At an event last night, organised by The Space in Brighton, I shared the platform with Jan Harlan, the veteran producer of Stanley Kubrick’s movies. In conversation over dinner beforehand I told Jan that I thought Kubrick’s last film, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, was terrible. I spoke forcefully about its adolescent immaturity on the subject of sex. Jan was courteous and tolerant, and asked me how long ago I had seen the film. I told him I’d seen it on its release, fifteen years ago. ‘Stanley thought it was his best film,’ said Jan gently. ‘Why don’t you take another look?’
I was at once ashamed of myself. I realised I’d launched into my rubbishing of the film not because I retained any clear notion of its faults, but because I wanted to present myself in a certain light: as one who has passionately held opinions, that he is not afraid to utter. My comments were in fact a pose; I was adopting a pose, not with my body, but with my words. I do have vague memories of thinking ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ was a poor film, but given Kubrick’s achievements in his other work, this, his last film, deserves to be taken more seriously than I was doing. So I will watch it again.
Meanwhile I’m left with the shame. Am I still so immature, so insecure, that when I meet a new person I must perform like a stag at a rut? The artistic merits of the film are irrelevant. I was opinion-barging. I think this is a real fault of mine. How much more graceful it would have been to begin our meeting with happy memories of, say, ‘Barry Lyndon’. I still recall with wonder the scene in which a distant carriage crosses the landscape lit by a shaft of real sunlight that tracks it like a follow-spot. Or the almost-perfect ‘Dr Strangelove’. ‘Or ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, a film I’ve loved since the day it was released. Then, perhaps, we could have eased into my disappointment with ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, and I could have listened, and Jan would have told me why Kubrick thought it was his best film, and I would actually have learned something.
Instead I have to come home, and sit at my keyboard, and learn something else.