ARTICLE WRITTEN PRIOR TO
THE RELEASE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S EYES WIDE SHUT
the Corridors of the Marvelous
The femme-enfant, the doll-fetish, the mask,
Alice in a wonderland of de Sade .....
With Eyes Wide Open STEPHAN finds his way
to the mindscape of the Surrealists...
"Twenty-four browned-skinned slaves rowed the splendid galley which was to bring Prince Amgiad to the palace of the caliph..."
thus begins RHAPSODY - A Dream Novel by Arthur Schnitzler 1, otherwise known as TRAUMNOVELLE, the novel first published in 1926 upon which is based the thirteenth and final movie from Stanley Kubrick EYES WIDE SHUT starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
Schnitzler opens Traumnovelle with a little girl reading aloud to her parents at bed-time from a nursery book, anticipating Andre Breton's gallery catalogue prose of ten years later , "From the book of children's images to the book of poetic images GRADIVA". For Breton and his group of surrealist poets and artists 'Gradiva' was the ultimate femme-enfant or child-woman. "Splendid in walking", she held the promise of a bridge between dream and reality. In Traumnovelle it is the young mother of the child, Albertina, who will later dream of galley slaves and of a fantastic walled city in which her husband Fridolin finds himself naked, pursued, captured, taken to a queen's cellar dungeon to be whipped and ultimately crucified in front of Albertina and her lover.
"In the following pages, I shall demonstrate
that there is a psychological technique which makes
it possible to interpret dreams, and that on the application of this technique every dream will reveal itself
as a psychological structure, full of significance..."
THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS 1900
Few fetish/ sm readers would dispute the connection between fetish, bdsm, and dungeons and subterranean labyrinths, corridors du merveille - of deSade perhaps. And it is without doubt that the general populace has an attraction to such things whether they would like to admit it or not. This is confirmed by the queuing visitors to Warwick Castle who during the summer months wait for up to almost an hour to visit the dungeons.
Is there a correlation here with the keen anticipation that surrounded the release of Kubrick's EYES WIDE SHUT? The fuzzy pre-release stills of Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise in the altogether had a lot to do with this of course, but when you realise how adept Kubrick was at taking us along labyrinthian passageways and into scenes set somewhere between the real and the surreal, you realise the anticipation to be as natural as Kubrick's choice of Traumnovelle upon which to base his film.
EYES WIDE SHUT has transferred the location of the original story from Schnitzler's narrow streets of decadent fin-de-siecle Vienna, which bring to mind the flickering shadows and the Harry lime music of Carol Reed's THE THIRD MAN (1949), to modern day New York, tempting comparison with Martin Scorsese's black comedy AFTER HOURS (1985) which told the tale of one man's relentless ill luck during one single night stranded in downtown SoHo.
The bear bones of the Traumnovelle remain however, detailing the after hours odyssey of the novel's male protagonist and the resultant engagement between chance encounter and dream. In the film we never know if Cruise's nightmarish odyssey is dream or reality.
Edging away from reality
It is interesting to note that in order to inspire his screenwriter Frederick Raphael with a sense of la merveille during the writing of the film Kubrick sent Raphael reproductions of drawings and paintings by Egon Schiele and Gustave Klimt (he also sent batches of Helmet Newton photographs!). Both men where of course fully aware of the novel's cultural origins. Kubrick's genius lay perhaps in choosing a novel which in the approach to the millennium would introduce to a new generation themes and motifs which inspired writers and artists at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Schnitzler's Traumnovelle details the 'adventures' in one night that befall a young and perhaps naive married couple, he in the dark streets of Vienna and she solely in her dreams. Whilst during his nocturnal odyssey he finds himself gate crashing a clandestine sex party where as an impostor he is threatened by male guests dressed as monks in masks, and women dressed as masked nuns, his wife is at home in bed dreaming her own passionate dalliance with a man she once glimpsed in a hotel.
Upon his return she relates to her husband her dream in detail. Struck by her apparent unfaithfulness and dispassion at his demise he, to spite her, silently vows to pursue the temptations of the night before only to find disappointment in the light of the new day. It is a novel of chaste eroticism and as in the book sex in the film is scarce but omnipresent.
Newspapers are adept at tempting the eye and with the new Star Wars release written about, reviewed, and out of the way, there was in July a sudden plethora of features and photos celebrating things to come in the shape of Kidman and Cruise in the new Kubrick movie. EYES WIDE SHUT offered journalists a lot to write about, not least the fact this was Kubricks first film in twelve years and would be his last (Kubrick died in March 1999, five days after delivering the final cut of Eyes Wide Shut to Warners). But for me it was the stills of Kidman which tempted keen anticipation of the film's eventual release, not least of all the still of Kidman in a dainty pink baby-doll night dress ideally suited to her little girl features and the theme of Traumnovelle, naivete tempted by pleasures of the flesh.
We can celebrate Kubrick's casting genius in Kidman's riveting performance. Her persona is ideally suited to the text of the original novel. In the book Schnitzler continuously describes his female characters as "a young and charming girl, still almost a child..." or " quite a young girl, possibly fifteen years old, with loose blonde hair hanging over her shoulder and on one side over her delicate breast.."
Eighteen months ago it would have been unacceptable to examine Kidman's 'baby-doll' little-girl sexuality. In the present climate when the latest issue of the new fashion magazine It (£50 from your local supplier) celebrates 'Innocence', and psychologist Nancy Etcoff purports, "Women compete in the mating world for men whose brains are hard wired to find nubile teenagers highly desirable and beautiful", we can perhaps relax a little over those drawings of Schiele's and Klimt's young female models and the work of artists who succeeded them such as Hans Bellmer and the Surrealists who celebrated the femme-enfant in prose, paintings and sculptures. At the new home for the Tate Gallery's modern collection opening in London in May 2000 we can anticipate the retrieval from storage of Bellmer's Doll of 1936, an erotically charged female double-torso in painted aluminium, seen only outside of Britain for at least the last ten years.
"Images of beauty are locked into the childlike".
psychologist to facelift patients.
Researching her book Survival of the Prettiest Nancy Etcoff discovered fellow psychologist Victor Johnston's computer program that "breeds" faces composed from the choices of thousands of users rating in order of beauty a series of randomly selected facial images on his website. Invariably the image created has the lips of a 14-year old and the eye-to-chin distance of an 11-year-old. Similarly a computer fed the details of cover girls from Vogue and Cosmopolitan guestimated their ages as between six and seven. We are back in the territory of Bardot and the Lolita syndrome! Alice in Wonderland gets a look in here too (the Albertina of TRAUMNOVELLE becomes 'Alice' in the film). The Surrealists loved Alice and no doubt Lewis Carroll sat comfortably beside de Sade upon the bookshelf of Surrealist leader Andre Breton, - merveilleux dreamscapes both.
THE PAST IS ANOTHER COUNTRY, THEY DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY THERE...
The Surrealists also championed the French poet Baudelaire who in the previous century had written, 'Woman is the being who projects the greatest shadow or the greatest light into our dreams."2 The Surrealists saw 'woman' as being in closer touch than man with the desired irrationality of the dream and therefore a muse who might lead them towards artistic creativity. As femme enfant or child-woman she combined two beings with privileged access to the marvellous fusing elements from both womanhood and childhood.
The child-woman was a figure of fascination for the Surrealists, who wrote abundantly on her attractions. Young, naive and in touch with her own unconscious, the femme-enfant appeared on the cover of La Revolution surrealiste in October 1927 in a school uniform, at a child's desk, taking dictation from her own or someone else's imagination. Ten years later surrealist leader Andre Breton would open the Gradiva gallery the name of which was derived from Freud's published analysis of the German short story Gradiva: A Pompeiian Fantasy by Wilhelm Jensen. Gradiva "splendid in walking" (leading her admirers towards the desired marvellous) was thus venerated as a femme-enfant who existed on the borders of "utopia and truth", and formed "the bridge which links dreaming to reality..." 3
A striking visual manifestation of the female muse in the works of the surrealists is the mannequin. Visitors to the 1938 International Surrealist Exhibition in Paris were greeted by a long line of shop mannequins, each dressed or 'altered' by a different artist. Previously Giacometti had removed the head and arms from his plaster sculpture Mannequin and renamed her Walking Woman before showing it in London in 1936.
There is of course, a sadistic twist to this muse of male fantasy. As Simone de Beauvoir has pointed out, female 'virginity' invites male conquest and suggests the need for a man to reveal to the woman her own sexuality. Her attraction lies within her presumed incompleteness and the more immaculate or inaccessible the woman, the more she is deemed to invite profanation.
The Surrealist mannequin is closely related to the doll and in the extraordinary work of German artist Hans Bellmer (1902-1975 ) we find an artist going far beyond the dressing and distortions of shop window mannequins.
Bellmer asked, "Would it not be in the very reality of the Doll that the imagination would find the joy, the ecstasy and the fear that is sought?" and he set about constructing an adolescent doll that would be a reincarnation of the little girls who had played with him in his secret garden, the 'green paradise of childhood loves' of Baudelaire's wistful longing.
Bellmer was not the first artist to construct a doll. In Schnitzler's Vienna painter Oskar Kokoschka had ordered the making of a life-size doll in 1918 from the wife of Bellmer's doctor Lotte Pritzel, a maker of small wax dolls. Kokoschka an Austrian painter and printmaker initially influenced by the Vienna Secession movement, particularly the work of Gustave Klimt, had by all accounts desired the making of such a doll out of despair about his difficult relationships with women such as Alma Mahler. The doll was eventually made by Hermine Moos after Pritzel decided she could not work on such a scale. Kokoschka called the doll his 'fetish' and after its delivery in the Spring of 1919, he was in the habit of taking it with him when he visited the theatre or went out to dinner. The doll, which become the subject of a number of his paintings and drawings, was eventually destroyed by the artist in the early twenties after not living up to his expectations.
"If one tendency within Surrealism's 'merveilleux
sexuel' aspires to the ideals of courtly love, the other descends
into the noxious basements and torture chambers of the Marquis de Sade."
DADA & SURREALISM
Bellmer's Doll was the ideal surrealist object. It was altogether a symbol of revolt against society, of a breaking with the overbearing influence of a domineering father, and a "signature to a pact with the inner life".4 The Doll was first constructed during 1933 and would survive various transformations and permutations to become a recurring image throughout his life's work. The doll, primitive at first but charged with an unnerving sexuality, became eventually a sophisticated construct of ball joints and partly dressed limbs which could be arranged and rearranged as Bellmer desired. In his wish to "reveal what is usually kept hidden" Bellmer sought to "rearrange the sexual elements of a girl's body like a sort of plastic anagram."
"An ostensibly innocent toy had been snatched from the hallowed, protected domain of the nursery," wrote Peter Webb," enlarged to child-size, and converted into a garish fetish that arouses the most ambiguous, unavowable and palpably erotic desires..." The disturbing photographs Bellmer took of the Doll over a number of years are like records from a crime-squad archive. The innocent femme-enfant , "is dragged away into the dungeons of Black Eros."5 In her passivity she becomes, in the words of Victor Arwas, 'the perpetual victim, the object of the viewer's sympathy and commiseration which somehow, by its very nature and existence, transforms those lofty sentiments into a curious excitement and the need to hurt further'.6
Bellmer doll leads us ultimately to de Sade's corridors du merveilleux. Like other surrealists, Bellmer had great admiration for the writing of de Sade and in the 1940s prepared drawings and etchings for editions of Les 120 journees de Sodom, and Philosophie dans le boudoir, projects which never materialised. An edition of Justine published in 1950 did, however, carry one of Bellmer's drawings as a frontispiece. Similarly in 1954 a Bellmer engraving embellished a quantity of the first edition of Histoire d'O by Pauline Reage.
The sixties found Bellmer illustrating A Sade (1960) and Petit Traite de morale (1968). Rather than attempt to relate image to story Bellmer evoked the spirit of the texts with a series of fascinating engravings of the highest quality weaving images from de Sade, and from his own illustrations for Georges Bataille's Histoire de l'oeil. "I admire de Sade very much," Bellmer reported in 1972, "especially his idea that violence towards the loved one can tell us more about the anatomy of desire than the simple act of love, but I find I can't read very much of his work. I prefer the poems of Baudelaire, the stories of Lewis Carroll..." One of the ten prints which comprise Petit Traite de morale owes much to Bellmer's familiarity with Lewis Carroll and shows Alice in a very different kind of wonderland indeed.
"I agree with Georges Bataille that eroticism relates
to a knowledge of evil and the inevitability of death..."
The chaste eroticism of Traumnovelle never allows full consummation with the surreal perversities hinted at by its preoccupation with fancy dress, carnival and masquerade. EYES WIDE SHUT drops the novel's monk and nun costumes in favour of Venetian masks and tricorn hats, acknowledging perhaps the revival of carnival in Venice since 1979. The intention is the same, the mask being both a means to anonymity and therefore a liberation from inhibition, and a way of creating mystery, rich as it is with erotic power and associations with "torturers, executioners, and burglars".7 The recurring theme of EYES WIDE SHUT is invitation and denial. The mask is perhaps the film's controlling motif. The mask as we know, invites seduction and hints at menace. The master, or mistress has power over the slave who may also be masked, implying the status of victim. Whatever treatment the victim anticipates from his or her executioner might either be proffered or denied.
" Surrealism combined two of the principal liberation
struggles of this century: that of desire and that of women."
"Surrealism" writes Whitney Chadwick, "offered many women their first glimpse of a world in which creative activity and liberation from family-imposed social expectations might coexist..." The story of the women artists associated with Surrealism is one of personal rebellion and a struggle for independence which places them on the outside edge of the surrealist circle. Surrealism provided, nevertheless, a supportive environment for their exploration of individual reality and the intriguingly beautiful Leonor Fini (1918-1996 ) was one artist who took full advantage of its platform to liberation.
Born in Buenos Aires and raised in Trieste, Fini was committed to sexuality as a form of revolution. She demanded sexual freedom and her bisexuality is still misinterpreted today.8 Cultivating her own individuality she placed her self-image at the centre of her extraordinary paintings and strode into the lives of the Surrealists in 1936 "dressed in a cardinal's scarlet robes, which she had purchased in a clothing store specialising in clerical vestments".9
The Surrealist love of costume proved a perfect stage for the uninhibited behaviour of Fini and her compatriots. Urged to remove a heavy fur coat on a warm summer's evening Fini did so to reveal she was naked beneath. On another occasion she attended a Surrealist party for which the guests were instructed to appear nude from chest to thigh, wearing knee-length white boots and a cape of white feathers.
THE OWL MASK
Of the small group of women whose admiration for de Sade filtered into their paintings Fini alone participated fully in the sadian universe of the male Surrealist. In 1944 she used images from de Sade's Juliette to portray the sexual power of women, acknowledging de Sade's claim, unusual for his time, for the right of women to sexual freedom. Paralleling Bellmer's drawings Fini in her illustrations to Juliette sought to prove that women's sexual needs may be even more demanding and her capacity for cruelty even greater than man's.
Advancing in her life and art the notion of the absolute woman, beautiful and imperious Fini chose on one occasion to wear a costume comprising white satin gloves and the mask of an owl anticipating by just six years the closing chapter of Histoire d'O by Pauline Reage (Dominique Aury). It is a powerful image and although we find Whitney Chadwick at pains to point out Fini's "refusal to depict women as submissive" she makes no mention of the illustrations Fini made some years later for a deluxe edition of Histoire d'O.
The image of 'O', taken to a party at the end of the novel dressed as an owl and thus reclaiming her imperious nature despite her degradations at the hands of her lovers and gaolers, is a powerful one. Could this have been the element which attracted Fini? Indeed the owl mask in the 1975 Just Jaekin film Histoire d'O is so obviously based upon the mask of Fini one might wonder whether some complicity had existed between the writer, the artist , Jeakin and the French publisher Jean-Jacques Pauvert, had not Reage/Aury written in her preface to Retour a' Roissy ('A Girl in Love'); "Nor did I make up - steal, rather, for which I ask her belated pardon, but the theft was committed out of adoration - the Leonor Fini masks..."
LES COULOIRS DU MERVEILLEUX
'The Surrealists' passionate invocation of the irrational
creates a link between the Gothic aesthetic, Freudian
theory and the dream-like qualities of the cinema.'
FETISHISM AND CURIOSITY
Upon reading Traumnovelle several years ago after finding an illustrated English edition from 1926 languishing in a small antiquarian bookshop, I was immediately struck by its cinematic quality. Every scene is like a ready-made screenplay and some of the illustrations by Donia Nachshen serve to emphasize a quality reminiscent of films from the silent era. It is satisfyingly appropriate that the cinema saw its birth at the same time as Freud was working on The Interpretation of Dreams. As Freud constructed a rational structure around the world of dreams so the dream found a new home upon a movie screen that could create its own corridors of the marvellous.
There is little wonder the Surrealists both admired and used the cinema as a way of materialising the dream life. 'From the instant he takes his seat,' wrote Breton, 'to the moment he slips into a fiction evolving before his eyes the spectator passes through a critical point as captivating and imperceptible as that uniting waking and sleeping.' And Brunius has described cinema as 'an involuntary simulation of a dream. The darkness of the auditorium, tantamount to closing the eye-lids on the retina...'. 10
The illusion and the suspension of disbelief specific to the cinema has been compared as similar to the mechanism of fetishism. I remember some members of the audience at a screening in London of Jeakin's Story of O laughing at the image of O on her way to the closing moments of the film dressed in the owl mask. In the same way there has been some derisory laughter amongst audiences for WIDE EYES SHUT. This is a protective, self conscious form of tittering that in the darkened auditorium momentarily defies illusion and the suspension of disbelief.
The mask slips a little and the master loses a little of the power allowed the master by the submissive. Should the audience blame Kubrick or itself for such laughter in the dark? A mask is an unsettling leitmotif. Kubrick must have known this and surely acknowledges this controlling image in the film's title WIDE EYES SHUT. After all, masks in themselves are unable to see anything despite having eyes wide open.
1. Arthur Schnitzler (1862 - 1931) a writer and playwright much favoured by Freud is better known for Merry-Go-Round ( filmed asLa Ronde ).
2. Charles Baudelaire, quoted in La Revolution surrealiste, No. 1, December 1924.
3. Andre Breton, from the pamphlet Breton issued for the opening of the Gradiva gallery, Paris 1937.
4. Alain Jouffroy, HANS BELLMER (1958)
5. Peter Webb with Robert Short, HANS BELLMER (1985)
6. Victor Arwas, Catalogue for an exhibition of work by Hans Bellmer, Editions Graphiques, no date.
7. Valerie Steele, FETISH Fashion, Sex & Power (1996)
8. Carlos Lozano in his unpublished memoirs An Angel in Dalis
Court describes Fin in 1969, "an insatiable lesbian... a portrait of
bondage in studs, chains and
black leather.' (Exhibit : A issue 4, 1999 )
9. Whitney Chadwick, WOMEN ARTISTS AND THE SURREALIST MOVEMENT (1985)
10. J.Brunius, 'Crossing the Bridge', in Paul Hammond (ed.), THE SHADOW AND ITS SHADOWS (1978)
RETURN TO KEY O