Directed by Stanley Kubrick
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00000000 / Kraken
“It’s amazing how fast you get used to such a big place. I tell you, when we first came up here I thought it was kinda scary.”
I’m on holiday. Staying in a cottage not a hotel tho (phew!). Having lots of lovely random philosophical conversations which is basically my whole bag right there (and also my secret hope for what this Film Club can be at it’s best: finding the links between random ideas and thoughts and following them to strange new interesting places and you’re looking around confused and bedazzled with no proper sense of how you got there. That’s what I like best).
Totally forget how it came up: but one of my friends said that there’s this Quentin Tarantino quote about horror movies. The basic idea = Tarantino said that he don’t think he could ever make a horror movie because a successful horror movie is all about creating this sense of constant dread and his inclinations would also be to try and offset that with a joke or something else. He basically doesn’t have the patience to just play that one single note for the whole duration. Instead he wants to mix things up and keep the audience on it’s toes. Or something similar.
(By the by – I don’t know how much of that is from Tarantino’s brain / how much of my friend / how much from me – so if you wanna credit someone then maybe just credit all of us lol).
Credit where it’s due: if there’s one thing that The Shining is really good at – it’s creating a constant sense of dread. Right from the start with the overhead shots (yes as recycled by Blade Runner) and that awful wailing music that sounds like a mournful angel of death. It gets into it’s groove right from the start and just relentlessly pounds away at it until there’s nothing left of your brain but a messy stain on the carpet (oh my god – the carpet: HOW CAN A CARPET BE SCARY?).
(Next question: how many movies get people analysing their carpets?)
To be upfront by it: yes there is a sense that doing The Shining as a Film Club film is our first taste of the Deep End. I mean: Get Out, Back to the Future, Mother!, Cloverfield, The Dark Knight, Clueless and Laputa are all cool well-made movies but if you wanted to argue that they were all a little bit – well – frivolous – I wouldn’t disagree so much because there’s a sense that they’re all kinda a bit – well – high-schooly (do you know what I mean?). But The Shining is… well… a kinda university kinda film. The sort of thing that requires proper chin stroking and analytical analysis. It’s a serious kinda thing: which is set up in such a way that you can’t escape the thought or the feeling that if you don’t really like it – then the problem isn’t with the film – it’s with you. LOL
There’s a few starting points then (but as always yes yes please feel free to ignore and go your own way)…
– How does The Shining work as a Horror Film?
Obvious I know: but Stephen King famously is not a fan of The Shining (in fact it was only the other week that there was this: New Stephen King Book Mocks Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ Adaptation). And yeah yeah yeah: obviously the sight of author berating the adaptations of their work is nothing new and a tale as old as time (sad face): but I guess what makes this a little different is that – for better or for worse – Stephen King is basically the biggest force in the whole for how we even conceive of what horror is. In horror terms he’s basically Google, Facebook and Twitter all rolled into one. So it’s very interesting to see there be such a split between The Greatest Horror Writer of All Time™ and the Greatest Horror Film of All Time™ Like: does this mean that we’re dealing with two different conceptions of what Horror is and how it should work? Or am I just being over-dramatic? Like: one of the things that I’ve always found most interesting about The Shining is this idea that Stanley Kubrick set out to make a horror film with none of the usual horror film trappings (I forget where I first heard this but it’s always stuck with me). So instead of making a film set at night and having it all be shadows and cobwebs in an old ancient crumbling building – it’s mostly all set in the dark with lots of lighting in a well – a hotel (who could be afraid of a hotel?).
One of the things that I like about The Shining or well – one of the things that I can nod my head with and say “well – hell: it does that really well.” is how it manages to work the Horror Film tightrope which is this: stories basically work by revealing bits of information as you go along but a big part of what makes horror stories give you that feeling of dread is the not knowing what’s going on. (This is also why The Blair Witch Project is one of the scariest films of all time. Fight me). I don’t know about you – but I kinda think this is the reason why so many horror films are such a let-down. Because you basically get to the end and you’re given an explanation that means that the dread just evaporates. Oh – alright: it was just the kid buried in the cellar the whole time or whatever and then we just have to let them forget and forgive so that they can move on or whatever. I mean: the reason that happens is because basically the structure of the story demands it and otherwise you just have random stuff happening for random reasons.
But yeah – The Shining manages to walk the tightrope by having enough twists and turns and scares and moments of drama and crisis and resolution that you feel like you’ve watched something with a story (it’s not an art house film). But by the end – YOU STILL HAVE LITERALLY NO IDEA AS TO WHAT THE HELL IS THE DEAL WITH THE OVERLOOK HOTEL (of which I must say – I admire the elegance if nothing more).
In terms of other starting points I would very much recommend you go away and watch Room 237 (“a 2012 American documentary film directed by Rodney Ascher about interpretations and perceived meanings of Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining”). And if anyone feels like going on a massive tangent about the meaning of meaning or something similar then I would be well up for that.
(If you don’t have time to watch the whole documentary then may I just suggest that you watch this four and a half minute clip: Room 237″ Danny’s Impossible Tricycle Ride and then – if you’re anything like me – try and pick your jaw up from the floor because basically: wow).
Final starting point = does anyone else wanna try and answer the fact that there’s a strong argument to be made that The Shining is probably one the most meme-d movies of all time? (Case in point).
But hey: All work and no play something something?
So the first time I saw Shining, probably when I was about 17 I didn’t like it, but I think that was fair enough because it’s a horrible horrible film, it’s doesn’t want to be liked. It has a horrible uncanny texture so everything is just off.
In fact this is my problem with Kubrick generally. I get that he is dishing out a masterclass in filmmaking and artistry, but watching is films is like some sort of magic eye picture made of bones and tears. There’s the story, then there’s the story on top of the story (the real story), then there’s 15 layers of metaphor (a lot of which is fairly on the nose) and all of this is wrapped in dread and despair and loneliness and violence. It’s not pleasant and The Shining seems to me to represent Kubrick’s manifesto most gleefully.
On their first day Jack already looks like he wants to kill his family in the drive over and while they are on the orientation the kid has (probably) thrown a 2,3 and 7 on the dartboard and seen the two dead girls. Danny hasn’t even taken his coat off yet!
This should undercut itself. Why rush all of this through? Where’s the pacing Stanley? You feel like the rules of film making would have Jack steadily going from being nice to evil, but he’s evil the whole time. Similarly starting from “Everyone is definitely going to die horribly” psychic flash forward should be spoilers, but the inevitable conclusion as we with drift toward it just adds to the horror. Things don’t get worse. They start bad and stay bad. When Wendy interrupts his writing Jack never lets his wife see the first page of his script. So he’s potentially been typing All Work and No Play since day 1.
So I completely agree with Joel about The Shining messiah with the tropes and structure. I am not sure I agree that the Shining never really explains itself and indeed is basically stars Basil Exposition talking about how loads of people have psychic powers and the building is psychic? But let’s lay it on a bit more because it’s also on a “clang” Indian Burial Ground and “thud” there was a nasty murder here just a few years ago, “Oof I had a dream that murdered you.” It’s laid on so thickly that, as the paranoia descends on my fevered brow, I begin to feel like Kubrick is laughing at us. The whole film says “you are watching a horror movie” but it does that to challenge the audience to ignore the plot and look at the details. And oh the details. They need their own post, so I’ll come back to that another day maybe.
So anyway there are two movies. There’s the one with the “dumb” story going on about Shining and Indian Burial Grounds, and there is the painstaking masterclass in shot construction. No wonder Stephen King hates it, he’s clever enough to spot that Kubrick is taking him to school (possibly in a red Volkswagen).
Stephen King watching the premier of the Shining must be like Bob Dylan watching Hendrix cover All Along the Watchtower. Everyone thinks your a genius and then a real one not only shows up but takes something you’ve done and shows everyone what a flimsy two dimensional load of nothing it was. (Too be fair to Dylan he was way less a dick about this then King is about Kubrick). The while exposition section is entirely black belt trolling of Stephen King by Kubrick. The Director is saying the “shining stuff in The Shining is just hogwash for morons, it is just the big striped tent I’m using to sell tickets. The real circus is inside.” But it needs to be acknowledged, It is still a circus, it’s still Kubrick selling out. He maybe be trolling him but he’s not “going after” Stephen King, he’s mocking himself performing for the audience.
One of Lovecraft’s more popular stories is Herbert West-Reanimator which Lovecraft says is written as a parody of Frankenstein. But it’s more a parody of himself, because it has all his usual notes in there right up to the narrator spending the rest of his days in an asylum haunted by what he has seen, but it’s laid on all so thickly it becomes a comedy. All the good stuff, the Lovecraftian lore and dread is out of focus in the background.
Because for all his pretensions Kubrick is doing this for money. He needs to get the people in and he needs to trick them to do it to the extent that he basically gives you a misleading trailer for the rest of the movie in the first 10 minutes. Maybe the film should just start from the first tricycle ride because that’s when it gets serious.
Another example of this fake trailing is The Shining’s promises gore and yet there really isn’t that much, and the gore there is doesn’t add much to the film. (In the “for ever and ever” scene I don’t know why they showed the girls corpses at all. They were already super creepy, you didn’t need that to figure out they were dead dead dead). He’s throwing us a bone like the bloodthirsty dogs we are. Which is maybe another reason why I didn’t like it when I was 17. I wanted bank robbers ear getting cut off, I wanted 7 gruesome deaths based on the deadly sins, I wanted a serial killer to escape from prison by wearing a prison guard’s face. And I still feel like it is disingenuous to suggest there is anything wrong with that. It sounds a little like Kubrick is doing the old Lee and Herring riff about “Who is the real sick man in this so called society? Is it the failed writer who tries to kill his family with an axe, or is it the cinema goers baying for blood like rabid cannibals?” Definitely the first one. “Is he though, or is it the businessman in his suit and tie?” No. Saying it in a staccato fashion doesn’t make it any more true. And so forth.
But I’m slightly straw-manning Kubrick there, because as I suggested all he really wants is to make way for his vision a vision of sleight of hand tracking shots and mazes and the pretence of sanity slowly being lifted, the crumbling of civilisation around our feet. He could have done this with any pulp “classic”, Imagine Alien, but its Stanley Kubrick’s Alien so you see the Alien in the first 5 minutes just walking around. Also it’s explained early on that the Nostromo is also an Alien and that the people on the ship are also mostly Aliens or talking to their secret alien friends. Where’s the dramatic tension? Except Kubrick’s Alien movie doesn’t give two shits about the Alien itself, what is the raggedy ass Alien to Kubrick when the terror of infinite space is in the same shot? The vacuum of Space isn’t the reason no one can hear you scream, it’s because in the vastness of time and space your screams are so insignificant and quiet and short they just don’t register. You are a microbe clinging to some slime on a pebble orbiting a tiny flame – an indistinguishable speck in one of a billion galaxies. Now here’s a nice tracking shot showing your pathetic “certainty” and hubris disappearing out of the airlock as the Blue Danube plays in the background. The Alien bursting out your stomach is no longer about childbirth, it’s about Kubrick’s Babushka doll creativity with meaning inside meaning inside meaning. You want the trimmings but this is where Kubrick keeps the meat.
Not that it’s all about the technical genius and . Obviously Jack Nicholson gets all the attention but Shelly Duvall does crazy heavy lifting just with her eyes. She is the only character with an arc and that arc is “living with a psycho husband and not realising it to living with a psycho husband and knowing it.”
This shot after she finds marks on Danny’s neck is bonkers. Leaving the details for another time you can’t even see her face you just know that she is looking back at her husband with terror. Genuinely creepy. This marks the only character development in the movie and yet still somehow she can’t hear Ed Murphy screaming Get Out at the screen.
And her eyes. How can the principle victim be the most terrifying thing in the movie? She should be on the poster rather than Jack hamming it up. She’s somehow able to sell looking at a typewriter as if she has seen the death of her child. And yet she got nominated for a Razzie! People of the seventies and early eighties, you probably had better films, but you didn’t deserve them.
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00000000 / Kraken
I just wanna go on record and say that I’m actually a Kubrick agonistic. I mean yeah yeah “a masterclass in filmmaking and artistry” and all the rest of it. But I think that in a sense he’s mostly making films for overly serious teenage boys you know? (Which is both an insult and a compliment I guess?). He’s basically the heroin to Christopher Nolan’s weed: the hard stuff that you can graduate to when you really wanna start impressing people at parties (“Actually my favourite Kubrick film is Barry Lyndon?” = 100 POINTS!)
I really like this “There is almost no escalation” point tho. Because it kinda gets me straight to the point that I wanted to make which is – I’ve always found The Shining to be a slightly disappointing cinematic experience because well (and please don’t excommunicate me for saying this): but it doesn’t really have much in the way of an ending you know?
Like: the horror films which have always chilled me all the way down inside the marrow of my bones are those which have cool ass endings which manage to drive that final stake through my heart. The big obvious example is (yeah yeah) The Blair Witch Project. Which is just every single type of awful all piled up on top of each other. There’s the last 15 minutes of REC which I think might have actually made me literally piss myself. Rosemarys Baby. Don’t Look Now. Prince of Darkness. The Ring. The Borderlands. The Mist. I mean yeah ok maybe doesn’t make that much sense to say that these are the best horror movies: but for me they’re definitely of the type of horror movies that give me the best experience / reaction. The Jack-in-the-Box twist in the tale type thing where the greatest horror is always right at the end.
And yeah well – The Shining is very much not that.
Like – there are countless cool parts and amazing set-pieces and I’m a hundred per cent agreement with the “horrible uncanny texture” thing of it all. (And I say this with a smile on my face – isn’t it great to have a movie where everything about it just feel so wrong?). But in the terms of the ending we get Jack getting lost in the maze and Wendy and Danny driving off and erm – that’s it? Oh wait. A creepy photo. I mean – am I the only one that’s like: oh – is that it?
Obviously as I put in my first email – I’m not looking for somekind of explanation and some summing up of things (“The Overlook Hotel was really… x y z”) or whatever. Because yeah – that would be boring and would totally undermine everything that the film was about. I just kinda wish that the whole film wasn’t just a maze and that at some point there was an actual… well… Like I guess I could say Minotaur: but that’s kinda the opposite. I mean – there is the woman in Room 237 (*whole body shudders*) and it’s like I need a monster or anything so obvious. And oh god no – not them using the boiler to blow up the hotel (facepalm.gif). It’s more just – I guess I wanted a final indelible image or scene that wouldn’t let me sleep at night. Like: am I the only one that’s disappointed that Wendy and Danny manage to drive away at the end? Also: whatever happened to Toby? Something close to what I wanted maybe: what if there was a final bit in the snow plough where Tony reappeared and said something – I don’t know – fucked up and demon-like? LOL. Maybe just something as simple as “You’ll never leave” over and over again? And then Danny starts screaming. Cut to black. You know – something like that?
Or just whatever the horror version of the Stargate sequence at the end of 2001? Like an infinite wall of pigflesh. It’s like The Shining keeps getting so close to this perfect moment of horror and then never actually – you know – gets loud and crazy and post-rock or whatever. But ha – as I type all this I realise: well – maybe that’s the point?
The Gap between Panels
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Twitter / The Hot-Doll Pages
I have the inverse reaction to Jonathan when it comes to The Shining in that I find the Stephen King stuff quite interesting and smart and the Stanley Kubrick stuff really quite ponderous. The horror of the film comes from Jack Nicholson’s feelings of inadequacy and how they manifest as murderous racism and sexism. There’s an interesting class dimension to this as well in that he kills at the behest of these suave poshos in English accents. Patriarchy is associated with bourgeois standards of respectability. Jack gets eaten up by his failure to be a conventional breadwinner as well as his failure as a writer. The Indian burial ground is a clunky trope but I like the way it underlines the forces of white supremacy, misogyny and class conflict that lie buried in Jack’s unconscious. And what is the shining if not a metaphor for empathy, building bridges with others that will help you overcome that terrible history. Compared to the overblown bollox in 2001 this is positively coherent. I credit King with that. Don’t think Kubrick was capable of it on his own.
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Don’t get me wrong I am all there for the horror stuff. Lore is my favourite thing. I think Kubrick is deliberately doing a bad job of it, because he thinks it’s worthless and it’s just the raw material, as I will now try to poorly explain.
So IS Kubrick good?
It’s difficult to say because I feel like what he is trying to do is relatively unique within film. So many film “auteurs” try to mess with the film arc, whether in terms of time or twists or growing tension but they are still largely faithful to a narrative. Whereas Kubrick is trying to build a ship in a bottle. The ship is amazingly detailed and you get something new from it when looking from difficult angles. But like ship, it’s removed and it doesn’t really go anywhere.
In this metaphor the Overlook Hotel is the ship and the horror story is the bottle. Like, yeah it’s not a great horror film, but inside it there is definitely something horrible. I think the same process is true for 2001 or Full Metal Jacket (Clockwork Orange is just garbage).
It might be possible to synthesise these two elements so they don’t detract from one another, but just as video games are not known for their amazing coherent story, so it’s true for Kubrick Films. I don’t think Kubrick would even apologise for this, it’s not what he is trying to do. I applaud the manifesto approach to film making, but it also has problems.
I really like the feeling of persistence in the hotel – indeed we’ve always been here, and I hope we stay here for ever and ever etc – but it’s amazing for an empty cavern it feels like the ghosts are getting on with their business. Having baths, serving drinks and erm filling elevators with blood. Although why only during winter, what’s a ghost hotel afraid of?
I like that feeling in a film and have this dream of a video game version of Bladerunner (I am aware that this exists) where you have a huge rainy Los Angeles of the future and 2 hours of life in that city and all you do is freely wander around it and let it wash over you. Round every corner there would be a different story playing out, it would be cool (Ok it would be Grand Theft Auto I guess). And maybe secretly one the main problems with Bladerunner 2049 is that it tried to have some sort of plot and it tried to make its characters important to the world they are in. Harrison Ford, living in his own haunted hotel, is the only memorable character because he has this sort of “I had better things to do, and now I have to deal with this” air about him. Every other character is just so desperate to take part in the “movie”. The Bladerunner sequel in my mind was even more ground level than the first one, like Bladerunner meets Clerks, – The All New Adventures of Hannibal Chew’s eye shop. But anyway I guess they didn’t take my calls and now whose laughing?
It’s cool, talking of class/status that in the Shining the main character is a janitor and even the hotel is not that special, it’s just another place that “shines” and apparently there are hundreds and hundreds of psychic people wandering around the world. So many in fact that the fifth person we meet has psychic powers and is not that fussed about meeting another psychic person. Danny isn’t “the chosen one”, he doesn’t pull off some sort of giant thunderbolt attack when he’s finally had enough, he’s at best able to call for help.
And that’s the trick Kubrick pulled with the studio “yes guys, of course it’ll be a horror movie with ghosts and psychics and buckets of blood” “sounds cool who’s the main character? Oh don’t tell me, it’s a former marine who plays by his own rules and must atone for his dark past” “um maybe, although I was thinking recovering alcoholic caretaker with marital problems” “ahaha good one Stanley.”
But here’s a small problem. Bladerunner (the original) was actually beautiful and The Shining is deliberately hard to look at. Even in the new film I would happily have watched Ryan Gosling do anything, but have him walk around cyberpunk Los Angeles, yes please. A chance to go back to The Overlook? Nah, I’m good thanks. The word ponderous is an excellent word and I few like that was what Kubrick was going for, but he’s making something no one asked for or wanted, and he is basically tricking people into watching it. Is that good? Not really. It’s kind of sad. Yes people liked it, but kind of after the fact. Nothing wrong with a sleeper hit, but this was almost designed that way.
Dirty Martini Reviews
As someone who analysed the bar scene of this film in AS film studies, I’ll try not to add a slice of pretentiousness to my opinion of the film. I first watched this film in 2011, I just got home from school and I wanted to watch a film that I could really sink my teeth into. My 12 year old self was amazed at how well this film was able to keep my on the edge of my seat, just by showing a room or a carpet (terrifying stuff really). At this point I wasn’t really a film buff, I knew the technical side, but I didn’t understand what was causing this sense of dread. Fast forward to last year where I decided to watch the extended cut (thanks HMV). This time however I was not faced with the same feeling. This time I understood what was caused these feelings the first time. The Unknown. Those long shots were building up to something, but that something was not clear. Was it a ghost? A demon? Jack Nicholson revealing that he’s the joker? I didn’t know and the more those shots held on, the more terrified I got. I think this is a watch once kind of film, because you’ll never truly be ever to capture that feeling that you had when you first watched it. The story (or lack of) allows the audience to theorise what the hotel means to Jack. Is he a ghost? Is this a never-ending cycle of living in the hotel? As someone who’s never read the book, I am happy with not knowing (presuming the book tells you), as It allows my mind to run with these ideas and imagine a deeper meaning to this film.
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00000000 / Kraken
So – because I’m a fool or whatever I thought that it would be fun / enlightening or something to have a read of The Shining.
I’ve read a few King stuff in the past. I read It when I was a kid in Year 8 and it fucked me up and gave me nightmares which is probably the best thing you could ever hope for with a book – no? Altho the ending was so disappointing (a GIANT FUCKING TURTLE – ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!) that I think it put me off him for a good decade or so. I read Duma Key (for some reason) which was good – but still kinda trashy and ultimately forgettable. And oh yeah – a few summers ago I did the entirety of The Dark Tower (eight books!) just because well – I wanted something epic (and I already knew how it ended so I guessed I wouldn’t be disappointed).
But yeah obviously – even tho I’ve only read a smattering of his stuff – King got his hooks into me a long time ago simply because he’s probably the most popular author of our age and his influence has spread out from his brain like thick oily tendrils into pretty much every aspect of our culture. I mean – I could start writing a list of all of the movies / TV shows that are either directly based on his work or are just heavily influenced by it – but I swear to god – it could take me all day. And of course we all know already what they are. It’s Kings world – and we’re just living in it etc etc.
But yeah – shit. The Shining. Like I mean – I guess that’s the big one right? Like: Sick Boy’s Unifying theory of life in action: everyone knows that Stephen King started off shit hot and then got shit right? So if you want the good stuff you need to try the early albums. And (correct me if I’m wrong) but The Shining is widely regarded as his OK Computer – right?
In the copy of the book I’ve got there’s even an introduction by King himself at the start describing The Shining as his “crossroad novel.” Which is basically the point where an author can coast on their laurels or you know – rise up and/or go deeper (or in his words: “I think in every writer’s career – usually early in it – there comes “a crossroads novel”, where the writer is presented with a choice: either doing what you have done before, or try to reach a little higher’.”) and well yeah: even tho I’m halfway through – I’ve gotta say: so far it’s been pretty fucking good.
Like of course there’s always this strange sorta cognitive dissonance when you’re reading a book when you’ve already seen the film based on it (and to be clear: I’ve seen The Shining a lot: so much so that unlike pretty much every other film we’ve done for the Film Club so far – I haven’t even felt the need to go back and rewatch it even: it’s already been burned into the underside of my mind). But yeah reading the book is like watching a whole bunch of deleted scenes from an earlier version. Where everytime you see the word “Jack” you think of Nicholson and every time you see “Danny” you think of Lloyd and etc.
And I mean yeah – The Shining is a pretty fucking personal book because erm obviously. It’s about a writer. With a wife and kid. And the writer has a drinking problem. And a whole lot of male rage.
(Like I love what Ilia wrote about the underlying forces of “white supremacy, misogyny and class conflict” and that also misses out the whole nuclear family stuff as well (maybe nuclear families aren’t the most healthy system in the world?). I mean – this is kinda a flippant thought – but also not really: but in a sense isn’t Jack Torrance the perfect poster child for #MeToo?)
There’s a Gavin Aung Than / Zen pencils comic called Stephen King The Desk that keeps going round my mind and if it’s ok I’m going to post the whole thing here coz I think it’s totally relevant:
I mean – just going from this: it seems that so yeah – Stephen King used to have a bit of a drinking problem. Which was obviously tied a lot to his creativity. So it doesn’t seem like too much of a crazy leap to guess that he put some of himself into Jack Torrance. Which erm yeah – would also help to explain a lot about the animosity he still seems to hold towards Kubrick’s Shining.
There’s this quote from King that’s a Rolling Stone interview which yeah – kinda says a hell of a lot:
“The book is hot, and the movie is cold; the book ends in fire, and the movie in ice. In the book, there’s an actual arc where you see this guy, Jack Torrance, trying to be good, and little by little he moves over to this place where he’s crazy. And as far as I was concerned, when I saw the movie, Jack was crazy from the first scene. I had to keep my mouth shut at the time. It was a screening, and Nicholson was there. But I’m thinking to myself the minute he’s on the screen, ‘Oh, I know this guy. I’ve seen him in five motorcycle movies, where Jack Nicholson played the same part.’ And it’s so misogynistic. I mean, Wendy Torrance is just presented as this sort of screaming dishrag. But that’s just me, that’s the way I am.”
And hell: I’m sorry – but I guess find this all sorts of interesting. Because I mean – first up that’s kinda the difference between books and movies right there. Because in the book King gets right into all of the reasons why Jack Torrance is the way he is. Like you get his childhood and his relationship with his father. And his previous job and the difficulties he suffers. You meet his drinking buddy. You find out how he got a short story published in Esquire and all of this stuff that happens when you’re going around in someone’s head. And then of course in the movie (because movies don’t really do subjective states unless you’re doing voice-overs or whatever and even then: that’ kinda on the line): in the movie you just get Jack Torrance on the outside. With no explanation. Just the stuff he says. And his actions.
And well yeah – I wonder if that’s the reason why King has such a massive never-ending grudge against the film? I mean: in the book it kinda underlines this thing about how Jack is a victim of circumstance: how everything is out of his control. There’s this kinda bit in the book where it talks about how when you stick your hand in a wasp’s nest – you lose control and you’re no longer a human being and you’re just a wild animal. Which well yeah: it would be interesting to talk to King and find out how much of that he believes – but it certainty gave me the feeling that the book in on his side. That Jack Torrance is a victim of all of this powerful forces beyond his control – his history / the drink / the Overlook and that he’s as much of a victim as anyone. While I don’t think anyone really comes out from seeing The Shining thinking that Jack Nicholson was hard done by – you know?
Which yeah you know: maybe kinda links to this idea that Ilia brought out about The Shining being a super-advanced form of empathy. Altho – I guess where you set the limits of that are up to you? Do you want the book version of Torrance where it’s not really his fault that the monsters got him? Or the film version – where Torrance himself is the monster? Or hell: maybe there’s some place in-between – where the subjective experience and the objective one overlap?
And oh yeah – just to mention: the really fucked up thing about the Zen Pencils cartoon is that when King was “Ship’s Captain in charge of a voyage to go nowhere” – that was kinda when he wrote all of his best work (but maybe that’s something we shouldn’t think about too much?)
i love this ! and the comic at the bottom, NO BIG DESKS! (sung like NO BIG HAIR in malkmus voice from ‘cut your hair’)
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00000000 / Kraken
Upon seeing the movie, Stephen King reportedly said “I think he set out to make a film that hurts people.”
OMG This is such a great line. And basically manages to encapsulate the entire difference between King and Kubrick. And yeah – I’ve gotta say I’m way more a Kubrick kid than a King one.
I finished reading The Shining. It was…. alright? I guess? I mean: the big irony of course is that the big climax of the boiler blowing up The Overlook is that it feels like such a let-down. I mean – isn’t it just so typically American? The end of the day everyone is saved by a big explosion (as opposed to Japan where most of their movies start with a big explosion – hmmmmmm. I wonder why that could be? Thinking face emoji)
And yeah for all of his big talk about scaring people – it’s very interesting how King lets the audience off the hook towards the end when Jack (finally finally) starts chasing his family around with an axe sorry – roque mallet (LOL) he makes sure to underline how it’s very much not Daddy Torrance who’s doing all the Redrumming – but the evil supernatural forces of the Overlook.
Now, somewhere, it was coming for him. It was hiding behind Daddy’s face, it was imitating Daddy’s voice, it was wearing Daddy’s clothes.
But it was not his daddy.
It was not his daddy.
And yeah just to state the complete obvious – Kubrick doesn’t care about that kind of safe distance.
“It’s like a great big beautiful Cadillac with no motor inside, you can sit in it and you can enjoy the smell of the leather upholstery, the only thing you can’t do is drive it anywhere. So I would do everything different. The real problem is that Kubrick set out to make a horror picture with no apparent understanding of the genre. Everything about it screams that from beginning to end, from plot decisions to the final scene.”
Again – this says so much.
Like: the strength of Kubrick’s Shining and what makes it such a compelling film and the reason why people still watch it and think about it and talk about years and years after it was first released is precisely because it doesn’t work like any of the other horror movies out there. It doesn’t do jump scares and crazy monsters and all that stuff. Instead it does creeping dread and finding spookiness in cars driving down roads and women getting out of bathtubs. Yes it does everything different but erm – Stephen – that’s kinda the whole point.
At the risk of driving in a final nail: there’s the end of Stephen’s introduction where he says:
That our better angels sometimes – often! – win instead, in spite of all odds, is another truth of The Shining. And thank God it is.
At the risk of massively over-simplifying and sounding slightly nationalist – I kinda think that the is right here is the difference between the American and English way of viewing the world (and how the stories we tend to gravitate to are different). I mean: yeah yeah Kubrick was born in the Bronx – but he lived out most of his life in England and watching a few Shining Making Of documentaries on youtube last night (don’t judge me) – it seems like he surrounded himself with lots and lots of very typical English people who say stuff like “Gov’ner” like it’s no big deal.
And well – yeah: American stories are (in the main) mostly about making you feel good and believing in the idea of righteous destiny and the continual and inevitable triumph over evil while the stuff that England produces – whether it’s because we lost our Empire or the fact that the weather is (nearly) always a mixture of grey and more grey not to mention the constant weight of the class system bearing down on all our heads means that well – we like films that hurt.
Oh boy. I’ve got Kubrick fever.Did I say I was a Kubrick agnostic before? Coz whoops – seems like I’ve found my faith again and become a true believer.
On Sunday night I finally relented. I mean – seeing how I’d read the book and had been doing all this on here I thought – what the hell – why don’t I just watch the Shining? You know – for the Two Hundred and Thirty Seventh Time. Makes sense right? What’s the worst that can happen? etc etc
It’s funny how things get defined in your mind. Like I think I might have already said this at the top of the thread (please don’t make me reread it): but up until now I always kinda thought of Kubrick as being this really dry and uninteresting kinda guy. The sort of thing that teenage boys are really into because you know – he’s super serious and studious with all of these takes and scenes that last forever because – damn it – they’re making serious philosophical points about like the universe and stuff you know? And well yeah – while that’s a point of view that used to be where I’m coming from: I’d like to think that actually now I’ve kinda outgrown it you know? And my taste in film and art had progressed to a point that it was now a lot more juvenile and fun and less boring and staid.
The impression of The Shining that existed in my before I watched it was that it was super-slow and dull like a snail in a milk float: taking forever to get anywhere. Like yeah – there were good parts: but you had to grit your teeth and wade through all of the yawns to get to them – you know?
But hey you know what – fuck it – I was wrong. The Shining is a really really good film you guys And yeah – wow – this is kinda amazing but every single part is a good part and it keeps finding new ways to be as creepy as hell. Like: right from the start with that helicopter shot and that ethereal witch ritual music it just grabs the knife and sticks it into your bones. And then you get to the hotel and right away – everything just feels off. Like I fell into a bit of an internet wormhole talking about Bill Watson and there’s quite a few different theories as to who he is and what he represents
I watched The Shining probably a hundred times and one of the biggest mysteries for me, still, is who or what the Bill Watson character is. One of the key principles of story writing is simplicity: don’t put a character in a scene unless there’s a good reason for them to be there. If their presence doesn’t move the plot forward, they essentially, become a hindrance to the scene rather than a benefit. Bill Watson, on the surface, is, as you’ve concluded, a pointless character without attributing him with some ulterior purpose.
But shit – I mean: I don’t know if this is just an easy get-out: but I’m kinda of the opinion that his purposelessness is precisely his purpose. In other words: it’s just kinda creepy to have a character there that doesn’t have any reason to be there. This isn’t to dismiss all of the cool crazy Shining theories out of hand (and I’ve gotta say I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t round to talking about the Room 237 movie: because – wow – that’s a whole bunch of stuff right there) but it’s just to say that for me a big part of the coolness of The Shining is how it manages to suggest all of this stuff without ever giving anything close to a proper answer…
Tim said that the thing that causes that kinda Shining feeling when you watch is The Unknown but I’m not sure that this explanation goes far enough. I mean – if anything there’s almost too much stuff that’s known: The Overlook is built on an ancient Indian burial ground, people were murdered inside, Jack might just be crazy, his son has these super psychokinesis powers (plus Tony), there’s all of the mirrors, there’s something in Room 237, “I’d sell my soul for a drink” – what’s cool about this is that there’s almost a kinda over-determination happening in terms of the freaky stuff. There’s not just one thing you can put your finger on – there’s enough for both hands.
I few months ago there was a new book that came into our Library that I saw sitting on our New Books display. It’s called Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece by a guy called Michael Benson. I think if it had a picture of the Monolith or the Star Child on the cover I wouldn’t have bothered – but the fact that it had Dave Bowman in floating in HAL’s brain room (oh wow all that red) made me intrigued so I picked it up and borrowed it and took it home. It’s kinda just been sitting there a while – but now with all this Shining stuff Kubrick has been bouncing around my brain and so I thought I’d maybe start reading it a bit (seeing how I finished The Shining and all) and yeah – wow – I’ve got Kubrick fever (and kinda wanna spend three weeks talking about 2001 because – shit: that film has a lot to talk about anyway – but even more once you start to read about how it all came together in the first place).
Like: the really crazy eye-opening part for me is how much of 2001 came about through accidents and other ideas from other people. Like the mechanics of the spinning set wasn’t Kubrick’s idea: it came from the set designers. Dave Bowman and Frank Poole discussing HAL in the pod came from Gary Lockwood and the idea of HAL reading their lips came from someone else. Even the design of the monolith was a bit unexpected (Kubrick originally wanted it to be a clear pyramid – but it was easily to make the Plexiglass into a monolith shape – and then when it came through (they built a clear monolith first) it looked rubbish – so they decided to make it black instead). Which isn’t to say that – oh yeah: well – I guess this just shows that Kubrick wasn’t a genius after all or whatever: But instead the opposite: like I think being open to people and being able to tell a good idea from a bad one is actually the coolest thing of all (it actually kinda reminds me of the stuff I’ve read about how Kanye West works – which also seems pretty cool: and the idea that a collective mind can be more powerful and more interesting than a single one is an idea that I really love: which you know is why I’m in a band and why the LGNN Film Club and Book Club is open to everyone that wants to take part in it etc etc together we’re stronger and can go further and all that).
But yeah – reading the Space Odyssey book – there was one line in particular that leapt out at me which Michael Benson attributes to Kubrick:
There were three factors to consider in every film: Was it interesting? Was it believable? And, was it beautiful or aesthetically superior?
Which OMG I think are now just my three new guidelines to just about everything. Altho I guess mainly just in terms of how well yeah art works and what kind of effects you want it to have on you… And yeah ok I mean I guess you can talk about other aspects of how a piece of art is supposed to work and what kind of experiences you want it to give you – but in terms of meticulously trying to get a grasp on the whole strange weird cool process: it feels like this take you closer than most – no?
Watching all of these Shining documentaries and the reading this 2001 book the word that people keep using to describe Kubrick is “genius” (which feels like a word that’s much more fraught now than it used to be) – but the one that I much prefer is “intelligence.”
A few weeks ago I found this very cool interview: Kubrick on The Shining An interview with Michel Ciment (I was trying to find out why Room 217 was changed to 237) and yeah reading through it I was just proper like “oh wow” at how fucking intelligent Kubrick sounds. And not like in a posturing way like he’s trying to show off or showboat or whatever – but just in the stuff he says: it’s interesting and insightful in all sorts of different ways and it’s all so concise that it feels like it’s been written down and edited rather than spoken aloud.
Just stuff like this:
A story of the supernatural cannot be taken apart and analysed too closely. The ultimate test of its rationale is whether it is good enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. If you submit it to a completely logical and detailed analysis it will eventually appear absurd. In his essay on the uncanny,Das Unheimliche, Freud said that the uncanny is the only feeling which is more powerfully experienced in art than in life. If the genre required any justification, I should think this alone would serve as its credentials.
Among a great many other things that chess teaches you is to control the initial excitement you feel when you see something that looks good. It trains you to think before grabbing, and to think just as objectively when you’re in trouble. When you’re making a film you have to make most of your decisions on the run, and there is a tendency to always shoot from the hip. It takes more discipline than you might imagine to think, even for thirty seconds, in the noisy, confusing, high-pressure atmosphere of a film set. But a few seconds’ thought can often prevent a serious mistake being made about something that looks good at first glance. With respect to films, chess is more useful preventing you from making mistakes than giving you ideas. Ideas come spontaneously and the discipline required to evaluate and put them to use tends to be the real work.
Words can not properly describe how much I love this. And I don’t know – you guys tell me – but being submerged in all this Kubrickness just makes me feel – where the hell are all of the intelligent directors nowadays? Like: nowadays the big budget popular film-maker is Christopher Nolan who I mean – I guess he’s ok – but he’s basically ersatz-Kubrick and yeah: nowhere near as smart as he seems to think he is. Like: I guess Tarantino maybe? Altho he’s only really smart about movies no? And Paul Thomas Anderson is just totally yawn. I mean: like I know the popular definition of Kubrick and the one that was in my mind back when we started this was that he’s Mr Po-faced but reading the 2001 book I was like: oh wait yeah – this guy made Dr Strangelove. Which you know: is a comedy. So.
But yeah. Shit. I feel like I’ve only just got going and haven’t even said half the stuff about The Shining that I wanted to. (Dang).
Wish I could keep going forever… and ever… and ever.
Barbican Comic Forum
Kubrick as the “intelligent” director.
So the received wisdom is that there is a golden age of cinema which ended somewhere in the mid 80s, or for some people in 1977, or whenever Jaws came out. Let’s not forget those BFI dickheads who vote the Third Man as best British film year in year out.
It’s obvious a ridiculous notion which is like your dad telling you the best band will always be the Beatles. But then we do have to deal with this nice case study which is the release of Kubrick’s 2001 in the late 60s which combines sci fi with arthouse credentials, and the release of Aliens in the mid 80s, a film which is commonly agreed to be one of the best films of all time but is a rollercoaster ride not “art”. Yes I’m gonna pointlessly say Aliens is not “art” in the same way 2001 is art – if I’m not ascribing a value judgement to which is better can anyone really disagree with that statement?
But anyway here’s the kicker. 2001 made more money than Aliens and was cheaper to make. The uncompromising Kubrickian cold space epic which raised questions about what it means to be human and made you sit through painfully long psychedelic warp sequence makes better business sense than Aliens, a film which is impossible not to enjoy. And yet while everyone (except me) loves 2001, they’re making Alien movies.
And so how did we diverge from the “intelligent, or thoughtful cinema that used not only get made, but would fill cinemas? You can see where the nostalgia comes from when even gangster movie Godfather is a peerless masterpiece, where a sports movie like Raging Bull is a searing treatise on masculinity. But instead now we have rollercoaster ride after rollercoaster ride. I loved Avengers, but it has more in common with pro-wrestling than the Godfather, and sure they make a $billion, but they cost half a $billion to make.
So it’s fair as to ask, as Joel (sort of) does: Where did all the Kubricks go?
Except that they didn’t go anywhere. Kubrick made films in the 90s and they sucked. Frances Ford Coppola, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, John Carpenter, and yes even Stephen Spielberg carried on making film are film which, excepting Jurassic Park, range from “pretty good I guess” to “meh” to “what the fuck happened to you John Carpenter?” Has Scorsese really made a good film since Goodfellas?
But there were also still brilliant newer directors in the 90s, although interestingly Fincher, Tarantino, Besson, the Coens, the Wachowskis are also pretty hit and miss now too.
So yes, something has happened to the film business I think but I’m not sure it’s that smart directors aren’t getting through. Maybe it’s the opposite, as suggested, that the story of the brilliant genius director is a myth that has subjugated the great supporting production teams that created the Millennium Falcon, the Nostromo, Discovery One. The films of the past, were huge artistic collaborations which means even train wrecks like Dune are highly memorable because the design was breathtaking. Instead because of this idea of the “genius” all that creativity has been dumped on some poor chap (yeah it’s should be noted women directors have been pushed into the background this entire time) who is expected to create the whole movie in his mind and where do we end up – cannibalism of properties from the 60s and 70s. Would anyone like a new universe? No let’s just try remaking Alien one last time despite the fact it came out almost 40 years ago, because yeah that HR Geiger design is so good you could serve it as food.
To bring it back to The Shining, it tells the story of that change in the industry. If any area of film is having a Renaissance right now it is horror. But say what you like about them, you could take a still from The Shining and confidentially put it next to any of them because whatever else he was doing Kubrick was playing a different game when he made the Shining. Even at the time he knew he was gaming the system, making his ship in a bottle by using the horror genre film as a subterfuge to get past the strictures of the movie industry do something else.
Apologies for the thousand typos in this 😦
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