The Eyes Wide Shut Party

by Thomas Beller


356 West 58th Street New York, New York 10019

Neighborhood: Midtown

Illustrations by Elisha Cooper

Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut: a masterpiece or utter crap? My own impression was that it was utter crap when I saw it a little over a year ago, though I did enjoy the movie in certain ways, none of them, I felt at the time, intended. Since then I watched Kubrick’s Lolita again and was struck by how his movies manage to be utterly realistic and also unreal; their pacing like that of a dream, or a nightmare. And Barry Lyndon is perverse and brilliant. Eyes Wide Shut, on the other hand, seemed, mostly, silly, and I still remember the pleasure I took in reading Louis Menand tactfully destroy it in his New York Review of Books review.

Not long after that pleasurable reading experience, I encountered one of the few people who thought it was a great movie, and I had to sit at dinner and listen to the man insist that it is a visionary movie. I thought it was a ridiculous position to take; such a silly overstylized movie. I suppose part of my objection was its rendition of New York. Never mind the fact that the man refused to leave England, that the location shots were absurd stage sets that looked nothing like New York. The whole way he portrayed a cool, fringy, dark, and sexually esoteric world—namely a doofy costume party in a tacky mansion out on Long Island—offended me somehow; it was so wrong! I think we all can agree that when our hometown is being represented, there is an almost irresistible urge to cry out: That’s not the way it is! Kubrick’s movie elicited that reaction in me at the time. Now, after the events of last night, I think he’s a genius.

A group of us was going to a birthday party. We knew it was in a hotel, we had an address, but otherwise the destination was a mystery. We sped uptown in a taxi. The Manhattan landscape is a very strange thing right now. All over the city there are gaps where there used to be buildings. A great many building are in the process of going up, but for the last several weeks it seems as if they are all in that stage when there is only the foundation, and the air space where the building will soon be is empty, and there is suddenly a vista, a view, where there previously was none. It’s a very exciting and also disorienting feeling, seeing across an empty city block, and I experienced it very acutely getting out of the cab at 58th Street and Eighth Avenue. The Coliseum, that huge hulking structure, was gone. For months they had been tearing it down in chunks, like a huge animal was taking bites out of it, and now there was nothing there and you could see all the way to 62st Street and over to Ninth Avenue.

We started walking down an unprepossessing street, this huge vacant space disorientingly to our right, and then, out of nowhere, there was a bevy of white stretch limousines. I had no idea where we were going, but there were all these limos and then all these men with those little secret-service wires in their ears in dark suits, an incredible number of them, and an entrance glowing in a strange yellowish fluorescent light, and a velvet rope, and people with clipboards, and photographers … it all happened very quickly and the next thing we knew we were standing on a long narrow escalator, sort of an airport-size escalator except we were bathed in this ghastly, vomitous yellow light, and there was a commotion going on way up at the top, and it was funny but already I was getting a queasy feeling, that strange queasy dreamlike feeling when your surroundings start to take on the illogic of a dream.

At the top of the escalator there were more of those secret-service types, publicists, paparazzi flashes here and there like mortar fire, people dressed up in what seemed, to me, to be a really tacky, sort of Hollywood executive look, a kind of Armani standard look; the room was enormous, but in fact it was just a kind of foyer to a series of other rooms with glass walls and strange lighting, filled with lost-looking people with hungry eyes wanting to know who was there. The place had a terrible cocaine feeling teeth gnashing ugliness of spirit and the décor … we were looking for our friend, he was somewhere in this labyrinth of rooms, having his birthday party. The place was filled with people, but it was so big that the crowd seemed diffuse, everyone seemed lost. We found our friend sitting in what I gather was the dining room, another enormous room that could hold 300. There was something about the décor of this room that was so awful and yet familiar. My friend was sitting amidst a large group comprised mostly of beautiful women. The women were beautiful but they also looked ravenous, and not for food. I like this guy so much, and one of the things I like about him is this quality of loneliness he has, and sitting amidst this group he looked lonely. He seemed cheered to see us, we sang happy birthday and a cake was brought, and about five tables away, a few seconds later, some other group sang happy birthday and cake was brought, and I was looking at these very long wooden tables and high-backed chairs, all very dark and gothic, and looking at the vapid, empty, coked-out faces, the needy hunger, the unbelievable amount of money put in the service of so much ugliness and bad taste and then it hit me: I was in Eyes Wide Shut!

The place, it turns out, is called the Hudson. It’s Ian Schrager’s new establishment. We had stumbled onto the opening-night party. Or was it the second opening-night party. One of the men in secret-service suits communicated this to me. This explained for the militia quantity of publicists. I suppose 5,000 magazine articles are already underway.

We went down the long escalator. The place is a hotel, so I assume they have street-level elevators for luggage, and this escalator is meant to put you in the mood for their giant party space inside, but it was really like being engorged (on the way up) and then disgorged through a giant yellow-lit esophagus. Outside there were still some white stretch limos, a velvet rope behind which stood no one but publicists and well-groomed doormen. I thought, Oh fuck! Kubrick was right! New York is turning into a giant tacky party in Long Island! I made a mental note to do a photo essay on all these empty spaces and their views around Manhattan for I tried to laugh it off in the taxi. But I was in a foul mood, poisoned and disoriented, and the worst thing was that when you have such a visceral negative reaction to something like that, it’s usually because you recognize in it something of yourself.


October, 2000

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