'Eyes Wide Cut': What Happens When a Filmmaker Reimagines Kubrick's Masterpiece?
Marshall Allman attempted to 'finish' Eyes Wide Shut. He discovered more than he bargained for.
It is a common pastime among film fans to play the 'what-if' game when it comes to favorite films. It's also a favorite pastime of directors: witness the multiple cuts of Blade Runner we've seen over the years, or the legendary battles Terry Gilliam has engaged in over his surrealist masterpieces. Orson Welles' second film, The Magnificent Ambersons, was subject to a remarkable degree of studio interference, and the list goes on.
The commonality between all of these films is that the changes took place in editing, which is, really, the only place they could have taken place. That may sound obvious, but the point should be made: after the sets have been struck and the crew sent home, all that remains is the footage itself, there to be assembled (and reassembled) into drastically different forms. Sometimes, as in the examples above, the different cuts were the results of conflicts between studios and directors, or directors and themselves. But there is another film that has entered the canon of "unfinished" films, and that is Stanley Kubrick's final work, 1999's Eyes Wide Shut.
Kubrick had a one-of-kind, iron-clad contract with Warner Bros., which stated that nary a finger could be placed upon the work if that finger did not belong to Mr. Kubrick. When he died in March of 1999, some four months before the release of his film, this meant that the studios' hands were relatively tied with regard to the completion of the film. The final version of Eyes Wide Shut is as it was when Kubrick screened it for Warner Bros. executives the night before his death. Some of the sound feels rough, and there are some establishing shots that don't seem up to the standards of the rest of the film.
"When you're working with a master like Kubrick, any change is a little bit frightening to make."
Furthermore, it is well known that Kubrick worked on a movie in all stages of its existence, up to and including the standards in the theaters where it was to premiere. He cut voice-over from 2001 and an entire ending scene from The Shining (after the film's release) and in both of those cases, his changes tended to favor ambiguity over coherence. All of which leads us to ask the question, is Eyes Wide Shut as we know it the film Kubrick intended to release?
I speculated on the issue myself a few years ago, and now a Los Angeles based actor and filmmaker, Marshall Allman, has actually taken it upon himself to reedit the film. His version, Eyes Wide Cut, is available to watch on his website, and it's quite a change. We spoke Allman about how he became interested in the film, what led him to the idea of recutting a Kubrick film (heresy, for sure, to many) and how he went about it.
No Film School: You've taken Kubrick's final piece, which is 159 minutes, and reduced it to just about two hours (i.e., 120 minutes.) That's a lot of cutting. Where did you get the idea to do this?
Marshall Allman: I've been working on a series of films about marriage, and so the subject has been fascinating to me, and Eyes Wide Shut is, I think, the pinnacle of films about marriage. That said, I tried not to go into this project with any preconceived notions of what I wanted the film to be, of course. I was inspired by some of the things that I had seen, and read, and the feeling that there was something about the film that just wasn't quite finished.
Incidentally, this view has been shared, not only by you, but recently by Christopher Nolan, as well. So I felt as though there was ample reason to go in there and see what might be done by adjusting some things. Of course, when you're working with a master like Kubrick, any change is a little bit frightening to make, but once I got into it, I was able to sort of get a little more comfortable with working on his film.
NFS: What are some examples?
Allman: Well, to start with, there was, as I think you'd mentioned in an article, the issue of the final Ziegler scene. It always seemed to me as though it went for far too long, and that it tended to eliminate much of the mystery in the film, the ambiguity that was so central to many of Kubrick's works. Frankly, it took the air out of the movie for me. It seemed to me like that deleted scene from The Shining, where everything is explained. And that scene was released in theaters! So, I mean, I can't help but think that if Kubrick had lived longer, he would have cut that scene.
"The film, to me, is like a waking dream, but I wanted to make into a fever dream."
NFS: So much of the structure in Kubrick's films involves doubling via revisitations (as in A Clockwork Orange, where Alex, in the second half, loops back on the locations of the first part, only now they are a sort of nightmare funhouse version of what they were). The same is true of EWS, but in your cut, you've sacrificed a lot of this in favor of something else. Can you talk about that decision?
Allman: It's definitely something else, my cut, and I would never presume to say that I know exactly what Kubrick's intentions were (I don't think anyone would be so presumptuous), but once I started working on the film, it felt as though it was talking to me, if that doesn't sound crazy. This version was a way to exercise the idea that it could have been cut down, and I didn't cut the least amount possible; I cut as much as I could. I'm confident that had I cut any more, it would have ruined it.
The film, to me, is like a waking dream, but I wanted to make into a fever dream. It was clear that Kubrick wanted to change the form of film, throughout his career, and I feel like in Eyes Wide Shut, he had Bill's narrative, and he was trying to add as much to narrative as he could get away with. It would be like Kubrick building the Eiffel Tower and then deciding, 'I want to add a deck.' I feel like he wanted to defy the form. What I did was take the deck off, so to speak.
NFS: You made a lot of cuts beyond the Ziegler scene. For instance, you excised the original meeting with Nick Nightingale, as well as the action within the costume shop, and more. Can you explain some of the rationale behind your edits?
Allman: Well, I actually documented every cut I made in a section on my website, and people can go there to see exactly what I did, and why, but I'll give you an example: my decision to have Bill meet Nick only once not only is true to the source material [Traumnovelle, by Arthur Schnitzler] because they only meet once there, but I felt as though the information that was communicated in that scene where they meet was sufficient to get across what I felt the story needed to show, and I also wanted the beginning of the film to focus on Alice, before we are introduced to Bill, so I left that out.
Likewise, the second visit to Domino's house, I thought the story worked without it, because the crux of the film, really, comes after he sees Mandy's body in the morgue, and he looks into her eyes. At that point, his eyes are truly open, and when he returns home, and sees the mask, it is sort of the end of his dream, and the return to reality.
NFS: Can you discuss the technical aspects of how you went about this project?
Allman: Sure. Of course, to a certain extent I was limited in what I could do by the fact that I only had the film as it was released to work with; I didn't have the stems or any of the extra footage. Of course, I wouldn't expect to have access to that! But it was actually fairly simple, or at least, low-tech. I was working on a 2010 Macbook with 8 gigs of RAM and a solid state terabyte drive. I cut using Adobe Premiere CS6 and I cut using the highest res version of the film I could acquire. I mixed the DTS 5.1 surround into AAC stereo, too.
"I had to replace all the audio with foley and sound effects from previous parts of the film because the audio was baked into the copy I had."
NFS: Can you name the most challenging edit?
Allman: The most challenging edit was the transition from Bill at the morgue to Bill coming home, because I had to replace all the audio with foley and sound effects from previous parts of the film because the audio was baked into the copy I had. So that single edit about four hours, and I made several versions. The initial edit took me 72 hours and the sound took around 12 or so hours, and of course, the exporting took forever.
NFS: So, when you're not reediting Kubrick movies, what else do you do?
Allman: Well, I've got a feature documentary with Foster the People that's in post, and I'm finishing Part Two of my Marriage in Short series (Part One is on Seed&Spark.) I was also just on the last season of Humans on AMC, as an actor. My main hope with this project would be to reinvigorate passion for Eyes Wide Shut, and to get people watching and talking about the movie again.