For months, it has been the grist for gossip: Just what exactly is director Stanley Kubrick's new movie, "Eyes Wide Shut," all about?
Tom Cruise and his actress wife, Nicole Kidman, who have been shooting the film in and around London since last fall, have occasionally broken their silence to dispel rampant speculation.
No, Cruise said, he does not wear a dress in the film. "I've read a lot of stuff," he told the New York Daily News. "No one's gotten it right. They're reaching."
No, Kidman said, her character is not a junkie as some British publication had deduced.
Cruise was even quick to respond when New York gossip columnist Liz Smith wrote that the actor became "vexed and rattled" after Kubrick took 93 takes to complete one scene. Cruise sent word that his relationship with Kubrick was "impeccable and extraordinary" and added, "Both Nic and I love him."
The film, which will be released by Warner Bros., isn't expected to wrap until sometime in July. Cruise and Kidman are said to have cleared their schedules until the project is completed. Warner Bros. says it expects the film to be released at the end of this year or early in '98, but says it has no firm date from Kubrick yet.
Filmmakers and studios go to great lengths to prevent the public--and competitors--from gleaning information about some of their bigger projects. Twentieth Century Fox, for instance, took care not to divulge how Sigourney Weaver's character comes back to life in "Alien Resurrection," but somehow the information that she gets cloned appeared on the Internet. Steven Spielberg also kept "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" shrouded in secrecy.
But then there is Kubrick.
It has been 10 years since Kubrick's last film--"Full Metal Jacket"--was released. For the last two decades, each Kubrick film has been greeted as something of an event: "2001: A Space Odyssey" in 1968, "A Clockwork Orange" in 1971, "Barry Lyndon" in 1975, "The Shining" in 1980 and "Full Metal Jacket" in 1987.
As always, the director, who is now 68, takes great pains to avoid the press.
"I told Stanley years ago, 'You know, you're simply creating more curiosity about you if you try and avoid the media,' " recalled Alexander Walker, film critic of the London Evening Standard and the author of a 1971 book on Kubrick.
While Kubrick is no Howard Hughes figure with long fingernails or hair falling below his shoulders, Walker--whom Kubrick has called to chat with from time to time--said the director is a bit of a recluse although he keeps abreast of current films, actors and world events.
"I think you'd have to say that a man who won't give interviews, won't appear in any TV interviews and won't come out with any communique for 10 years between movies is a bit of a recluse," Walker said.
The secrecy that Kubrick demands is being fully pursued with "Eyes Wide Shut." Ironically, the director seems to be pulling it off despite the fact that he has two of the biggest movie stars in the world as his leads and faces constant inquiries from the notoriously rapacious British press, whose prying eyes and ears often seem to be everywhere, even inside Buckingham Palace.
Cruise's publicist, Pat Kingsley, said she did not know if Kubrick required Cruise and Kidman to sign secrecy oaths before doing the film, as has been rumored. "Tom never mentioned that to me," Kingsley said.
But there is no doubting that "secrecy" is the byword of the Kubrick production.
There is no publicist on the set. No still photographer. And no script floating around. Even Cruise's agent, Rick Nicita of Creative Artists Agency, doesn't know what the movie is about, Kingsley said.
"I was told that Cruise was permitted to read the script when he was offered the part but had to make up his mind before he left," one source told The Times. "This is characteristic of Kubrick. He has gotten more discreet and secretive the more films he made."
Indeed, at any one time, perhaps as few as five people have advance knowledge of a scene in the moments before Cruise and Kidman go before the cameras.
"[Kubrick] works on the script while they're on stage rehearsing and he doesn't do that many takes," Kingsley said.
Unless one is provided a location sheet the night before, there is no way of knowing where the production might show up next.
Asked if there have been attempts by the press to penetrate this wall of secrecy, Kingsley replied: "I'm sure there are attempts all the time, but he has a very loyal group of people who have worked with him over the years."
The script, which Kubrick co-wrote with veteran screenwriter Frederick Raphael ("Darling," "Two for the Road"), is said to center on two married psychologists who betray each other with a married couple who are also patients.