Away from home (shooting season 2 of Humans) in London, while in the midst of writing part two of my short film series Marriage. (In Short), I was doing research online and I stumbled across an article on NoFilmSchool.com by Justin Morrow. The headline read:
Even though I had watched the film recently as a part of my research, I immediately rewatched it and afterwards, I felt a strange certainty that the answer to Mr. Morrow's question was in fact, NO. I was so compelled by this new found certainty, I spent the next 72 hours recutting the film.
At first attempt however, I thought, "wait, who the hell am I to do this?" Then "How would I even go about it? What about the sound... the music?" But there was one question overriding them all: "What could be cut while retaining the essence of the film?"
Stanley Kubrick, probably more than any other director, was known for his almost compulsive attention to detail. A veteran chess player and strategist, Kubrick personally devised complex filing systems to solve the problems he encountered during filmmaking, and left archives that were staggering in volume and breadth.
He was also known for making changes to his films even past their initial release date. Days just after the release of 2001: Space Odyssey Kubrick decided to tighten the film, cutting 19 minutes off, explaining,
"It does take a few runnings to decide finally how long things should be, especially scenes which do not have narrative advancement as their guideline."
2001: A Space Odyssey was released on April 2, 1968, but edits were made "between April 5 and 9, 1969 and detailed instructions were sent to theater owners already showing the film, in order that they might put the trims into effect." 17 of the 19 minutes of footage were recovered in 2010, and show that he added some titles to orient the audience, and cut things like, "an entire sequence of several shots in which Dave Bowman searches for the replacement antenna part in storage."
Crucially, though, he excised a prologue featuring eminent scientists, discussing the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. Had this remained in the film, it would have changed the tone of the film, utterly wrecking, in effect, what people love about the movie so much, i.e., its mystery.
When asked about the cuts Kubrick said,
"I always try to look at a completed film as if I had never seen it before. I usually have several weeks to run the film, alone and with audiences. Only in this way can you judge length. I've always done precisely that with my previous films; for example, after a screening of Dr. Strangelove I cut out a final scene in which the Russians and Americans in the War Room engage in a free-for-all fight with custard pies. I decided it was farce and not consistent with the satiric tone of the rest of the film. So there was nothing unusual about the cutting I did on 2001, except for the eleventh-hour way in which I had to do it."
It's also kind of well-known that The Shining, perhaps the most obsessed-over Kubrick work has deleted scenes. An epilogue of sorts was shot, cut, and put into the release prints, then hastily removed. In the scene, we see Danny and Wendy, safe and in the hospital, where they are visited by the hotel manager Ullman. The scene would have occurred between the shot of Jack, dead in the maze, and the shot of Jack, alive in the hotel's past. It would also have been followed by a card that related how The Overlook overcame the tragedy and still remains open during its regular season.
Of the edit, Kubrick said:
"After several screenings in London the day before the film opened in New York and Los Angeles, when I was able to see for the first time the fantastic pitch of excitement which the audience reached during the climax of the film, I decided the scene was unnecessary. It had not been possible to change all of the New York and Los Angeles prints before opening."
And what did those changes achieve? In both 2001 and The Shining, the key cuts added a mystery to the film
In an interview with Robert Emmett Ginna he spoke of the power of ambiguity:
"It seems to me that works in which the meaning is all too clear are never as powerful and as evocative as works in which the meaning becomes clear and where you enjoy a thrill of discovery. Of course, it's a more dangerous way to write because if the audience fails to discover what you mean, they're left quite disturbed. It's always safer to spell it out, in the last scene, and tell them exactly what you were after - which all too many people seem to do."
But this also reveals that Kubrick, forever associated with the tyrannical auteur image, was just as vulnerable to an audiences reaction as any other filmmaker. Clearly in each of these instances Kubrick made the changes with the reactions of the audience being the primary motivation.
Here from an interview conducted in 1961 just after the release of Lolita:
"There were many possibilities, in some scenes, of adjustment & ways to play it, but, finally, one had to choose the one that was the most interesting because the audience will not respond with a full emotional response if they're sitting there bored & restless. And there's always this fine line between over-stimulating an audience and keeping them artificially excited & losing them."
Since, tragically, Kubrick died two days before the release of Eyes Wide Shut and therefore unable to perform any last minute edits, I personally believe the current version of the film is not the one Kubrick would’ve been satisfied with. (Apparently Christoper Nolan feels the same) In a 2012 interview with Hollywood Reporter Nicole Kidman postulated,
“Stanley said the film was finished -- but if he had more time, who knows how it would have morphed.”
Furthermore she goes on to say,
“People have asked me if Stanley ever told us what Eyes Wide Shut was about -- and the answer is no. He didn't believe in interpretation. He always said, 'Never say no to an idea -- you never know how that idea will ignite another idea.' He also said: 'Never put me on a pedestal. When someone's on a pedestal, there's no creativity.' That's how I approach every creative person now; it does not help to glorify them.”
So, based on this assumption and in the spirit of "never say no to an idea", I decided to make that last-minute edit to Eyes Wide Shut not only as an homage to my favorite filmmaker but also as a personal challenge to myself as an editor and storyteller.
Overall, what I have attempted to do, is to give the narrative a more concise driving tension without losing any of the deliberate dream-like pace, hoping instead to carve the film into a sort of fugue, fever-dream. Kubrick himself has stated that Eyes Wide Shut was his best film and though I do believe it was left unfinished, as it stands now, I still consider it a masterpiece.
In the end I made 18 cuts, totaling 40 minutes of footage. The original runtime, 2hrs 39min, now sits at roughly two hours.
So without further ado, please enjoy my experiment with an open mind and your Eyes Wide | Cut.