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“So… do you… do you suppose we should… talk about money?”
April 23, 2014 10:47 AM   Subscribe

Introducing Sociology: Tim Kreider's influential 1999 essay (previously) on how Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut uses sex and infidelity to cover up a story of greed and murder by the elite gets a brand new afterward by the author to introduce a new site for his non-fiction writing, TimKreider.com
posted by The Whelk (51 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite

 
Awesome. That essay changed how I saw the movie (and Kubrick) completely. Recommended.
posted by naju at 10:57 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]


"Introducing Sociology" turned EWS from one of my "meh" Kubrick films to one of my favorite Kubrick films. One of my few legitimate goals in life is to be able to think about film the way Kreider does.

Also, Kreider is an occasional guest on Radiolab and is the wonderful raconteur one would assume. That latest one, The Fact of the Matter, has a first segment that is probably the worst Radiolab episode ever taped so just fast-forward to him if you don't want to get pissed off about something totally unrelated to the story he tells.
posted by griphus at 11:00 AM on April 23 [5 favorites]


griphus, I have a vague idea which episode you mean, but your link just loops back to this thread and goes to a blank page.

Anyhow, Kreider is great, The Pain - When Will It End? was my favorite web cartoon in late high school/early college, and this essay is totally worth every minute it takes to read. Thanks for posting it.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:09 AM on April 23


I have been waiting for a general critical re-visitation of Eyes Wide Shut. It didn't surprise me that the film was pilloried when it came out, because that's pretty much par for the course for Kubrick, but most of his films have had champions nonetheless, and this has had few.

I love it. It's a tough movie, sure, but, then, so are they all. I suppose there was nothing in it like the light show at the end of 2001, to draw in stoned young people who wound up seeing the film repeatedly, and reaped the benefits of repeated viewings, and discovered the supposed flaws in the film were in fact deliberate choices, telling a story that is worth hearing, if easy to miss because it was so different than the story you expected to hear. Or The Shining, because its source material was known, and because it was a horror film, and so horror fans would return to it, picking over it, and discover that, no, it wasn't King's The Shining, but it was something else, and something fascinating.

Kubrick smartly worked in genres, and I don't know what genre Eyes Wide Shut is -- Fin de siècle European psychological drama? Audiences generally wouldn't know Schnitzler, and Kubrick threw a lot of Schnitzler away. A major theme of Traumnovelle is the protagonist, a Jew, essentially trying to fuck his way into an aristocratic decadent European world that barely acknowledges he exists. That's gone.

Instead, we have a perfect two act play, in which a wealthy doctor prowls New York (or a soundstage version of New York) in search of sex. And everyone responds to him sexually, even the men, some of whom flirt with him and several Yalies who attack for, insisting he is gay. All this finally culminates in the least erotic orgy ever. And despite all this, Cruise, who has embarked on this bizarre quest driven by a fugue of jealousy because his wife admitted she once fantasized about an affair, has zero success sexually.

The next day, he revisits the sites of his previous night's adventure, but now discovers that all of it was playacting. All of it was a ruse of some sort, and nothing was what it seemed, and the erotic spectacle of the previous evening was deeply tied to the movement of money. He had been willing to spend, but he was spending to insert himself into a mystery, instead of participate in a fantasy, and fantasies are a secret that are ruined when they are uncovered.

Worse still, the fantasies tend to be a strange sort of shadow puppet show in which wealth and privilege makes the whole world into erotic actors playing our spectacles of powers. And these are people who actually possess power, and it includes the power to kill.

This essay does a very good job unpacking a lot of the film's subtext, communicated, as Kubrick often did, visually. I suppose the film is frustrating if you wanted to see Tom Cruise have sex for three hours. But if you want to see Cruise unhappy, unsuccessful, badly out of his depth, and bewildered, this is a perfect movie.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:10 AM on April 23 [27 favorites]


OK, so wiki says it was critically acclaimed, yet TFA says "Critical disappointment with Eyes Wide Shut was almost unanimous."

I think only one of those can be true.

All that said, it presents an interesting way to look at the movie, but I can't help but feel it's like the (IMO batshit crazy) talk about alternate meanings in "The Shining" (Room 237 et al).

That's not to say Tim doesn't create an intersting narrative that draws you in and makes you think. I am saying I think there's no rational basis for his conclusions.

cf a teen punk telling his English teacher that the imagery and metaphors the teacher thinks are in a work is a bunch of crap. (Can't find the mefi post about kids writing all these authors asking if they knowingly put all those deep metaphors in their work, and at least one author wrote back saying the teacher is full of crap).
posted by k5.user at 11:12 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


I read this essay when it first came out and it blew my teenaged mind that the trappings of extreme wealth are invisible to the American viewer cause we're all expected to accept that as how movie/media reality works.
posted by The Whelk at 11:13 AM on April 23 [7 favorites]


As a sociologist, Kubrick fan, Kreider fan, cinema buff, and critical reevaluation enthusiast, this is utterly fantastic. Thanks for posting, Whelk.
posted by clockzero at 11:17 AM on April 23 [3 favorites]


All that said, it presents an interesting way to look at the movie, but I can't help but feel it's like the (IMO batshit crazy) talk about alternate meanings in "The Shining" (Room 237 et al).

Yes, the notoriously deliberate and visually persnickety director Stanley Kubrick, who, when he watched the naked photography scene in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, noticed the camera being used instead of the woman being photographed, and whose work, as TFA itself notes, has themes of class conflict throughout, definitely didn't mean his characters' clothes to match their decor, the women to resemble each other, the nude to so perfectly frame Ziegler, etc., etc., etc.

This is worlds away from Room 237.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:18 AM on April 23 [8 favorites]


OK, so wiki says it was critically acclaimed, yet TFA says "Critical disappointment with Eyes Wide Shut was almost unanimous."

I think only one of those can be true.


That actually sounds about right, if my memories of the film's reception are to be trusted. Note that Kreider says disappointment, not critical derision. If I remember right, the film was acclaimed in the sense that critics acknowledged it was an intriguiing film that was better than most other films in the theaters at that time, but disappointing in that it wasn't quite as earth-shattering as they were expecting from Kubrick.
posted by Ian A.T. at 11:19 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Kubrick liked to create puzzle-films. Now maybe the people in Room 237 went off-track in solving the puzzle, but The Shining DEFINITELY is riddled with curiosities and clues that were not accidents, not coincidences. We're still working through the ambiguities and multivalent images of that film. Eyes Wide Shut is the same way. These are rich enigmas, and anyone who digs deep into them is rewarded.
posted by naju at 11:23 AM on April 23 [3 favorites]


I was a film critic when the EWS came out (still am) in a regional market, and I remember scouring the web for other critics who liked it. It got a lot of blistering reviews, although there were critics who allowed it had some good moments.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:23 AM on April 23


Krieder is the best.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:24 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


the most erotic scenes he ever filmed were the bomber refueling in Dr. Strangelove and the spaceliner docking in 2001.

Haaaaaah! Okay, sold.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:40 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


I read this years ago, and had it totally open up my appreciation of Eyes Wide Shut... but that was before I'd discovered Kreider's other work, and it's kind of an awesome headfuck to come back and realize that holy shit, that great EWS essay was Kreider.
posted by COBRA! at 11:53 AM on April 23


You see the film. You think it was ok but nothing special. Then you read the essay about money (posted above) and then you say: wow.l Right. it was really a good film because now I see something going on that I had not noticed...nah.

I suspect that a careful viewing might have revealed some of the money angle but sex trumps just about everything else and so that is where the eye if not the mind is.
posted by Postroad at 12:08 PM on April 23


I am starting to smell the old "do you need to understand art to appreciate it" debate.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:13 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Read as "Introducing Scientology"... Still holds up.
posted by chainlinkspiral at 12:14 PM on April 23 [5 favorites]


I suspect that a careful viewing might have revealed some of the money angle but sex trumps just about everything else and so that is where the eye if not the mind is.

There was no lack of pulchritude. There are more exposed breasts in this film that in your average teen sex comedy.

The fact that it felt unsexy might have been a little frustrating, but that frustration was deliberate. I will guess there are a few people who saw it who had never seen a Kubrick film before; nobody else has an excuse for being surprised that what they ended up seeing was a Kubrick film.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:18 PM on April 23 [3 favorites]


I don't really read film critism essays but wow this one is really good. Something that stuck out for me:

"But make no mistake: this is not a film about the “private dreams and frustrations” of what Victor condescendingly calls “ordinary people”; it is about really, really rich people, the kind that Lord Wendover in Barry Lyndon and Mr. Ullman in The Shining call “all the best people.” And it shows us that these people are empty and amoral, using their social inferiors as thoughtlessly as if they were possessions, ultimately more concerned with social transgressions like infidelity than with crimes like murder—just as the film’s audience is more interested in the sex it was supposed to be about than in the killing that is at its core."
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:24 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


I haven't seen it since its release and clearly need to watch it again. But what I think holds me back is that fricking solo piano in the score, which made me swing between feeling furious and wanting to laugh.
posted by rtimmel at 12:43 PM on April 23


Aw. That piano is one of my favorite parts of the film. It's all about unresolved tension (in more ways than one!)
posted by naju at 12:49 PM on April 23


The conspiracy theorist in me is starting to think that the piano is an encoded message.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:50 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


I think holds me back is that fricking solo piano yt in the score

The one by Gyögy Ligeti? He shows up in a lot of Kubrick.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:51 PM on April 23 [3 favorites]


The John Nash in me already believes that every piano piece is an encoded message.

Thank god John Cage died before he could publish 4:33 - II. The horrors that could have been unleashed by such a message to the right people...
posted by IAmBroom at 1:06 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


When I saw EWS in the theater, I had the same take as Kreider's essay. Seriously, how could you not see that opulence and figure it had to mean something? Kubrick's work is notorious for being deliberate and constructed, and that world he made was deeply odd. But the movie still didn't speak to me at all.

Part of me wants to see it again to see if it feels different now. And part of me has no desire to get back into that airless, depressing, nigh-hopeless sinkhole of a movie again.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 1:10 PM on April 23


I absolutely love the movie Kill List, and I just realized that its allusions to The Wicker Man are almost entirely superficial — what it owes its existence to is Eyes Wide Shut.
posted by cthuljew at 1:14 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Seriously, how could you not see that opulence and figure it had to mean something?

Man, I just realized that the only time I had seen the movie before reading the essay, I had watched it in the theater when I was 14.

I remember coming away with nothing save for there being a 2001 allusion in a billboard ("Bowman" something or other) and that when he gets knocked over by those guys and they insinuate he is gay, that what is happening on the screen means something but I have no idea how or what.
posted by griphus at 1:25 PM on April 23


Oh, also:

1999:
"The whole thing was shot on a soundstage."
"Wow!"

200X:
"The whole thing was shot on a soundstage."
"Yeah, no shit."

I even remember there's an establishing shot of St. Mark's and 2nd Ave (I spent a lot of time hanging out and working on that block) and then a soundstage shot of just about any block except that one. Bonus trivia: they used that block for an establishing shot of Ray's Occult Books in Ghostbusters 2 as well.
posted by griphus at 1:29 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


I always thought the most interesting part of EWS was the rumor about Harvey Keitel. Maybe this was part of the advance overselling of the sex aspect of the film, and helped people go in looking for the wrong thing (i.e. 3 hours of Tom Cruise having cultish sex, which I can't imagine anyone actually wants to see, let alone pay for.)
posted by chavenet at 1:32 PM on April 23


'Because,' she says, 'I'm mmmmmmmmmmarried.'
posted by shakespeherian at 1:54 PM on April 23 [5 favorites]


Oh, the pain, he made it end. Glad to see he's still kicking around though.
posted by klangklangston at 2:02 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Asked about Alex’s fondness for Ludwig Van in A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick answered, “I think this suggests the failure of culture to have any morally refining effect on society. Many top Nazis were cultured and sophisticated men, but it didn’t do them, or anyone else, much good.”

Wow. Succinct and perfectly appropriate for the era of art-loving hedge fund managers.
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:08 PM on April 23 [14 favorites]


I still think about that line when I have to see the signs for the upcoming Koch Fountains at the Metropolitan Museum Of Art.
posted by The Whelk at 2:42 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


'Because,' she says, 'I'm mmmmmmmmmmarried.'

If you do watch Eyes Wide Shut again, or for the first time, one thing you will notice is how great Nicole Kidman is in it. She's got maybe a quarter of Tom Cruise's screen time, and she just flat out acts circles around him.
posted by vibrotronica at 3:07 PM on April 23 [7 favorites]


the most erotic scenes he ever filmed were the bomber refueling in Dr. Strangelove

The Starfighters is notable to film buffs for having the longest refueling porn scene in film history, and I believe it used some of Kubrick's Strangelove footage.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:11 PM on April 23


Hunh. It was Kreider who wrote that bit about Stoner that convinced me to read it. I didn't even notice at the time. (Still haven't read it yet though.)
posted by postcommunism at 3:12 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


The conspiracy theorist in me is starting to think that the piano is an encoded message.

DRINK YOUR OVALTINE
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:18 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


...and I've now realized that I never bothered to notice the E-I spelling in Kreider. Huh.
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:36 PM on April 23


But what I think holds me back is that fricking solo piano

Musica Ricercata, in 11 mostly short movements, is a great little piece with an interesting formal concept. In the first movement, only two tones are used (A and D), and in each successive movement, a tone is added (not necessarily to the tones from before) until the 11th movement uses all 12 tones (an astonishing atonal fugue.)

The 2nd movement (YouTube recording with sheet music), used in Eyes Wide Shut, contains three tones (E-sharp, F-sharp, and G.) The tempo marking, "Sad, Rigid and Ceremonial" and the starkness of the music itself quite clearly suggest a kind of obsession. And Kubrick's brilliant use of this piece in his film adds an unspeakable tension to the scenes under which it appears. The radical simplicity and abrasive sharpness of this music seems to bother some listeners, but taken out of the film context and enjoyed on its own terms (especially as a small part of an 11-movement work) the piece is surprisingly effective.

Enjoy watching the printed music as you listen to the piece, and see where your mind takes you. Furthermore, enjoy the entire work from beginning to end; it is a "stylistic grab-bag" with some very light-hearted music, some rigorous Hungarian-style dances, and some very deep and serious material. One of my favorites!
posted by ReeMonster at 3:43 PM on April 23 [11 favorites]


I suspect that a careful viewing might have revealed some of the money angle but sex trumps just about everything else and so that is where the eye if not the mind is.
Might you say that most people would watch the film with their eyes wide shut?

I'll show myself to the door...
posted by Llama-Lime at 4:28 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


Oh, man, Stoner is great (but Butcher's Crossing is even better), I had no idea that Kreider had written that piece.
posted by enn at 5:20 PM on April 23


Interesting essay and afterword.
posted by unliteral at 7:45 PM on April 23


See also his (PDF) take on A.I., and why it too is underrated.
posted by ianso at 6:10 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


I'm annoyed that his essay on Spiderman / A Simple Plan and Ramini's working class sympathies seems to have vanished from the Internet but then again it wasn't one of his strongest.
posted by The Whelk at 6:51 AM on April 24


maybe it's an age thing (I would've been almost forty when I first saw Eye Wide Shut in 1999, brand new at the time), and a respect thing (I was long time fan of Kubrick's and tended to accept that he didn't ever really stumble when it came to moviemaking), but my initial "read" of Eyes Wide Shut was pretty much in line with the essay in question. That is, it was way more about power, corruption and lies than it was about trying to turn me on.

Later, maybe 2005 by now, I became aware of its standing in certain conspiracy/Illuminati circles (the masks and costumes and overall occult feel of the imagery, the sex rituals, "mystery" of his sudden death). Again, I wouldn't say this really surprised me. I mean, come on, this was Stanley Kubrick. None of his movies were ever about what they seemed to be about. Except maybe 2001, but to this day, I don't think anybody's ever really nailed what it's about, either overtly or subvertly ... at least, not to my satisfaction.

Interesting that the day I first saw Eyes Wide Shut, I saw another movie that was also brand new at the time (same multiplex, easy to just slip into without paying). That was Blair Witch Project. Then, within maybe the next two weeks, I also caught American Beauty, Fight Club and Being John Malkovich leading me to the conclusion that somebody very high up in the Illuminati had messed up immeasurably and allowed not one or two but FIVE at least halfway interesting movies into distribution all at the same time.

Or maybe it was intentional, something to do with keeping things in cosmic balance as we came to the end of millennium. What were they thinking?

Anyway, it's fifteen years later now, that half-life where I've heard it argued that we finally know whether a given cultural artifact really cuts it as a sustaining (still living and breathing, still relevant) work of art. And for me anyway, Eyes Wide Shut is the quickest slamdunk in that regard, the clear choice for which of those five movies I'll dig out (or download) and watch this coming weekend. Makes me think that maybe the Oscars should hand out a retro-Best Movie award every year, for that movie from fifteen years previous that they most missed the boat on.
posted by philip-random at 10:32 AM on April 24 [7 favorites]


I also caught American Beauty, Fight Club and Being John Malkovich leading me to the conclusion that somebody very high up in the Illuminati had messed up immeasurably and allowed not one or two but FIVE at least halfway interesting movies into distribution all at the same time.

I remember that "holy shit" moment quite well, as it coincided nicely with me turning 18 and being really turned on to cinema as art rather than cinema as entertainment. Don't forget Magnolia; pretty sure that was in the mix as well!
posted by naju at 10:39 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


'99 was a very good year for movies.
posted by bstreep at 8:06 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Out of curiosity I streamed Room 237 while preparing dinner. It was interesting and had varying degrees of plausibility, until about halfway in, where we get the guy calmly going on about how The Shining was actually filled with coded messages about how Kubrick faked the moon landing video. Glad I didn't devote any serious attention to that, and fair warning to others, who, inspired by Kreider's excellent essay, go looking for more.
posted by Llama-Lime at 8:42 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Whether you agree with it or not, I think Rob Ager's exhaustive analysis of The Shining is rather compelling and thought-provoking. I also think it's capable of making the film even more frightening and intense. He's far more of the Tim Kreider intellectual type than the conspiracy theory type. (He also explained a bit about why he refused to be interviewed for Room 237.)
posted by naju at 4:58 AM on April 25 [3 favorites]


I don't think Room 237 was supposed to be persuasive. My take on it was that it presented several people -- each of whom would like to be persuasive -- as a sort of capsule essay on the deep fascination The Shining holds for people. But the documentary itself doesn't have a POV on the meaning of The Shining.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:23 AM on April 25 [2 favorites]


I agree. I think that documentary was making a point about authorial intent, and about art being a living, breathing document once it leaves the mind of its creator. Even if I'm not persuaded, I do think it's beautiful that so many people can take away entirely different, unexpected things from a single work.
posted by naju at 6:42 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]


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