An analysis of the opening sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ focusing on the use of generic conventions We frequently consider films in terms of their genre, a French word meaning ‘kind’ or ‘sort’. It is a very complex term, not only used in film but also in other creative areas such as music, art, and literature. However, it is often considered through various conventions including iconography, similar themes and their stylistic features, as Bordwell and Thompson (2006:357) suggest, ‘ style…is the formal system of the film that organizes techniques’ such as lighting, props and setting.
This repetition of common elements across a series of films allows us as the viewer to identify genre. For example, if a film was to present a dessert, horses and guns it would distinguish a western genre, whereas in a thriller, low key lighting would be used to create shadows, and props such as mirrors would signify this opposing genre. On the other hand, genres can have similarities and differences, which enables us to be kept entertained even though watching the same genre.
This is because a cross-genre or hybrid is used in many contemporary films, which allows filmmakers to link other genres into the narrative such as a film noir or spaghetti western. As Grant (2007:2) suggests, ‘Tom Ryall has distinguished three levels at which we should understand genre in the cinema: the generic system, individual genres and individual films. ’ Stanley Kubrick is a renowned auteur often adapting his films from literary works and contrives complex sets to articulate his ideas and interpretations. By studying genre in the opening scene of Stanley Kubrick’s, Eye’s Wide Shut (1999) it can somewhat be seen as challenging.
By assessing a number of generic conventions, which Kubrick expresses in the opening scene and how he conveys them could be argued to a certain extent that he does not typically characterize a Drama/Mystery/Thriller in which the film falls under. The opening title sequence of Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick’s thirteenth and last feature film, signifies a wide variety of genres. Non-diegetic sound of classical music can be identified as The Waltz, which plays in the opening sequence. This is a typical convention of Kubrick’s work as he often uses pre-existing music for his soundtrack.
The first text to appear, using white on black is ‘Warner Bros presents’. As part of the big five production companies, Warner Brothers was typically know for producing dark crime/gangster films during the 1930’s later becoming popular for action/adventure genres. On the other hand, to this day Warner Brothers have produced a wide variety of genres in mainstream cinema, and therefore does not fully signify what the possible genre of the film could be, as there is such as wide variation. However, the next text to appear is one of the main actors who is a worldwide success, Tom Cruise, who plays the character, Dr Bill Harford.
By placing his name in the opening title sequence will help attract large mass audiences. However, by focusing on genre, Tom Cruise is particularly recognized for starring in the trilogy of Mission Impossible, which falls into the genre category of action/adventure. He is also renowned for starring in a number of thrillers, which is a hybrid genre of Kubrick’s film, Eye’s Wide Shut. The next star to be presented in the film is Nicole Kidman who for the majority of her career has starred in forty-two drama films to date according to The Internet Movie Database [online].
So far, Kubrick has expressed possible genres by his use of actor’s; therefore this allows his audience to detect the genre through star identity. The opening credits then continues to signify that it is ‘a Film by Stanley Kubrick’, which, like the stars will symbolise to the audience what type of film it will be, based on genre, cinematography and other common elements that Kubrick continues to express in his productions, as Hall (2003) describes, ‘His film’s combine elements of surrealism and expressionism with the precisely calculated camera movements and wide-angle, deep-space images characteristic of all Kubrick’s work’.
The opening title sequence then cuts to a long shot of a blonde female character, Alice, who can be identified as Nicole Kidman, wearing a long black dress and heels, which could signify authority and power. However, the mise-en-scene of this shot includes brightly coloured props, such as red curtains, and uses high key lighting. This immediately signifies a contrast in colour, and helps attract the eye to the character, as they appear bolder within the frame of the shot. However, it could be argued that it is typical of a comedy genre, as the use of high key lighting and brightly coloured props are typical conventions for a comedy.
As the viewer’s eye is struck upon the female character, creating a voyeuristic appetite, she begins to slowly take the dress off and ultimately represents the woman as an object of desire, as Laura Mulvey (2006:31) describes ‘creating a male gaze. ’ As the female body is exposed the camera quickly cuts to black presenting the title of the film, Eyes Wide Shut. The use of a quick cut to black, creates a somewhat ‘blink’ which implies a link to the title of the movie. The camera then cuts to an establishing wide angle shot of a street at night, typically showing yellow taxi’s which automatically symbolises the setting of New York.
During this shot, diegetic sound of police sirens can be heard, which may be an example of verisimilitude. However, the use of this diegetic sound is a signifier of a crime/mystery genre, which once again gives the audience an insight into another possible genre outcome. Following this the camera cuts back to Dr Harford who appears to be wearing a smart black suit, which could signify various things, such as an upper class, wealthy figure which could also lead to possible narrative conclusions. The mise-en-scene in this long shot of Dr Bill Harford includes red curtains, which could symbolize, love or even danger and blood.
However, the dominant colour at the beginning of the shot is cool blue. There is a large bookshelf included within the frame of the shot, which could signify that the character is knowledgeable, intelligent and is also a prop commonly know in detective films, linking to the mystery genre. The camera then tracks backwards as the male figure walks towards the camera into another soft-lit room, once again including red coloured curtains, which seems to already be a reoccurring prop. This shot is also a long take, with no edits, which is a popular technique used in drama’s.
However as Ciment, Adair and Bononno suggest (2001:226) ‘Kubrick’s frequent use of dolly backs is one of the major recurring stylistic features in Eyes Wide Shut and expresses the ambiguity at the heart of the film: intoxication, loss of consciousness, fainting, dreams. ’ Kubrick has already given various clues through the use of generic conventions by the use of stars, props, lighting and sound. However, as Williams (2005:397) suggests, ‘Kubrick has long played with genre, emulating and exemplifying the pinnacles of trash genres through meticulously rendered works of cinema art’.
As the scene continues the music fades out as the camera pans across the bedroom, keeping Tom Cruise in the frame at all times. We can see props such as candles, paintings, and books, which are mundane props to have in a home. The male protagonist then walks into the bathroom where we see Alice on the toilet, and complains that Bill is not paying attention to her appearance, which signifies that the couple are in an open sexual relationship. However, the key prop in the bathroom is a mirror, which is a reoccurring element used in the thriller genre.
The camera then follows the couple to the living area. As the camera tracks through the apartment, various art work is on display which once again signifies wealth, and upper-class and may question the audience into thinking about what occupation these two main protagonists may have. We are then introduced to their daughter, Helena and babysitter, Roz. During this scene, Helena is shown dressed in an angel’s outfit, creating a ‘perfect daughter’ for the ‘perfect couple’ living in the ‘perfect, lavish apartment’ in New York.
However, by studying the mise-en-scene a Christmas tree can be identified in the background creating a soft lit primary coloured effect to the setting, and may also suggest that Bill and Alice are going to a Christmas dinner party, creating a festive, romantic genre convention, and possible narrative conclusions. In conclusion, the opening scene of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut typically represents a number of generic conventions also presenting the work of the renowned auteur, Stanley Kubrick.
The use of camera shots, deep framing, long takes and presenting a number of reoccurring props, as well as the use of pre-scored music, are all common elements of a number of genres, as Kubrick was renowned for playing with various conventions. However, these generic conventions could also be argued that they fully symbolise a drama/mystery/thriller, as Kubrick secretly represents typical conventions of this genre through the use of mise-en-scene, props, actors, sound and lighting within the first opening scene, and later fully revealing the sub-genres in which this film relates to.
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