Let’s get into trouble…directed by Wolfgang Gluck, this 1969 Austrian tv movie is a brief (70 min) adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s classic FOMO psychological novel; you’ve probably already twigged from the picture above that the themes and imagery of this work were injected into our pop culture eyeballs by Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 film version, artfully retitled Eyes Wide Shut. Writer Frederick Raphael wrote an entire book (Eyes Wide Open) about the agonising creative process of re-imagining Schnitzler’s 1926 ‘dream novel’ for the present day. Like other Kubrick properties, what’s interesting is what gets changed in the process of adaptation and what doesn’t, and this version gets most of the same story beats across but in a third of the running time, so brevity is a plus here.
‘Security is nowhere,’ muses doctor Fridolin (Karlheinz Böhm); despite his outward prosperity, beautiful wife (Erika Pluhar) and nine year old daughter, he’s suffering from some serious middle-aged ennui. ‘The realisation of a desire is not as dangerous as a desire that remains a dream,’ is his tortured conclusion after his wife shares some repressed memories of sexual desire. Powered by jealousy, Fridolin gives himself licence to get out there and party hard amongst the decadent Viennese nightlife; using the excuse of attending to the death-certificate of an expiring magistrate, the good doctor walks the streets, bumping into drunks, refusing the services of a prostitute and eventually ending up attending a fancy dress party at which his friend Nachtigall (Kurt Sowinetz) is playing the piano blindfolded. That party turns out to be a full-blown orgy, but Fridolin’s disguise as a monk doesn’t fool the organisers; he’s unceremoniously asked to leave, and not to return. But Fridolin suspects that a woman’s sacrifice was made to preserve his life, and can’t help returning to the scene of his own crime, even if the offence is one which was only committed in his own mind…
‘Do your thoughts, do your wishes,’ is how Fridolin wants to live, but life and reality get in the way; ‘It was always you that I was searching for,’ he tells his wife, but she tartly responds that she was ‘little over 16 when you married me,’ and Fridolin takes the hump when she teases that he ‘could have had everything desired of me’. Fridolin seeks affirmation of his identity in his ‘journey’ outside the family unit, but from where? At the costume shop, he finds an aging, immoral man who seems willing to prostitute his own daughter, whom he calls ‘depraved’ as she cavorts with two mysterious hooded men. Kubrick developed this scene into bookends in which two sinister men seen at the opening party quietly remove the daughter of Cruise and Kidman in the final scene as a sacrifice to the patriarchal powers; Kubrick’s text adds cheeky, explicit detail to Schnitzler’s original.
The password for the masked ball, incidentally, is Denmark rather than Fidelio as featured in Kubrick’s film; such insider jokes, like the altered fate of Dick Hallorann in the Shining, suggest Kubrick flaunting his lack of fidelity to the original text. Kubrick junked most of the magistrate stuff in terms of creating a firmer embodiment of the patriarchy as an antagonist, namely Victor Ziegler, but that character doesn’t appear here. The overall theme is the same, a portrait of the self-destructive urges of a white, prosperous male; ‘I want to be myself’ Fridolin cries after being rejected from upper echelon high-society, but who is that self?
There’s all kinds of interesting rumours about the making of Eyes Wide Shut, largely relating to Kubrick’s defiance of Tom Cruise and Warner Brothers, but this admirably terse version lays bare the timeless centre of the story; in 2005, I interviewed Sydney Pollack, who played Ziegler in Kubrick’s film, and asked him why Kubrick chose him to play the embodiment of patriarchal evil. Pollack laughed and demurred, saying that he was about as far from Ziegler as one could imagine, then added that this was exactly what someone like Ziegler would say anyway. The sinister forces in life tend to hide in plain sight; for those seeking a guide, this version of Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle is a useful road-map to the darker side of the male psyche.