The Actor's Director as Actor

Sydney Pollack's key role in a Stanley Kubrick masterpiece
by David Schwartz   posted Jun 12, 2008

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If anyone is interested, I reccommend Tim Kreider's perceptive essay on Eyes Wide Shut and its critical reception:
Luke M   posted 31.08.08

One of the most interesting ironies, among many in this underrated masterwork, is that Kubrick chooses to end the film in a department store at Christmas with some family shopping. A normal activity, no? However, Arthur Schnitzler, in his stories and plays, as you know, primarily wrote about the somewhat involuntarily insulated world of Vienesse Jews just before Hitler's rise to power. I often wonder if in updating this story, and ending it in this locale, Kubrick wasn't subtly speaking to his (and by proxy) Pollock's and American Jewry's nearly seamless cultural assimiliation in the West less than a hundred years removed from the Holocaust that wiped out the world that Schnitzler wrote about. With little memory or record of this past, Jews now celebrate Christmas like everyone else without a thought, and their identity is no more than a series of urban cultural choices of lifestyle rather than a specific set of religious beliefs that lock them away from the rest of society as they once did in the past. Just a thought, and a funny little irony when one realizes the source material (that Kubrick so loved) is so very steeped in a specific Jewish culture that was all but eradicated by the Nazis, and, once it was gone, never to be seen again.
Levari   posted 17.06.08

I wanted to add one thing about the corrections and why - in the grand scheme of things - they aren't specifically important. The direction/acting in this scene (and the movie) are so spot on, that we get the point, even if our memory fails us. I think that really speaks to the talents of the movie makers at hand.
Winston   posted 16.06.08

Great article here. The key is the idea that Pollack is both telling the truth and lying. Having seen the film many times, and watched this scene many more times, this is something I have felt from the beginning. Pollack plays it so well that it seems like he is telling the truth while at the same time it seems like he is lying. This has the practical impact of not allowing the viewer to be sure as to whether the woman was actually murdered. Just to point out, Cruise does not return the mask, so it does make sense that it will still be at home. However, what is mysterious is where the mask was, how his wife found it, and why she decided to put it on his bedroom pillow. Additionally, Pollack does not say "Let's not play games." He says "Please... no games" Other than those two minor points, I feel this article really captures some key elements of the scene that I have enjoyed for so long now. It is great to find that others really appreciate these scene as I do. It is always tough when you feel a great scene or movie gets overlooked.
Eric B   posted 16.06.08

Great article and well overdue. It's a brilliant scene and agreed that BOTH Pollack and Cruise's performances created a truly unforgettable character juxtoposition. Couple things: - As mentioned above, the mask was not returned. It's actually quite fitting that absent minded Bill would misplace it - think of the keys at the beginning - Nitpicking, but Schwartz offers Bill a case of scotch, not a bottle
Marion Cobretti   posted 16.06.08

Just a small correction; Dr. Harford doesn't return the mask. When he returns everything else he notes that he "must've lost it. Could you just add it to my bill?" And Milich does so. When bill sees the mask on the bed, he knows instantly, that Alice found the bag and the things inside, taking only the mask so Bill wouldn't find out until he came home from he journey. Otherwise, I love the article!
Winston   posted 16.06.08

David Schwartz certainly understands this great film. Cruise gives the defining performance of his career, and, yes, Pollack's unaffected regard centers the film's narrative. A fascinating scene because we think it's the answer to all our questions, but, of course, nothing is really answered and all those loose ends just seem tied into a knot. I so appreciate Schwartz's eye; he sees what's actually in the film and does not slam it for not being something else. EYES WIDE SHUT may be flawed, but it's not a bust. Kubrick layers the film with elemental references that reverberate with meaning over time. Pollack's two main scenes, one at the top and this one near the end, frame the expressionistic action. Schwartz is so right about the tone and needed length in the pool table scene. For Kubrick, form equalled content; the length tells us that something is up, something is being served. Of course, what's actually said in the scene is not the main information Kubrick communicates. Just as the final scene, the reconciliation, is played in a department store at Christmas (this tells us much more about our main couple than what they actually say), the Pollack scene, as Schwartz points out, is played in a study, around a pool table - " want to shoot some balls around?" At any rate, thanks, David, for taking the time to write this piece. More work on this neglected masterpiece needs to be done.
Nick Faust   posted 16.06.08


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Courtesy Warner Bros.
Sydney Pollack and Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut


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David Schwartz is the Chief Curator at the Museum of the Moving Image. He is also a Visiting Assistant Professor in Cinema Studies at Purchase College.

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