Arts: Auteur of the erotic

Did Terry Southern, counter-culture's secret genius, inspire Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut? By Michael Collins

When Stanley Kubrick read Terry Southern's 1970 satire, Blue Movie, detailing the attempts by an Oscar-winning Hollywood director to make the most expensive and X-rated film ever, he congratulated the writer with: "You've written the definitive blow job." The novel, and the conversations with Southern in 1963 that inspired it, seem to have borne curious fruit more than three decades later in Kubrick's 13th and final film, Eyes Wide Shut. Completed a week before his death in March, Kubrick's last feature was a project that he had long planned to make.

Since the early Seventies he had declared his ambition to transpose the fin de siecle decadence of Arthur Schnitzler's Traumnovelle from 19th century Vienna to contemporary New York, and the big screen. But equally, he may have harboured a desire to show that a great auteur could make a great erotic movie. Certainly it's this second element that signposts the film as a break from Kubrick's traditional beat.

The trailer for Eyes Wide Shut was deemed too explicit for television, and the R for Restricted certificate for screening the film in the United States was the subject of some debate. The secrecy that has shrouded the project since news first emerged that the director was once again behind the camera - and had cast Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as the leads - was finally shattered earlier this month. Film critic Alexander Walker, a friend of Kubrick, managed to see the film weeks before its US release on July 16. He then revealed - in an Evening Standard review - hook, line and plot, so incurring the wrath of the film's distributors and fans, in a flurry of faxes, letters and Internet activity.

In the film, Cruise plays a wealthy physician with the perfect marriage to Kidman, until a series of erotic confessions and fantasies begin to drive the pair apart. He is propelled into a liaison with a prostitute and becomes a participant in a sex ring of the rich and famous. According to Alexander Walker: "Few will deny this excursion into the erotic is the strangest path taken by a film-maker whose themes often included the world and the devil, but hitherto omitted the flesh." The screenwriter, Frederic Raphael, has said he believes it was the menace of the eroticism and the sexual misadventures in the original story that appealed to the director. After his initial meetings with Kubrick, he was uncertain what was expected from his script "beyond eroticism".

Kubrick's interest in eroticism is shown by his filming of Lolita (1962) - although its most explicit scene is a pedicure. The following year however he met Terry Southern during the making of Dr Strangelove. At the request of Peter Sellars, the film's star, Southern had been enlisted as a scriptwriter. Sellars had read the author's third novel The Magic Christian, and bought 300 copies as Christmas presents. Like Kubrick, the film's director, Southern was a private figure, of considerable cultural influence, but hidden behind the scenes. He appears alongside his hero Edgar Allen Poe, and wearing shades, on Peter Blake's Sergeant Pepper album cover for The Beatles. Tom Wolfe credited him with creating the Gonzo journalism, now synonymous with Hunter S Thompson. Gore Vidal called him "the wittiest writer of his generation".

Southern's comic and explicit first novel, Candy, paved the way for the parodic porn of Vidal's Myra Breckinridge a decade later. It found a publisher in Parisian pornographer Maurice Girodias' Olympus Press, the sole outlet, initially, for such diverse titles as Lolita and the SCUM Manifesto. It was also Southern who persuaded the publisher to take up the novel of his friend and fellow Beat, William Burroughs. Skimming the manuscript of The Naked Lunch, Girodias suggested it wasn't pornographic enough, until Southern drew his attention to the fellatio in the opening pages. A contract followed. "Pornography had a comic oddness about it that fascinated Terry", says Jonathan Miller, a friend of the author, who first introduced Southern and Sellars.

"I remember he showed me this shakily-shot Cuban porn film. These grainy images of men and women in glasses and socks screwing each other in Havana in 1932." During a break from filming Dr Strangelove, Southern showed Kubrick a porn film and discussed his ideas for what would eventually become the novel, Blue Movie. Kubrick was intrigued: "Wouldn't it be interesting if an artist were to do this with beautiful, first-rate actors and good equipment?" This sketchy template chimes, in part, with Kubrick's vision as revealed to Frederic Raphael in the planning of the script for Eyes Wide Shut. The subject was desire, says Raphael. Kubrick wasn't concerned with the mechanics of copulation, he wanted "to photograph feelings, to catch the impalpable and palp that".

In Blue Movie, which is dedicated "to the great Stanley K", the film's producer Sid Kassman has Kubrick's initials and hairy, chunky figure. But the director, King B, has his reputation as a serious film maker, in "the tradition of Chaplin, Bergman and Fellini". He embarks upon making a stag film that would be genuinely erotic and beautiful. "I've got to find out", says King B, "how far you can take the aesthetically erotic - at what point, if any, it gets to be such a personal thing that it becomes meaningless."

In Cruise and Kidman, Kubrick found his beautiful actors, along with guaranteed audiences. But it may be that the original idea for an erotic movie owed more to Southern. The writer himself once said of his own pornographic prose that the most important thing was not he capacity to shock, but to astonish.

Jonathan Miller believes that "a lot of the ideas that have been credited to Kubrick over the years came from Terry".

Like King B in Blue Movie, Kubrick was "an artist whose responsibility for his work was total, and his control of it complete". But, unlike Southern's creation, the great Stanley hasn't made Eyes Wide Shut the most expensive and X-rated film ever made. Maybe he simply settled for the cinematic equivalent of the definitive blow job.

Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
News
‘The Late Late Show’ presenter James Corden is joined by Mila Kunis and Tom Hanks for his first night as host
news
Arts and Entertainment
Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat and Blackberry Wine, wrote a blog post attacking the app and questioning its apparent 'strong Christian bias'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Leading light: Sharma in London

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
News
Brooke Magnanti believes her reputation has been damaged by the claim
books
Arts and Entertainment
A large fire has broken out in London's historic Battersea Arts Centre
art
Arts and Entertainment
Orla Brady as Anne Meredith, MyAnna Buring as Elizabeth Quinn and Joanna Vanderham as Katherine McVitie in Banished
tvReview: Despite the gritty setting, this drama is as fluffy and soppy as a soap opera
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and co-director Richard Glatzer, standing, on the set during the filming of ‘Still Alice’ in New York
film
Arts and Entertainment
Great British Sewing Bee finalist Matt Chapple
tvReview: He wowed the judges with an avant garde dress
Arts and Entertainment
Driven to the edge: 'Top Gear' producer Oisin Tymon is said to have had a row with Clarkson
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nazi officer Matthias Schoenaerts embarks on an affair with married French woman Michelle Williams in 'Suite Francaise'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Prime movers: Caitriona Balfe (centre) and the cast of Outlander
TV
News
Feasting with panthers: Keynes
books
Arts and Entertainment
Strung out: Mumford & Sons
music
Arts and Entertainment
Avant-garde: Bjork
music
Arts and Entertainment
Despite a decade of reform, prosecutions and convictions of rape has remained consistently low
arts + entsAcademic and author Joanna Bourke in warning to arts world
Arts and Entertainment
Electro Velvet, made up of Alex Larke and Bianca Nicholas, will represent the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015
music
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
    Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

    Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

    A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn