Coppola Succumbing to Kubrickism?

Stanley Kubrick was one of the reigning cinematic geniuses of the 20th century, but the defining behavioral trait of the last 30 years of his life was an increasing tendency to lead a hermetic, hidden-away life. I’ve long felt that this isolation made his films seem more and more porcelain and pristine, and less flesh-and-blood. I mentioned this once to Jan Harlan, Kubrick’s brother in law, and he didn’t disagree. “That was the man,” he said. I feel that Kubrick became a kind of cautionary tale.

I wouldn’t imply that Sofia Coppola has become an artistic equal of Kubrick’s, but she does know, as Kubrick did, about fashioning cinematic realms with great care and exactitude, and so it’s fair, I think, to ask if she’s going down the Kubrick path in other ways. Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson seems to think so. Yesterday she scolded Somewhere‘s director-writer for succumbing to a kind of isolationist lifestyle and mentality, and urged her to “open up to other collaborators and voices.”

It’s been widely observed that Coppola has focused too often on passive, well-off characters indulging in aimless doodling and wandering inside swank abodes (hotels, palaces). And that she’s enacted too many “daughters and fathers, passive female figures and powerful men” stories. She’s obviously drawing upon her life as Francis Coppola‘s priveleged daughter. But the main reason reason, said Thompson, is that Coppola is “living inside a protected, hermetic world of friends, family and Coppolas, producer-father Francis and brother Roman.”

Thompson’s opinion seems to have emerged from (or been partly shaped by) an interview she recently did with producer Scott Rudin. Her Coppla piece noted that Rudin “had a project for her to consider, but when he tried to reach her, he couldn’t get close.”

A producer has told me the same thing. If you have a project you want to discuss with Coppola, you “can’t get past the agent…nobody can. You can’t get a meeting and you can’t float something to her. You only can submit a script with an offer.”

All artists have to taste experience and expose themselves to as much life’s push-pull as possible, but I wonder how many other directors have operated (and arguably done well) out of a carefully controlled, hermetically sealed place?

Ten or eleven years ago I wrote how Eyes Wide Shut was a fascinating stiff that essentially portrayed Kubrick’s decline. I referred to Eyes Wide Shut as a perfect white tablecloth but also one that feels stiff and unnatural from too much starch.

“If you want your art to matter, stay in touch with the burly-burly. Keep in the human drama, take walks, go to baseball games, chase women, argue with waiters, ride motorcycles, hang out with children, play poker, visit Paris as often as possible and always keep in touch with the craggy old guy with the bad cough who runs the news stand.”

40 thoughts on “Coppola Succumbing to Kubrickism?

  1. Markj74 on said:

    Has your opinion on Eyes Wide Shut changed over the years Jeff? I was underwhelmed on initial viewing, mainly down to expectations and misleading marketing, but now view it as something of a minor masterpiece. It’s definitely art that matters.

  2. Anne Thompson is spot on. Coppola could have masturbated on screen for an hour and a half and it would have been more interesting/useful than Somewhere.

  3. I dislike and in some cases loathe what Eyes Wide Shut is in numerous ways, but it’s a very watchable film, whatever that means. You just want to watch it.

    I love Alan Cumming‘s heavily mannered acting during the hotel desk scene with Tom Cruise in Act Three, and I think the pool-table scene with Sydney Pollack is as good as it gets, but so many things about Eyes Wide Shut irritate me. Don’t get me started. So many others have riffed on this.

    The stiff, phoney-baloney way everyone talks to one another. (Except for Sydney Pollack, I mean — he’s fine.)

    That awful oily Austrian count who tries to seduce Nicole in the party scene.

    The way Cruise does absolutely nothing for Mandy the hooker who has passed out from doing a coke-heroin speedball. He talks to her and pats her hand.

    The unmistakable feeling that the world it presents is much closer to 1920s Vienna (where the original Arthur Schnitzler novel was set) than modern-day Manhattan.

    The babysitter calling Cruise and Kidman ‘Mr. Harford’ and ‘Mrs. Harford.’ If there is one teenaged Manhattan babysitter who has ever expressed herself like a finishing school graduate of 1952 and addressed a modern Manhattan couple in their early 30s as ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.,’ I will eat my throw rug.

    The trite cliches that constitute 85% of Tom Cruise’s dialogue.

    Those two over-the-top middle-aged Asian guys who’ve been fooling around with Leelee Sobieski in Raj whatsisname’s costume shop.

    The agonizingly stilted delivery that Nicole Kidman gives to her lines in the sequence in which she’s smoking pot and arguing with Cruise in their bedroom. And those little squealy laughs she gives off as she dismisses Cruise’s attitude are hell to listen to.

    That absolutely hateful piano chord that keeps banging away in Act Three.

    That nothing scene in F.A.O. Schwartz in which Tom and Nicole talk about it all having been a dream.

  4. If you had asked me to make a list of what I LOVE about Eyes Wide Shut, it would have looked similar to that. One of the most uncomfortable – in a great way – times I’ve ever spent in a movie theater.

  5. So many people have a -problem- with Sofia Coppola. If it’s not sexism, it’s fierce charges of nepotism. If it’s not fierce charges of nepotism, it’s class envy. If it’s not class envy, it seems it’s, “She’s made yet another good film, but I’m still going to complain–she needs to ‘open’ herself up! Kick Roman and Francis to the curb!” Christ. For a well-regarded young director, she sure does get a disproportionate amount of sh-t flung in her direction.

    Nicole Holofcener is lucky more people don’t know Charles H. Joffe was her stepfather, seriously.

    Are there strong thematic ties between The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette, and the sublime new film, Somewhere? Yes. But each is also distinct in amazing, idiosyncratic ways. People also seem to forget no one in The Virgin Suicides was a celebrity, and, minus a few Suntory commercial shoots, Bill Murray could’ve easily been playing a private banker in Lost in Translation. Only her last two have truly explored life-in-the-fishbowl angst. And they’ve done so very, very well! With amazing visuals, precise acting, etc.

  6. Yeah a lot of your list is stuff I love about the movie. The fact that you remember so much of it to means something of the way the film affects you.

    The FAO Schwarz scene is so frustrating and leaves a bad taste in your mouth but thats kind of the point right? And I love the piano.

  7. And I agree with Josh Massey. While Eyes Wide Shut may be imperfect, Wells hates a lot of the stuff that makes it haunting and fun to grapple with as a viewer. The stark piano chord really got under one’s skin. I think of it every time I hear Kanye West’s “Runaway.”

  8. Well now, Marie Antoinette was a costume drama with a huge cast filmed on location. It probably wasn’t a walk in the park to make.

  9. I’m sorry but rich kid ennui should never be the obstacle a protagonist needs to overcome in a film. Someone should tell Sofia Coppola (AKA Good Taste Paris Hilton) that if boredom is the biggest problem in her life, then she doesn’t have a life.

    As for Eyes Wide Shut… when its Cruise roaming around, running into all kinds of nymphos and satyrs, the movie sings. Bill Harford is one of cinema’s great prudes. But any time Kidman pops up and he has to start playing husband, the whole thing becomes inert.

    It’s half a masterpiece.

  10. I don’t really know where the Hollywood Elsewhere pulse is on Marie Antoinette, but catching up with it the other day, I thought it was pretty great. It was refreshing to watch a period/costume drama that wasn’t a rudimentary history lesson.

    And in terms of composition and lighting and photography, its quite remarkable what she and her crew accomplished. Maybe I’m just overrating it because its just leagues better than the stuff we’ve become accustomed to recently with The Other Boleyn Girl, The Duchess and The Young Victoria.

  11. This has been a knock on Sofia for quite some time. Even back in the LIT days. She is notorious for taking a town car everywhere, even if it’s just a few blocks from where she lives to visit Channel for an hour. She lives in a bubble honestly. (And yes I know her personally.)

    And therein lies the problem. This life of privilege, at times, can really be hard to stomach when it translate on the screen. I haven’t seen ‘Somewhere’ just yet but I imagine so is the case. The rich, over-privileged kids tend to grow up and make movies about people like themselves. If the film is good, I guess it’s not a big deal, but the influence is still there.

    This is what happened with Wes Anderson. I was working with Wes for a full year. I witness his bizarre daily routine. The way he treated people. The way he went about his business with travel, etc. And what happened? “Darjeeling” was about privileged snotty boys who never grew up. And a big reason I really didn’t like the film. Who gives a shit what happens to them or what they are feeling in act III?

    I have no qualms about films dealing with wealthy people, their lives, etc. But when a director keeps coming back to such a subject matter, you need to realize they truly don’t know anything else, and hence why they can’t write any other type of characters. And in a way, that’s pretty pathetic.

    And please, don’t ever argue with your waiter. If you have an issue with the service, ask to speak with a manager. Serving is a shitty job and you never want to treat yours like shit. Trust me.

  12. Sofia Coppola is the second or third best female director of all time, and SOMEWHERE is my third or fourth favorite movie of the year. LITTLE ELLE should be getting nominations thrown at her like that Steinfeld kid… Fanning is just as kid.

    I have never disagreed with Jeff more on ANYTHING, apparently, than that rundown of Eyes Wide Shut. I’m a giant Kubrick fan and the movie’s a little imperfect and kind of mystified me on first viewing, but I’ve seen it literally 30 or more times in the last decade.

    It’s far, far more rewatchable than 2001 or Barry Lyndon, which oddly are the two big guns in the Kubrick canon, along with maybe Lolita, which get thrown around on Hollywood Elsewhere all the time. Whereas Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and, yes, EWS are for me the IMMORTAL KUBRICK MASTERPIECES that I can watch dozens, HUNDREDS of times and find new things and be riveted and scared and freaked out and just in AWE and never bored for a second.

    And Cruise is amazing in that movie, and maybe not coincidentally, I TOTALLY relate to his dorky nice-guy douche character who wants to go out and be this crazy pussyhound barging into orgies and have hookers throwing themselves at them… but never does anything about it.

    It’s kind of like my “sex fantasies,” which consist of zero sex and mostly a bunch of hot actresses yelling at me, beating me, and breaking up with me.

    I AM AWESOME.

  13. Also:

    If EVER a director and awesome star were clearly, clearly meant to work together, Sofia NEEDS to direct a movie with the equally awesome, soulful, demure, longing and sensitive Kristen Stewart. It is all but guaranteed to happen, since Dunst and Johansson were the K-Stew precursors and The Best Actress In American Film would’ve fit PERFECTLY into either of those films.

    Make it happen. Two hours of K-Stew lying around a bed drowsy and barefoot while twee indie music plays.

    As I said in that stupid video clip, Michael Bay doesn’t fetishize his actresses as much as Sofia does. That’s a good thing.

  14. I won’t– and can’t– represent the HE zeitgeist, but Marie Antoinette was a terrible, terrible thing to sit through.

    I like Virgin Suicides, and still absolutely love everything in Lost in Translation, but Marie Antoinette made me want to lock the theater and set it ablaze like Vlad the Impaler firing the homeless of Wallachia.

    It was one of the first films my GF and I saw together. I was just getting to know her likes and dislikes, and I was terrified that like many women she was going to drag me to scores of soul-crushing chick flicks. When she wanted to see Antoinette, even though I could smell a stinker a mile away, I figured I had to take one for the team.

    Over 90 minutes into it, both of us noticeably shuffling in our seats, she turned to me and said simply, “I am so, SOOO sorry for dragging us to see this, god it’s awful.” We spent the rest of the film joking out loud about how painful the film was, annoying absolutely no one in a near-empty theater.

    Anyway, I don’t hold it against Coppola. Nobody does it perfectly every time. I’m sure the movie was fun to make, in the “let’s play dress up in castles!” fantasy kind of way.

    I mean, she makes a movie about Marie Antoinette, a TERRIBLE movie about Marie Antoinette, and after suffering through all that pain, she has the NERVE to deny her audience the one shred of anticipated pleasure by refusing to behead the spoiled little twat onscreen. It was passionless sex unredeemed by even the most perfunctory orgasm.

    Bah. A pox on that film, a pox!

    (So… is Somewhere any good? :-)

  15. Marie Antoinette is a four-star movie.

    So is Somewhere. So is Virgin Suicides. So is Lost In Translation.

    All shall bow to the best female director.

  16. Why would anyone NOT view the last film of one of the 20th century’s undisputed masters of cinema with a certain degree of forgiveness, amplified by the fact that he died before the film was 100% finished…? And even without those caveats it has some absolutely amazing scenes and overall stands up extremely well..

    “It’s as if the movie was based on some novella from early 20th century Vienna and made by a director at the end of his career!”

    Really?

  17. As just purely an exercise in style or mood, I don’t know how you couldn’t come away from Marie Antoinette with just a little bit of respect – sort of an “okay, I get what you’re trying to do differently here” thing, even if you didn’t like it.

    Would you rather sit through safe, middling, stuffy period films like The Duchess and The Young Victoria? Good god, talk about something to sneer at.

  18. “I referred to Eyes Wide Shut as a perfect white tablecloth but also one that feels stiff and unnatural from too much starch.”

    It does have a slightly unusual feel to it, it’s true, but don’t all of his films, ultimately? And hasn’t this “otherworldliness” always been a key part of his appeal?

    I also find it more than a little bizarre that we sometimes expect our most eccentric auteurs to drop their crazy fixations, undying obsessions, and borderline-creepy fetishes just because they’ve entered into the twilight of their career, and are supposed to release a string of self-respecting “swan songs” before they finally kick the bucket. That’s not really how art works (thank God).

    And for those with rose-colored glasses firmly attached, it should be noted that the vast majority of his first-tier, unquestioned classics got a pretty chilly reception (look no further than Renata Adler dissing 2001).

    As for SC, so far she’s made one film that I love (TVS), one that I don’t (MA), and one in between (LiT). Haven’t seen Somewhere yet, but I will. If nothing else, she has consistently displayed visual chops — her films always look great.

    Nepotism or not, she’s got a lot of experience already behind her (nominated for a directing Oscar at 32!), with 4 films under her belt before she’s even turned 40 (in a day and age where you’re lucky to finish your first by then!). I know the naysayers will never back off because of her family name, but I say give her time.

  19. SOMEWHERE is a misfire, but I acknowledge it has its moments and qualities. But her career will not survive another film like it.

  20. You nailed it, LexG.

    Kirsten Stewart was born to be the lead in a Sofia Coppola film.

    Like 1980s Pierce Brosnan… it was never a question of if but when he would be 007.

  21. The “absolutely hateful piano chord” has a name, Jeff, but as a professional journalist you’re under no obligation to know it and as a human being you’re under no obligation to be curious about it, because why bother your beautiful mind with such things. But it is kind of funny that the piece, entitled “Musica Ricercita,” was once described by its composer, Gyorgy Ligeti, thusly: I was in Stalinist terroristic Hungary where this kind of music was not allowed. And I just wrote it for myself. Stanley Kubrick understood the dramatics of this moment and this is what he did in the film and for me, when I composed it in the year 1950, it was desparate. It was a knife in Stalin’s heart.”

    In Stalin’s heart, and in Jeff’s, I guess. Good company?

  22. “Marie Antoinette” is like a Michael Bay movie if Michael Bay was a 7 year-old girl. If the production design wasn’t so exacting, you’d basically have a feature-length commercial for upscale dollhouse furniture.

    The thing of it is, there’s nothing inherently “wrong” with a fillmmaker/writer/artist/whatever living in a bubble – not everyone needs to be Werner Herzog out fording rapids and jumping into cactus and doing the zest-for-life thing to make “real” art. But if your VISION stays in the bubble with you, thats where the trouble is going to be. Wes Anderson, for example, comes from the same kind of “bored priviliged kid” place but A.) has at least a curiousity for the world outside of it and B.) an understanding of how “his type” looks to everyone else.

    On a more extreme side, Tarantino seems to live pretty “safe” and introverted, but at least his imagination goes places. Granted, those “places” are accessed via old genre movies and comic books, but it’s a start. Hell, even Kevin Smith TRIES to get outside his own experience and perspective.

  23. It’s helpful for me to remember what Scorcese said about EWS in Jan Harlan’s Kubrick: A Life In Pictures, a great documentary, highly recommended if you haven’t seen it. And what Marty said is that it’s a dream. There are hints, for example, Cruise walks on a street where the street sign is visible and there is no such street in New York. It’s our unconscious material of dreamtime talking to us, sometimes shocking us, because we don’t want to be like that, that discord, that cruelty. But we are.

    If Sofia can translate those subtle qualities of feeling into film, brava for her, I’m there. She’s still young, she’s got a lot of room to grow as an artist, and I hope she does.

  24. “minus a few Suntory commercial shoots, Bill Murray could’ve easily been playing a private banker in Lost in Translation. Only her last two have truly explored life-in-the-fishbowl angst”

    Modernlife – the fishbowl character in ‘Lost In Translation’ is Scarlett Johansson, not Bill Murray. She’s the main character of the movie, though, so I think it’s fair to say that the cliche appraisal of Coppola validly applies to LiT as well.

  25. Yes, EYES WIDE SHUT is a dream movie. It does not mean to be realistic (whatever that is). The clue for Jeff ought to be that it is based on a book called DREAM NOVEL.

  26. Has your opinion on Eyes Wide Shut changed over the years Jeff? I was underwhelmed on initial viewing, mainly down to expectations and misleading marketing, but now view it as something of a minor masterpiece. It’s definitely art that matters.

  27. “”Marie Antoinette” is like a Michael Bay movie if Michael Bay was a 7 year-old girl.”

    Isn’t he, though?

    “The thing of it is, there’s nothing inherently “wrong” with a fillmmaker/writer/artist/whatever living in a bubble – not everyone needs to be Werner Herzog out fording rapids and jumping into cactus and doing the zest-for-life thing to make “real” art.”

    This is true. Good point.

  28. ThemovieBob, I wish we had more directors today like Sidney Lumet, Joseph Sargent, Robert Wise, or Norman Jewison. Jacks of all trades. I suppose Eastwood is the closest to that today. He works a film a year, and shoots whatever script rings his chimes.

  29. Thought that MARIE ANTIONETTE might have been much improved if it had been made as a 75-minute black-and-white mockumentary a la Bruce Weber.

    As it is, just looked like a Sofia Coppola project where Sony’s Amy Pascal and minions probably development-noted Sofia to death.

  30. Marie Antoinette hits fail immediately at the first chord of modern music. This stylistic choice consigns MA to a dress-up exercise in style and couture. It ceases to be historical with that single choice and becomes a thought exercise in the mind of a 21st century artist. Why tell the MA story set in the 18th century? Drag the rest of the picture into the 21st, set it in Brentwood or Aspen or Greenwich. There’s a reason to tell historical stories: they are stories of opposition. The people involved were just as human as us, with the same basic drives and urges. But they acted on those drives through a social filter that is fucked up by our standards – slavery is okay, killing peons in endless wars is okay, beating the shit out of your wife is okay — fucked up. Historical movies don’t need to be stuffy and predictable, they just seem to get made that way. The challenge is to breathe life into the opposites. We should identify with and be repelled by these creatures.

    Kubrick was almost as great a master of sound as of image. He knew the importance of soundtrack to emotion, but also to the truth of the story. Coppola just punts in MA.

  31. I’d take Bigelow over Sofia. I hated Hurt Locker, but Point Break is better than anything Coppola’s crapped out.

    Shit, Nicole Holofcener did the whole unhappy privileged white people scenario better in Friends With Money.

  32. My primary issue with Eyes Wide Shut was that it didn’t really say anything that hadn’t already been hit on in a ton of soft core films. Turn on Cinemax on Friday night and you’ll get the same themes covered.

    That being said, there’s some truth in the picture.

    I agree with Wells on most of his hangups other than his respect for the billards scene, which I thought explained away the whole picture. For a guy who fixated as a high schooler on what the hell 2001 was really all about, I thought it was disappointing move from Kubrick. Most of the time less is more.

    As for Marty’s comment that the film was all a dream, to me that sounds like a defensive position one takes when a filmmaker they like latest picture didn’t add up. I’ve done it before myself.

    EWS is pretty sloppy (what WAS up with those Asian guys), but I’ll still watch it when it’s on. It’s not boring … just not up there with the other Kubrick films.

    It says here that Paths of Glory is just about perfect.

  33. My primary issue with Eyes Wide Shut is that almost everything that was good in it was better in another Kubrick movie (especially Lolita, and to a secondary degree The Shining and Barry Lyndon). The big exception is the last scene, which Jeff hated but which I think is pretty wonderful (but then I’m happily married and he isn’t).

    What it really needed was to be set in the late 1960s. We’d have bought a young husband who was that naive about his wife’s sexuality, a creepy Establishment sex club, and Cruise’s wide-eyed discovery of lowlife, much more easily in the period setting– which is when Kubrick first thought of making a movie out of the Schnitzler story, incidentally.

  34. I don’t see what’s wrong with the time period. Everything you said is applicable to modern times, especially someone coming from their social status.

    Still it was a waste for his last film.

  35. I hate rich kids. Self-pitying motherfuckers. So isolated in their $700 a night Four Season suites. That some people find this subject matter fascinating is evidence that there are some people even more shallow than Sofia Coppola, who’s nothing more than the managing editor of a fashion magazine that moves. She’s not even close to being the best at what she does. Lucrecia Martel, Lynn Ramsay, Alison Maclean, Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Kelly Reichardt, Claire Denis…

  36. My primary issue with Eyes Wide Shut is that almost everything that was good in it was better in another Kubrick movie (especially Lolita, and to a secondary degree The Shining and Barry Lyndon). The big exception is the last scene, which Jeff hated but which I think is pretty wonderful (but then I’m happily married and he isn’t).

    What it really needed was to be set in the late 1960s. We’d have bought a young husband who was that naive about his wife’s sexuality, a creepy Establishment sex club, and Cruise’s wide-eyed discovery of lowlife, much more easily in the period setting– which is when Kubrick first thought of making a movie out of the Schnitzler story, incidentally.

  37. The best write-up on Eyes Wide Shut came from Michael Herr in his book Kubrick, pages 73 – 96.

    “Two camps have always formed around each of Stanley’s movies, and no one in either camp could ever imagine what the other camp was seeing. In the case of Eyes Wide Shut the camps were made up of people who knew within minutes that they were watching a dream film and those who didn’t. Expecting sex, promised sex, critics and commentators and audiences wanted sex. They were outraged that the orgy didn’t turn out to be the Fuckorama of their not unreasonable expectations. Neither, in spite of a few dark shadows and some spooky music did they get the advertised thriller. Instead, they got mystery, much more problematic, a film of curious incident and haunting color, of city streets at night that look like they’ve had a spell put on them, of masks and Christmas trees, of ringing telephones and flunkies approaching with requests from their masters, apparent interruptions that are really cues for the next passage to begin. The colors are exquisite, glowing and pulsing, soothing, like some lavish opium-dream version of The Nutcracker, reminiscent of movies like Fanny and Alexander, Lola Montes, Vertigo, One from the Heart, and any number of films by Vincente Minnelli or Michael Powell. Those eloquent, discreet fades that Stanley has always been the master of have never been more dramatic. As film, it has all of the qualities that you’d think film critics would look for, pray for, sit through many hours of completely empty viewing hoping to one day enjoy, and it all sailed clean through their nets.”

    There’s much more, if for some reason you haven’t read it it’s well worth tracking down.

  38. The best write-up on Eyes Wide Shut came from Michael Herr in his book Kubrick, pages 73 – 96.

    “Two camps have always formed around each of Stanley’s movies, and no one in either camp could ever imagine what the other camp was seeing. In the case of Eyes Wide Shut the camps were made up of people who knew within minutes that they were watching a dream film and those who didn’t. Expecting sex, promised sex, critics and commentators and audiences wanted sex. They were outraged that the orgy didn’t turn out to be the Fuckorama of their not unreasonable expectations. Neither, in spite of a few dark shadows and some spooky music did they get the advertised thriller. Instead, they got mystery, much more problematic, a film of curious incident and haunting color, of city streets at night that look like they’ve had a spell put on them, of masks and Christmas trees, of ringing telephones and flunkies approaching with requests from their masters, apparent interruptions that are really cues for the next passage to begin. The colors are exquisite, glowing and pulsing, soothing, like some lavish opium-dream version of The Nutcracker, reminiscent of movies like Fanny and Alexander, Lola Montes, Vertigo, One from the Heart, and any number of films by Vincente Minnelli or Michael Powell. Those eloquent, discreet fades that Stanley has always been the master of have never been more dramatic. As film, it has all of the qualities that you’d think film critics would look for, pray for, sit through many hours of completely empty viewing hoping to one day enjoy, and it all sailed clean through their nets.”

    There’s much more, if for some reason you haven’t read it it’s well worth tracking down.

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