🎬 #5 Two greats, two 'sex mysteries' zero best director Oscars 🥇
This week the Oscar nominees for 2022 were announced and it’s Valentine’s Day next week. In celebration of both/neither of those things - we have our two film choices, each explore the darker side of relationships - and are helmed by two of the greatest directors to never win the Best Director Oscar.
Happy choosing, happy viewing,
FILM ONE: EYES WIDE SHUT
1999 Dir Stanley Kubrick
My first memory of this film isn’t even watching the film, it was seeing the stunning poster high above LA, perched on one of those towering billboards that, until then, I’d only seen in the movies. I was 14 and had never been so far away from home. I was captured by the bold, odd title. And those two words could be used to describe the film in a constricting summary. On the surface it's a portrait of one night in a married couple’s relationship when, after confessing her fantasy of infidelity, the husband goes on a voyage to track down a fantasy of his own, and make it real. I don’t need to talk about how incredible Stanley Kubrick is - as Jack Nicholson says, ‘Everyone pretty much acknowledges that he’s the man, and I still feel that underrates him.’ And despite this, the film had a weird initial reception, a lot of people felt it appeared unfinished, an unsatisfactory close to the master’s filmography - they didn’t really know what to make of it. But as time went on, like so many things its been re-appreciated. It’s one of my favourites of his, because in many ways it feels like a hallucination, a stage play - where nothing feels real - it literally could be the embodiment of a fantasy. Under Kubrick’s guidance Eyes Wide Shut shot for around 18 months - he would give the leads time to break and go on vacation while he could think and design the rest of the film. This was the last Kubrick film that would be made, he died 4 days after showing it to the studio.
It’s a film to be put on late at night, a hazy view into relationships, the mysterious motivation for fantasy and the seductive pull to will it into existence. Kubrick set out to make an artful pornographic film and he succeeded on the surface. If looked at it cheaply, it’s got the blue moon light and the false softness of a softcore Playboy film and nudity. But obviously his final film is a lot more than that - it’s a tense, brooding, uncomfortable glimpse into a marriage that looks perfect from the inside, but one honest revelation has the power to tear it all down. Made all the more prescient by the fact that the central couple are played by the original Hollywood power couple of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Like all his films, it’s incredibly re-watchable and I think in many years it may become more people’s favourite Kubrick. Indeed Kubrick himself claimed it was his favourite of the films he made.
TL;DR why should I spend 2 hr 39 minutes of my precious life watching this? Fall into Kubrick’s last film like you’re standing on the precipice of seduction with the void whispering in your ear, beckoning you into the darkness as you watch Tom Cruise’s Doctor try to navigate New York’s secret elite orgy underworld without getting destroyed by it.
*Available for a small rental fee on Youtube, Google Play, Sky Store and Apple TV*
Fact: Kubrick and fellow filmmaker Sydney Pollack would trade, study and discuss Nescafe commercials because they were so efficient at telling a story.
FILM TWO: MARNIE
1964 Dir Alfred Hitchcock
The original poster for Marnie has the words ‘Sex mystery’ big and bold in red. It’s a controversial film to say the least. And those words are what both these films have in common on a basic, choose two words to describe these films, kind of way. Like Eyes Wide Shut, Marnie on release mystified critics, many claimed it felt amateurish. Soon though it was reappraised. Like Spellbound, Marnie is a probe into why someone acts a certain way under certain circumstances. In this case - the main character Marnie, played by Tippi Hedren is a compulsive thief who fears any physical intimacy with men. She’s blackmailed by Sean Connery’s dapper business owner into marrying him - while he becomes more and more frustrated by her apparent repulsion of sex. Motivated to get to the bottom of it , by his own oddly ‘caring’ manner but also his incredibly selfish desires, they embark on an uncomfortable adventure to trace the mysterious genesis of the issue.
Revelation through dreams accompanied by theatrical lighting, physical effects and expressionist uses of colour flaring the frame - all make it feel similar to the unreality of Eyes Wide Shut. The dream and the memory all hiding what has motivated everything we’ve just seen. It’s an odd entry into Hitchcock’s filmography but also makes complete sense - it has a bit of everything that has ever interested him. What starts as Psycho, climbs to Vertigo, followed by hints of Blackmail to leave people with a vague memory of Spellbound. This might be the most Hitchcock film of all - and thats probably why it’s his most controversial.
TL;DR why should I spend exactly 2 hours 10 minutes of my precious life watching this? Tippi Hedren stars as a compulsive thief with a hidden past that makes her terrified of sex, the colour red makes a lot of panic attack inspiring cameos - all the while accompanied by Sean Connery’s controlling and dangerously caring lover - whose oddly plucked eyebrows do distract for at least a 1/3 of the runtime.
*Available for free on Britbox or a small rental fee on Amazon, Youtube, Google Play, Sky Store and Apple TV*
Fact: Hitchcock originally wanted to cast Grace Kelly in the lead but as a Princess, the family disagreed with her taking on a role in a film with such ‘lewd’ themes.