The groundbreaking director's death raised questions about ''Eyes Wide Shut''

By Benjamin Svetkey
Updated December 23, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST
  • Movie

The news crept through Hollywood like a chill. Steven Spielberg learned about it while surfing the Internet — and was so devastated he could barely speak. Others heard about it during the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where the word was passed along in solemn whispers by every pair of famous lips in the room. It was all as strange and shocking — and as heartbreakingly cold — as a scene in one of his movies.

On March 7, at around 2 a.m. London time, Stanley Kubrick died in his sleep of a heart attack. The world’s greatest working director — the giant behind such masterpieces as Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Full Metal Jacket — was abruptly gone, leaving a film legacy unparalleled in his time. ”He was,” as longtime friend Spielberg put it when he regained his voice, ”the greatest technical craftsman in our collective history.”

There is, of course, one more movie to be added to that legacy: Eyes Wide Shut, the Tom Cruise-Nicole Kidman sexual-obsession thriller the filmmaker had just completed. And that was something else Hollywood was whispering about last week: What sort of shape had Kubrick left his final film in? Who’ll be responsible for finishing whatever remained to be finished? Would it still be released as scheduled?

Here’s what we know: The reclusive expatriate (so camera shy that no recent photos are available) was in exceptionally good spirits on the day of his death. According to his friend Julian Senior — a Warner Bros. executive in London who’s worked with Kubrick since 2001 — he was happily ensconced in his living room at his English estate, Childwickbury Manor, watching Ireland play England in the Five Nations’ Rugby Tournament. ”Stanley loved rugby and was chattering away,” says Senior, who spoke to Kubrick on the phone hours before his death. ”I found it irritating because I wanted to watch in peace. I said, ‘Stanley, go away. We’ll talk tomorrow.’ [But] by noon he hadn’t called, and I got this terrible feeling.”

Kubrick had good reasons for high spirits. After 19 months of top secret shoots and reshoots — a process that kept Cruise and Kidman virtually locked in London from November ’96 to June ’98 and spawned endless industry gossip about the production — the $65 million Eyes was finally taking shape. In fact, a two-hour-plus cut had just been unspooled for the first time at a private March 2 screening in New York City for Cruise, Kidman, and Warner heads Bob Daly and Terry Semel. Although a source says the film was tamer than expected (rumors that it contains kinky sex scenes, including Cruise in a dress, have been buzzing since production started), the four were said to have been delighted with what they saw.

”Stanley had been apprehensive about how Tom and Nicole would react,” says Anthony Frewin, Kubrick’s assistant. ”But after the screening, he felt great. It was the first time I’d seen him mellow and relaxed since he started the film.”

It’s not entirely clear, however, whether what Tom and Nicole saw was a finished product or a work in progress. According to a statement Cruise and Kidman released after Kubrick’s death, the film ”was complete except for final looping and mixing.” But Warner spokeswoman Barbara Brogliatti insists even the looping and mixing had been completed. ”It was the final cut,” she says. Senior concurs. ”It’s finished,” he says flatly. ”It caught the Concorde last week. All that’s left is to slap on titles and transfer the sound from magnetic to optical. The picture is locked, as we say in the industry.”

Perhaps. But as Kubrick aficionados well know, the director could be maddeningly fastidious in the editing room, tinkering with his films up to the very last minute — sometimes even beyond release (like when he cut four minutes from 1980’s The Shining after it had already premiered). Not only did he command full creative control over Eyes, he also had veto power over every aspect of the film’s marketing. ”Kubrick had laid out the entire plan,” says Brogliatti. ”He talked to Terry for an hour or two about it [the day before he died]. The man was meticulous. He had gone over it detail by detail: what the shots should look like, what the one-sheet would look like…”

In any case, if there are tweaks left to be done on Eyes, sources at Warner say that Semel himself will oversee them, while Daly will handle any problems with the ratings board. There’s also been speculation that director Sydney Pollack (a friend of Kubrick’s who has a role in Eyes) might get involved, though Pollack could not be reached for comment. And then there’s Kubrick’s wife, Christiane (with whom he had three daughters, Katharine, 45, Anya, 40, and Vivian, 38), who clearly holds some sway. She’s the one who gave Warner permission to show a 90-second clip of the film at ShoWest this week.

By all accounts, the film will be released on schedule (ironically, that seems even more certain now that Kubrick can’t order any more reshoots or reedits). And as the maestro’s final offering, its premiere is bound to be an even greater cinematic event than anyone ever anticipated. ”He was the grand master of film,” as Spielberg puts it. ”He was, is, and will continue to be inspirational.”

(With reporting by Gregg Kilday, Gabriele Marcotti, Chris Nashawaty, Jessica Shaw, and Josh Young)

Eyes Wide Shut

  • Movie
  • R
  • 159 minutes
  • Stanley Kubrick