a film. It’s not even close to what Kubrick actually spent working on this film. According to the book by Kolker and Abrams, Eyes Wide Shut was actually an intended project of the director’s for almost 50 years. They even quote Kubrick in the book as saying that “All the films I have made started by reading a book.” The book in question that inspired Eyes Wide Shut is Traumnovelle (or Dream Story) by Arthur Schnitzler. The book cites James B. Harris, Kubrick’s producing partner as a source that Kubrick had already read the novella when they became acquainted in 1955.
There is another version, online, in Variety, of Kubrick’s introduction to Traumnovelle cited by the actor Kirk Douglas in a story about the making of the film Spartacus. Apparently, Douglas and Kubrick argued so much that in an act of desperation they attended therapy together. According to Douglas in this interview, given close to his hundredth birthday, it was during one of their therapy sessions that the therapist recommended the Schnitzler book.
Whether we believe it was in 1955 or the Douglas version which would have been somewhere before Spartacus was released in 1960, Kubrick had been pondering this book for decades by the time that Eyes Wide Shut releases in July of 1999. The book has a lot of the same setup as the movie – a Doctor disturbed by his wife’s fantasies of another man wanders off to a night of decadence and masks and sexuality.
An interesting point of note is that the confession of Albertina, the wife in the Schnitzler novella, is about a man from Denmark. This mirrors the password of the party that her husband obtains from a musician for the debaucherous gathering – also Denmark. In the film, Stanley Kubrick changed this word to Fidelio.
Eyes Wide Shut exists on many levels and for much longer in the consciousness than the film version. It has existed since 1926 in print as a novella. It is inspired by so many events that Kubrick knew about including the lavish macabre sexuality of The Rothschild parties with their strange animal masks. The internet is full of documentation of these influences, a Google search away.
This anthology is called Denmark — the place of Stanley Kubrick’s decades-long obsession. It represents a certain state to which we all wander if only in dreams -– the fantasy of sexuality which means so many unique things to all of us . As in the novel, even husbands and wives go to distinctly different locations while calling it the same thing. I had thought of calling it Fidelio, which was Kubrick’s change, but, like sex, I feel that this anthology is best when it goes deeper. I wanted people to become obsessed with the origins of this story the way that Kubrick was -– before Fidelio was a thing. Go back to Denmark, to the source.
Here is a sonnet I wrote entitled Denmark about the source book and the film:
You wander into Denmark uninvited
enticed by naked sounds, my gated grounds,
aphrodisiac someone recited
inside a piano bar, staccato sounds
of penetration with a mask. If asked,
one uttered word, Denmark, becomes a key,
to verboten, velvet cloaked sodomy, back-
bent whores in antique table top orgies,
a blinded man’s prophecy, his proffer
towards a rotten state made masquerade
where even a doctor is considered pauper
trespasser in a billionaire’s gangbang charade.
I am secretly maintained, manicured.
You can violate me with a word.
You can submit to this anthology by following the guidelines at Denmark (an eyes wide shut anthology) guidelines
Kristin Garth is the author of seventeen books of poetry including Flutter Southern Gothic Fever Dream, The Meadow and Candy Cigarette Womanchild Noir. She is the Dollhouse Architect of Pink Plastic House a tiny journal and has a weekly sonnet podcast called Kristin Whispers Sonnets. Visit her site Kristingarth.com and talk to her on Twitter @lolaandjolie