Film: Body of evidence
In Eyes Wide Shut, Abigail Good plays a `Mysterious Woman'. But that's not the half of it.
Friday 27 August 1999
So imagine our queasy surprise when we received a press release from a PR company saying the equally obscure Abigail Good was in fact "the mysterious woman" and that it's she who cries out "Let him go! I'm ready to redeem him".
Not surprisingly, Abigail was feeling overlooked. But the woman in this scene wears a face mask. How on earth could we tell that body didn't belong to Julienne?
Well, thank goodness for cinephiles - in an ocean of confusion they offer a surfboard of sanity. Sight and Sound editor Nick James knew the Mandy we see at the beginning of the film was not the same woman as that at the orgy. How? "because they had different pubic hair". Mystery solved.
So how did the confusion arise? Thanks to Warners obsession with keeping the film's plot a secret, Julienne's comments on her role have all been vague. We quickly get her on the phone - did Abigail take over from Davis? "No" she says, outraged, "it's all me. Abigail Good was just an extra. And anyway, she's English." (the mysterious woman has an American accent). "It's hilarious," says Julienne, sounding not at all amused, "It happens a lot, people try to take credit for things they haven't done".
Back to Abigail. "Ooh" she says, with an excited shiver, "I'm the skeleton in her closet". According to Abigail, Julienne (who has talked in interviews about her wonderful relationship with Kubrick) was "a difficult girl to work with. And she was always late."
For whatever reason, though both actresses were miked up, it was Abigail who got to play the mysterious woman and speak the lines. Julienne does appear at the orgy, but she's just one of the many masked women in the background.
But it's definitely Julienne in the early scenes and in the morgue at the end? "Yeah," shrugs Abigail, "all that had been shot months before. But I spent a year working on that movie. I was the one at the wrap. My scenes with Tom were the last Stanley ever shot and I got a credit, as the mysterious woman." (Warners are prepared to confirm this). Stanley's nephew even signed a photograph of me on the back with the words `To the mysterious woman who was later revealed to be the wonderful Abigail'".
Her version of events paints a weird picture of life on the Kubrick set. And as squabbles go, it's not entirely dignified. Neither actress could be said to have done well out of the deal. Julienne gets to utter a few words, Abigail a few more but both are there primarily as tits and ass. The secrecy surrounding the plot has possibly worked to Julienne's advantage, but when Abigail boasts that Kubrick "liked my long legs, he preferred the way I walked...she's taking the glory for my body" it's hard not to wince.
And then we get another call from Abigail. She's been talking to Leon Vitali, Kubrick's assistant, and he's not happy about our little chat. "They're all concerned it's bad publicity" says Abigail, "and I really don't want to offend anybody. I don't want to be seen to be using Stanley, or trying to make him look bad." She's really panicked. "I'd rather get no publicity at all."
But does it make Kubrick look bad? Abigail admits she's astonished Kubrick thought he could "get away" with the deception. The two women's bodies really are quite different. Easy to take this as an insult, to the actresses as much as the audience. Did he think one pair of breasts pretty much the same as the next?
Maybe not. There's a strange circularity at work here. Several years ago, while Kubrick was holed up in Gerrard's Cross, an opportunistic lookalike (who actually looked nothing like him) cruised the bars and cafes of Soho pretending to be him. In his final film this bizarre phenomenon is played out on screen - two characters posing as one.
So, could be there's another way of looking at all this. The really shocking thing about Eyes Wide Shut is that it's so devoid of mystery, so devoid of dark, hidden pockets. The use of a different woman to play "the mystery woman" squeezes a little chaos back into the mix. It turns the film on it's head, a fallen woman's noble act transformed into a gesture without consequence - a piece of dreamy theatre far more in tune with Arthur Schnitzler's wonderfully dazed and confusing novel. In splitting Mandy and the mysterious woman in two, maybe Kubrick wasn't letting himself get sloppy, wasn't trying to get away with anything. Maybe he just wanted to check we were keeping our eyes wide open, so we could enjoy a final, profound in-joke.
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