“Larry Smith notes that the filmmakers applied a classic trick in a rather unusual manner for a few medium shots of Harford walking restlessly along Manhattan streets. ‘In some of the scenes, the backgrounds were rear-projection plates,’ the cinematographer reveals. ‘Generally, when Tom’s facing the camera, the backgrounds are rear-projected; anything that shows him from a side view was done on the streets of London. We had the plates shot in New York by a second unit [that included cinematographers Patrick Turley, Malik Sayeed and Arthur Jafa]. Once the plates were sent to us, we had them force-developed and balanced to the necessary levels. We’d then go onto our street sets and shoot Tom walking on a treadmill. After setting the treadmill to a certain speed, we’d put some lighting effects on him to simulate the glow from the various storefronts that were passing by in the plates. We spent a few weeks on those shots.’” —Cinematographer Larry Smith helps Stanley Kubrick craft a unique look for Eyes Wide Shut, a dreamlike coda to the director’s brilliant career
On the occasion of the LACMA retrospective, two of Kubrick’s friends and collaborators reminisced about the master director’s approaches, rituals, and concerns. Tom Cruise, who starred in ‘Eyes Wide Shut,’ and former Warner Bros. head Terry Semel, who oversaw the production of many of Kubrick’s films, got together for a phone conversation that Annette Insdorf moderated in late August to discuss Kubrick’s brilliantly cinematic storytelling. —Stanley Kubrick By Terry Semel, Tom Cruise
SEMEL: Well, when Stanley did The Shining, he had someone else shoot a lot of second unit because that was in America. He would not fly to that set. Most of the interior filming was done in the studio in England. One of his great concerns was Jack Nicholson—a terrific actor and a big movie star, but Jack never went to sleep at night. He was always out socializing, having fun. Stanley thought that was terrible. He thought an actor had to go to bed early, get a good night’s sleep, and come to work in the morning. So after The Shining, Stanley would say, “I don’t want to use movie stars in my movies anymore. Jack Nicholson was fabulous but he was always out partying and I don’t want to do that.” He even said that about Tom on Eyes Wide Shut. And I said, “But Stanley, I want to have a movie star in Eyes Wide Shut. I mean, it’s been a long time.” He said, “No. They have too many opinions.”
CRUISE: [laughs] Too many opinions. And he doesn’t want opinions.
SEMEL: Not until he trusts the person and realizes they are going to contribute positively toward the film. I said, “I want Tom Cruise.” And Stanley said, “He’s not going to fly all the way here.” I said, “Hold on. Give me the phone.” And I called Tom and I said, “Tom, I’m sitting with Stanley Kubrick. I think this is a fabulous idea and a great movie for you and it’s a great movie for Stanley. Would you consider the idea of coming to London and meeting Stanley Kubrick and talk about Eyes Wide Shut?” And Tom said something like, “I’ll be there in the morning.” And as it happened, they became two brothers—or a brother and a father. Stanley isn’t like how others imagine he would be, but he didn’t like to meet many people. So he didn’t use a lot of movie stars in his pictures.
INSDORF: But he used Kirk Douglas in Paths of Glory. In fact, the only way Kubrick was able to make Paths of Glory was to have a star—Douglas—take the role.
CRUISE: And Ryan O’Neal was in Barry Lyndon. And he actually offered Paul Newman [2001: A] Space Odyssey. But for me, it was so interesting hanging out with Stanley and being able to spend time with him. When I first met him, he was an incredibly charming guy. I remember I took a helicopter and landed on his property. And I read the script for Eyes Wide Shut, which was about 95 pages long. It was a very simple story. We sat down and he made lunch for me at his house and we spent about four hours in his kitchen talking. We talked about the story and where he wanted to shoot it and how he wanted it to go. He said, “Look, I need to start shooting this right away in summer because I want to finish the movie by Christmas. Okay?” Of course, I had studied Stanley’s movies and I’d spoken to many people about the way he works—especially Terry—and I knew it was going to be at least a year of shooting, at the minimum. So I said, “Okay, Stanley, let’s do this.” Then we talked about the female lead and I said, “Listen, I don’t know if you’ve seen Nicole Kidman’s work, but you’ve really got to look into her. She’s a great actress.” And we kind of talked about the wife, and Nicole playing that character. He also talked about baseball. He loved baseball.
SEMEL: That’s right.
CRUISE: He started as a photographer at Look magazine. We discovered that we were both Yankees fans. But in that meeting, he didn’t really want to discuss certain subjects—like how he made certain pictures or the choices he made. But as time went on, we became great friends, and he just broke down for me all the sequences of his movies—starting with 2001—and how he came up with all the ideas for each shot. It was an incredible learning experience. Working with Stanley was a lot of fun because even though it may look like a very simple film, he was brilliant at getting under the audience’s skin. He was very interested in the idea of, “How can I tell this with just a camera?” I know the games that he and Sydney Pollack used to play back-and-forth. They would trade commercials back-and-forth and see how much of the dialogue could be taken out of the commercial while still retaining a story and also seeing what they could do visually with it. When you look at Eyes Wide Shut, there’s the sense of, “Is this a dream or is this a nightmare?” and how do you handle the aspects of the story in such a way that you’re not resorting to the usual visual techniques to say, “This is nightmare.”
INSDORF: You mean Kubrick was playing with formal structures?
CRUISE: He was pushing the film very hard. One fascinating thing about Barry Lyndon was that he used the Apollo lenses [still photography lenses developed for NASA, modified for film use]. The speed of those lenses is startling, and he used them to shoot in candlelight, which gives it that incredible depth of frame that he’s really known for. He likes those wide-angle lenses and he would often adjust the furnishing and the pictures on the wall. He understood those lenses completely, because a lens like that will bend the picture. It will alter it, and he made adjustments because he wanted that depth, he wanted the audience to feel the space. He was very selective when he went into a close-up. Every director has his taste in a performance, but Stanley would explore a scene to find what was most interesting for him. When you look at the lens choices with Jack Nicholson, for example, when he’s in the pantry leaning against the door and Stanley shoots up at him, its clear what an amazing eye he had. When you’re working with a filmmaker with that command of storytelling, you know right away that it’s his taste, it’s an extension of him. It’s not necessarily analytical. As an actor—like an artist—you have to ask, “Why do I choose a certain moment to play something a certain way?” It’s organic to who we are. I think you see through Stanley’s movies that his visual command was an extension of him.
And in Eyes Wide Shut he was very much pushing the film. Every morning, I would go in early and we would look at the negatives together. We would look at the day’s rushes—not with sound, but we would look at the image, and he was checking the film to see how hard could he push it. There was an interesting moment during filming. We were shooting in the backlot of Pinewood Studios and he had built a set to resemble New York. We were working on a scene where I see that a guy is following me. He cast a very distinct-looking actor, a bald guy with a very particular wardrobe. In the shot, this guy walks across the street. We went back and looked at the video playback; we must have spent hours studying it, just to figure out what the behavior of this man should be like crossing the street. Finally, Stanley said, “Listen, when you’re crossing the street, please don’t stop staring at Tom.” It looks like a very simple thing, but behaviorally, it had a tremendous effect. He just immerses you with his tone. His tracking shot through the trenches in Paths of Glory is revolutionary. And it’s the same with the Steadicam shot in The Shining with [camera operator] Garrett Brown. That was a very difficult shot where the boy is racing from carpet to floor to carpet. That was the brilliance of Stanley: he knew how to use the medium of film and the camera and the lens, and, of course, also sound. He had such command of his craft.
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