Legs Wide Shut

The uncensored version contains what seems to me a near-impossibility: performing oral sex while wearing a full-face mask. Don’t try this at home!

Thanks to the ever-great DVDBeaver for these images*. I was always very very amused by the idea that the U.S. release of Kubrick’s dirty swan song EYES WIDE SHUT had been censored, by having additional figures inserted into key shots to block our view of the orgiastic activities taking place at Sidney Pollack’s Bilderburg-like exclusive shagging palace. It sounded so goofy!

(It should be noted that the U.K. version was also censored, but in this case the issue was with the soundtrack, which contained sacred Islamic texts chanted over the scenes of illicit rumpy-pumpy. The score was re-jigged to defuse religious wrath.)

Now at last I’ve seen frame comparisons of both versions. Pretty funny stuff. Fiona was particularly amused by the nude blonde sitting, her head resting on her masked and cowled beau’s shoulder, as they watch the hot boy-girl action. So sweet.

Why did the scenes have to be occluded in this way? Kubrick apparently researched the U.S. censorship system as best he could, to find out what was acceptable, but still found himself looking down the barrel of an X Certificate when he presented his film to the industry bluestockings. The principle in question was one of buttock-thrusts, and he should really have researched further, because Alan Parker had come up against the same problem with ANGEL HEART. The M.P.A.A. had strongly objected to the sight of Mickey Rourke’s heaving buttocks, arguing that more than three consecutive thrusts of the buttocks in one shot constituted obscenity. Parker, ever the street-fighting man, protested and won, but the principle that obscenity has a numerical value measured in pelvic thrusts obviously remained on the sexy statute books.

(The M.P.A.A. being the odd organisation it is, did not object to the blood pouring down the walls of the room, over Rourke and his paramour, Cosby Show graduate Lisa Bonet. In Britain, the censors for a long time maintained that any conjunction of blood and breasts was liable to act as a Rape Trigger, turning male audience members into slavering beasts. They squabbled with Michael Winner over his prurient remake of THE WICKED LADY, in which Faye Dunaway bullwhips a topless Marina Sirtis, and again, a stroppy Brit managed to overcome a censorship decision just by making a big fuss over it, aided by respected industry figures like Lindsay Anderson coming to the defense of his, er, art. Maybe Kubrick should have done the same. Happy ending — at least Marina S., who has to get nude in every one of her WICKED LADY scenes, had Star Trek: The Next Generation to look forward to.)

From Parker to Barker: the other person who could have helped Kubes out would be Clive Barker. When making his first feature, Barker had run up against a narrative problem. Clare Higgins’ character in the film is besotted with a particular lover, so much so that she raises him from the dead in order to continue enjoying his affections. At a certain point in rehearsal, it became clear to Barker and his cast that it would be necessary to spell out what, exactly, this kinky couple were into. Eventually, Higgins said, “*I* think she’s into spanking.” Barker clapped his hands together: “Great.” They shot a scene.

Barker’s American producer called the next day. “We’ve just seen yesterday’s footage. Sensational. We can’t use any of it.” Turns out there was an absolute Thou Shalt Not Spank commandment in force. Barker was frustrated: “You’ve got to come clean and tell me what the rules are, then. I can’t go on guesswork.” It turned out that there WERE rules, despite the M.P.A.A.’s insistence that each case was judged on its merits. Censors don’t like to make their rules known because it makes them look silly. Splitting pubic hairs is not an occupation with a lot of dignity. It’s similar to the way that executive producers and funding bodies often don’t like to admit that they’re looking for particular kinds of material, since it implies that they’re not creative and flexible.

Anyhow, Barker was DELIGHTED with his new set of rules. “It did wonders for my sex life,” he attested. “I now knew the exact moment when I was crossing over into obscenity.”

That fourth thrust is the one that does it, folks. Try to climax before then, to stay out of trouble.

The kinkiest touch — one girl holding the other’s wrists — is also hidden. Fiona points out that the same couple is back in this shot, having presumably darted through a side exit, scooted ahead of Tom Cruise, and assumed their seats moments before his arrival. “People in masks are not to be trusted.” ~ Fessick the Giant in THE PRINCESS BRIDE.

Anyway, Stan’s difficulties with this sequence illustrate again my ground-breaking thesis re Kubrick.

*DVDBeaver is a terrific DVD review site. Not porn.

14 Responses to “Legs Wide Shut”

  1. Be sure to get yourselves a copy of This Film is Not Yet Rated by my friend Kirby Dick. It’s a truly eye-opening expose of the sham and fraud of the MPAA ratings system.

  2. Perhaps the British censors wouldn’t have cared about the bloody walls in Angel Heart either. I’d guess they were more interested in prohibiting sex that draws blood, or blood that promotes sexual excitement.

    In general, I think that the reason that censors get more upset by sex than violence is not that they think sex is worse than violence: it’s that they think movies are much more likely to make kids want to have sex than to make them want to kill people.

  3. kev62_connolly Says:

    But really David, isn’t EWS’s problem, like Kaufman’s Henry and June, to name just one example, that it’s just unconscionably boring? I keep waiting for the Hollywood moment where the leads (it’s probably already happened), who are busy fucking each other off camera, are actually doing it on camera, censors be damned. You could probably do it and not violate the Rules, no?

    The hypocrisy here needs a new word.

  4. I’ve been meaning to see that documentary, but I keep missing it. I’ll see if I can rent it.

    Good theory, Dan. In Britain, we do have the working equivalent of an X rating, so kids can be shut out of mainstream film (officially), so that perhaps explains why the UK censor has been a bit more lenient with sex. In James Ferman’s day, the great no-no was sexual violence. I understand their problem with that, but they were still guilty of somehow imagining the events they were censoring were REAL.

    Since Ferman left, they seem to have embraced their own pointlessness and do as little as possible, although they still prevent small children seeing Spiderman and James Bond.

    Kevin, are you SURE Cruise and Kidman were actually having sex in real life? Or “real life”, as I suspect we should call it. I didn’t find EWS boring at the cinema (it’s a little harder to stand the pace on DVD), in fact I thought it was very FUNNY. But it certainly doesn’t deliver eroticism, and it doesn’t really compel as a mystery-investigation, I agree. I DO find it pretty interesting as a MYSTERIOUS ARTEFACT, especially since we are unable to glean anything from Kubes himself.

  5. I didn’t find EWS boring at all. As for what Scientology Boy and the (then) Mrs. were doing in “real life,” I trust you remember that one of his (many) lawsuits was over a story one of the papers ran that the pair were provided with a special “coach” of some sort to show them how to make love — or something like that. Rather silly given his affairs with everyone from Cher to Rebeca De Mornay. But anything that calls his “manhood” into question is not to be tolerated in Cruiseworld.

    Xenu spank!

    In any event when the film was completed the marriage was over.

    To me EWS is yet another panel in Kubrick’s Big Parade of Assholes — films devoted to protagonists who are not merely “unheroic” but pompous, arrogant and often stupid as well. See A Clockwork Orange and his masterpiece Barry Lyndon.

    I daresay Kubrick’s most radical narrative strategy was drecting your interest toward such unlikeable types as a means of dealing with weightier matters. Here he takes a Schnitzler tale of fin de siecle
    lust and transforms it into a tale of fin de THIS siecle social-climbing. For the center of it all is not Kidman but rather the great Sydney Pollack (in what would have been the Anton Walbrook role had Ophuls made it in hte 50’s) as the Beyond Sinister business tycoon. Face it — he’s a sex killer. And having strangled that hooker at the party he gets our boy to cover for him. His reward? The cinema’s most desultory orgy.

  6. It isn’t just the MPAA who have a fixation on the number of buttock thrusts – remember that ‘controversy’ over Neil Jordan’s 1999 adaptation of The End of the Affair getting its rating upped from a 15 to an 18 just because Ralph Fiennes did a couple too many vigorous thrusts?

  7. That was a weird controversy, Colin. Was producer Steve Woolley really so upset that “school parties” would be unable to study the film for their English classes, or was it just a way to draw everybody’s attention to the fact that the film contained sexiness?

    EWS used to be unique among detective stories in that when the investigator is warned to stop his enquiries, he DOES. Then Schrader made The Walker, and now we have two. But while I find it intriguing and evocative in EWS (which returns to the grounds of “relationship drama” and leaves the mystery hanging), it just seems like a big anticlimax in the Schrader. Sure, the rich are beyond prosecution — but your story still needs an ending!

  8. Chris B Says:

    >Rather silly given his affairs with everyone from Cher […] But anything that calls his “manhood” into question is not to be tolerated in Cruiseworld.

    Above, you have provided sufficient evidence of Cruise Missile’s penetration into homosexuality, Mr. E, as we all know Cher is a man!

  9. Even if she’s not a man, having sex with her is still technically gay. Whereas my appreciation of Michael Cera’s beauty is still technically hetero.
    But my witness on the set of Mission Impossible II (a crazy props guy) reported that when Kidman visited, there was a certain “heat” between them. He also reported that Cruise had a succession of attractive male assistants with whom he had screaming rows. Make of it what you will.

  10. “Make of it what you will” at your own risk.

    In my book Open Secret, I have actual eyewitness testimony of Armistead Maupin’s boyfriend that Cruise and De Mornay did the deed with brio. How did he come by this information? He was the chauffeur for the shoot of Risky Business and Cruise and DeMornay went at it in the car. I had heard, through the usual grapevine, that DeMornay was much impressed with Cruise’s prowess. Now for most sane individuals that would be more than enough. But Cruise goes bananas about the gay stuff. I strongly suspect he may have had a matinee or two in the past. But what actor hasn’t ? I have yet to meet one that wasn’t at least a Kinsey 3. The thing is Cruise’s cult wants to wipe same-sexuality off the face of the earth in no uncertain terms. This stems from the fact that L. Ron began as an acolyte of Alistair Crowley, who doubtless had his way with him. Poaching any number of Crowley’s ideas he went off to found his own “religion” — which began as a “sef-help” type op therapy until he decided he didn’t want to pay taxes.

    Hey, if I could convert my worship of Dolores Gray into a religion I could do the same.

  11. My own belief is that TC has pervasive gay desires and he has paid the scientiologists a fortune to brainwash him into thinking he’s 100% straight. This is just my personal opinion, based on NOTHING. I’m talking out my ass. If anyone wants to sue me, I’m happy to stand up in court and say “I think he’s probably somewhat gay. I’m talking out my ass. But I can’t help what I believe, anymore than he can help believing we’re all infested with alien personalities.”

    The actor who played Bobo the Clown for me once played Crowley onstage. In reply to the query “Am I to presume that the act of buggery took place?” he got the immortal line, “Oh yes. And I was that bugger.”

  12. Thanks for reminding me of that Dolores Gray performance, David.

    At least it’s a sin of a kind *she* never minds …

  13. Seen the UK version of Eyes Wide Shut a dozen times but just watched the US version couple of days ago.

    To my surprise found the US version far superior re: the censorship = since Tom Cruise is constantly thwarted in his desire/need for coupling the fact that in the US version he can’t even SEE sex only heightens the seductive, mesmerizing, threatening and dreamlike atmosphere of the film.

  14. That’s interesting! It IS a vaguely Bunuelian tale of frustration, I guess. This might be the most transformative use of the “trained furniture” school of censorship where objects are arranged to hide nudity.

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