While filming Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick kept Warner Bros. in the dark--and Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman out of view--for almost two years.

Hallelujah! after 19 months of production that chewed up and spit out Harvey Keitel and Jennifer Jason Leigh, consumed a reported $65 million, required an estimated one million feet of film, and must have left stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman feeling like they were stuck in some sort of controlled dream, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut has been officially scheduled for release July 16, 1999. But what hath Kubrick wrought?

Despite the luxury of infinite time, a blank check from Warner Bros., and the presence of Hollywood’s leading box office couple, Eyes won’t be a typical summer blockbuster. Instead, it appears that the shy, enigmatic perfectionist who created the fantastic worlds of Spartacus, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, and The Shining has made the biggest, most expensive, most anticipated art film ever.

”Working with Stanley was like rehearsing for a play,” recalls Vinessa Shaw, who has a supporting role. ”It was a lot about the process and concentrating on whatever he wanted to focus on for that day, such as the camera angle or rewriting the scene. It allowed us to feel intimacy between each other.”

Of course, most details of this production still remain under wraps; the 70-year-old Kubrick provides information strictly on a need-to-know basis. Supporting actors were given only their scenes and a brief story line, and everyone down to the owners of an estate used as a location had confidentiality clauses in their contracts. ”House rules are that we can’t talk about the film until its release or such time as Stanley decides,” explains Anthony Frewin, Kubrick’s longtime assistant.

But there are leaks, and they point to a small, intimate film closer to Kubrick’s 1962 Lolita than to his last film, the 1987 Vietnam drama Full Metal Jacket. It’s known that Eyes Wide Shut is drawn from a 1926 Arthur Schnitzler novella called Traumnovelle (Dream Story). Movie rights to the story, which follows the bizarre, unconsummated sexual imaginings of an Austrian doctor, were purchased in 1970 by Warner Bros. In the 1980s, Kubrick said of the novel: ”It explores the sexual ambivalence of a happy marriage.” For the film, the plot has reportedly been revamped so that real-life marrieds Cruise and Kidman play married psychologists who each have affairs with clients and explore the sexual underworld of New York (recreated in England).

Frederic Raphael, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of 1965’s Darling, worked on the script with Kubrick in the mid-’90s. But oddly, the five Kubrick-authorized press releases from Warner Bros. list Kubrick as writer, producer, and director, and don’t mention Raphael — which means a credit battle may be in the offing. ”We got along well,” says Raphael, who didn’t visit the set. ”What the situation on the credit is isn’t for me or Stanley or anyone else to say. It’s up to the Writers Guild, and I want to wait for the process.”

Filming began at Pinewood Studios near London in early November 1996 and wrapped in June 1998 — rivaling the shooting durations of costume epics Lawrence of Arabia and Cleopatra. ”We really only shot for 11 or 12 of those months because we took long breaks,” explains Kidman. She also notes that reports of 100-take scenes are exaggerated, though she confirms that there were a few 40- to 50-shot takes. ”Sometimes we did it only in one take,” Kidman adds.

Eyes Wide Shut
  • Movie
  • 159 minutes