King's Highway pt. 50: The Shining (the movie)

The last blog (KH49, The Great Lost McBlog of 2012) was supposed to be the foundation-stone for this and the next one; I'd defined-my-terms so I wouldn't have to keep defining them, I'd referenced the relevant quotes, I'd parsed the reviews for the direct-quotes-to-which-I-planned to respond... tough to reconcile myself with having to do it all over again.
But, You go back, Jack, and do it again.
This may be a little on the long side. Don't forget to change your jacket before the fish and goose soiree...

Much has been written about this film (here's a great review, one of thousands out there), and even more about Kubrick-the-man/ Kubrick-the-auteur. Additionally, much ink has been spilled by King fans who seem to view the book-vs-film discussion as their own personal Roe v. Wade. I'm not going to get into any of that. Frankly, a) it's stupid. This isn't a case of "Everybody Comes to Rick's" vs. Casablanca, or more specifically to Kubrick, Burdick-and-Wheeler's Fail Safe vs. Dr. Strangelove. Both the novel and the film are well-recognized masterpieces. b) It may be instructional to discuss how they differ (and I don't dispute this) but there are enough side-by-side comparisons and reviews out there that I feel no need to add my voice to that chorus, and c) I'll save King's specific criticisms of the film for next time, as they definitely inform my personal bias against the mini-series.

And as if all the above wasn't enough, there are so many different interpretations of the film that they warrant their own film (Room 237). So, what I'll do here is just focus on only two of the interpretations.

Before I get to those, a couple confessions: 

Kubrick is my favorite filmmaker, and The Shining in particular is one of my favorite films. Let me get that bias out in the open straight away. Much has been made of Kubrick's alleged "coldness," lack of human empathy, over-cerebralness, etc. Reviews of The Shining in particular mention this often, but one finds the same reaction to most of his other films, as well. I've confessed my bias, sure, but... give me a break.Kubrick's work is filled with deep emotion. If you failed to be moved by the end of Paths of Glory, when the German girl (Kubrick's eventual wife, incidentally) is thrust onto a table and bullied into singing for the French soldiers and whose simple, innocent song shames the crowd, or by the tortured cries of Private Pile after he's savagely beaten by his platoon-mates and the one friend he thought he had in Full Metal Jacket, or by Alex's improbably heartwrenching post-rehabilitation eviction from his parents' flat in A Clockwork Orange, or by the bedside father-and-son moments during the latter's death in Barry Lyndon, or the comeuppance of the title character, or by roughly three-dozen other such moments from across his films, there's little chance you'll identify any which filmmakers are "cold and cerebral" and which ones aren't.

Anyway, there is more speak-directly-to-your-soul emotion in The Shining via musical-choice alone than there is 90% of other movies. Literally, 90%! I've done the math.

Another of my biases is towards the casting of Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance.

I'll get into this more next time when I address the casting of Steven Weber and King's reservations, but let me just say that this is one of my all-time favorite performances, ever.

Granted, so's Bruce Campbell's in Evil Dead 2, so take it with a grain of salt, if you must.
Consider this, as recounted (among many other places) here:

"Stephen Spielberg tells a story about talking to Stanley Kubrick about The Shining. Spielberg felt that Jack Nicholson went over the top. Kubrick asked him to name his top five greatest actors. Spielberg named people like Spencer Tracy, James Stewart, Clark Gable and Cary Grant. Kubrick noted that he hadn’t listed James Cagney. Spielberg realized this was true and Kubrick pointed out that even though Spielberg liked Cagney he didn’t consider him to be in the top five greatest actors of all time. Kubrick did and it’s why he doesn’t consider Nicholson’s performance to be too much. It made sense to Spielberg and does to me too."

When I defend Nicholson as an actor to my friend Alex, whom I bring up only because we talked about this over pitchers of beer for like three hours the other night, he always counters with Gary Oldman. I love Gary Oldman; Gary Oldman's the man. But to expect a Gary-Oldman-like performance from Jack Nicholson is like expecting Wade Boggs to pitch a no-hitter. Different actors, different approaches. And although I don't think much of Nicholson's acting after a certain point in his career, when he was on, back in the day, he was on.

As Good As It Gets, while certainly not terrible, is  from that period of Jack's output of which I don't think too highly, but it's absurd not to notice Nicholson's spot-on portrayal of a man with OCD-symptoms. Yes, he's playing Jack Nicholson. He's also playing a spot-on man with OCD.
Take this bit of physicality of Nicholson's performance in The Shining, as one of many examples:

After being accused of hurting Danny, Jack storms off down the hall...
As Ager points out in his analysis (which I'm getting to) nearly all of the ghostly-interactions Jack has are accompanied by mirrors or reflective surfaces. In this sequence, Jack's reflections in the mirrors as he walks by them is immediately followed by...
spasms of physical anger. He is clearly exhibiting the classic body language of someone in denial, disgusted with himself.
I defend wholeheartedly the casting of Nicholson as Torrance, despite many opinions to the contrary. (Not the least of which is King's, himself.) Personally, I agree with Kev's:

“As early as the opening line – “Jack Torrance thought, officious little prick.” – Torrance comes across as adversarial. He is a damaged man whose deep flaws have damaged others. A recovering alcoholic, Jack is given to fits of temper and rage; addiction seems less a cause than a symptom of his deeper character issues… Alcohol is not necessarily a trigger for these outbreaks, merely an accelerant.”

And as Karina Wilson writes: “There have been many literary portraits of drunks, but it’s unusual to see a dry drunk in all his glory. Jack’s a textbook case: full of anger, denial, self-pity, blame, grandiose ideas of his worth to society, and prone to secrecy, self-isolation, and blaming others for his failure, all without a drop of liquor having passed his lips in fourteen months.”

So, to the charge that the audience identifies Nicholson as wackadoo/violent too early on, I can only say, verily again and again, the barely-restrained-rage/simmering-anger is self-evident to me from the novel's first chapter. It's compartmentalized in the film, but it's not a mistake.

You can take issue with the absence of last-minute-redemption in the book ("Go. And remember that I love you." before smashing his own face to smithereens with the roque mallet) - actually, take issue with whatever you like, of course. Go forth and blog the gospel. But for me, the death of Jack in the film is as engaging and mythological (perhaps even moreso) as it is in the book, and I have little reservation with the changes made. That said, I can certainly understand King's being upset at the omission of his carefully-constructed backstory/ motivations for Jack Torrance in adapting the novel to film (all the stuff with his Dad is gone, the agonizing over his beaten-former-student, etc.), but it is simply incorrect to say the character changes all that much. Different flavors of the same cola. 

One last thing - go up to anyone and say "Heeeeeeeere's Johnny." (Go on. I'll wait.) Ask them where it's from/ who said it. Most people answer "Jack Nicholson, The Shining." Not that it really proves anything, but it's telling of how deeply Nicholson's performance has permeated the collective unconscious. As some-review-I-read-but-lost-to-the-Blogger-ether pointed out, Ed McMahon said that (his catchphrase/ introduction of Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, for those young'ns in the audience) roughly a million times, night after night; Nicholson said it just once.

Okay, so on to the two interpretations I wish to discuss. The first is Rob Ager's "Gold Room" analysis. It's worth watching all 4 parts of, trust me (and quite fun), but I'll summarize:

1) The film, like Cronenberg's Naked Lunch or the Coen Brothers' Barton Fink, must be viewed as a story-within-a-story. What we see is partially the story of the Torrances at the Overlook and partially the imagined-story within Jack's novel, or both, as mixed-as-metaphor-for-writers block.

This is most-explicitly expressed in this next shot, where we see Wendy-and-Danny "emerging" from Jack's typewriter:

It's an intriguing idea. As he notes, the original draft of the screenplay - as seen in the Kubrick archives - ends with a close-up of the Overlook scrapbook, where Jack's story is laid to rest, and an unidentified hand closing it. Suggestive, to be sure, but does this alone prove the whole thing is or was at-least-once-conceived-as a story-within-a-story-within-a-story?

Ager argues that many of the continuity errors throughout the film are also meant to convey this. I forget who said it, but when a hack makes a continuity error, it is proof of their hack-ness; when a great artist like Kubrick does, then verdammt, it must be a clue.

I don't necessarily buy this. While Kubrick's meticulous attention to detail is a legend in the industry (and for good reason), I'm of the opinion he was not a perfection-machine. Even 2001 was the result of a five-year ongoing collaboration; he preferred to find the subtext in the filming-of-it. So, I don't see disappearing chairs in the background or mismatched carpet-colors to indicate anything other than what Jan Harlan (frequent Kubrick collaborator) said when asked about them:

"Kubrick, he explains, was always intent on pushing the form, on leaving the work open to multiple interpretations, like the French impressionists or the Cubist painters that went before. 'A straightforward horror film was not what interested him,' Harlan insists. 'He wanted more ambiguity. If he was going to make a film about ghosts, he wanted it to be ghostly from the very first to the very last. The set was very deliberately built to be offbeat and off the track, so that the huge ballroom would never actually fit inside. The audience is deliberately made to not know where they're going. People say The Shining doesn't make sense. Well spotted! It's a ghost movie. It's not supposed to make sense.'"

That may be too glib for some, but to me, it fits Kubrick's approach. (Incidentally, a disappearing-blue-sweater in 2001 is referred to on-screen by an intercom voice-over. Ager uses this as evidence that Kubrick would in no way not be aware of any continuity errors. I tend to agree, but I see Harlan's explanation, above, as more probable.)

The second part of Ager's theory is that the entire film is a metaphor for monetary history of the twentieth century, something a) definitely happened "offscreen" or hidden away from surface-level-history, and that b) Kubrick was unarguably interested in/ knowledgeable of. (There is some fun evidentiary support for this in Michael Herr's Vanity Fair piece on Kubrick, something Ager curiously doesn't reference.) He devotes considerable screen-time to said history. I won't get into it, but to back up this point, he references the famous photo that closes the film:

In Ager's view, the man with his hand on Jack's arm is "undeniably" Woodrow Wilson...

(aka the President who signed The Federal Reserve Act into law) You tell me.
Ager seems to identify several other financial luminaries in the photo, such as Benjamin Strong; apparently, the architects of America's shadow government are all hanging out with Jack in the Gold Room. These personages are visual indicators (i.e. things puzzle-makers insert into their puzzles to encourage people they're on the right track) to the audience that what we're seeing here is Jack (i.e. America's) seduction by a financial apparatus above and beyond all laws of man or charity.

"You are passionate, Mozart," says the Emperor in Amadeus, "but you do not... persuade."
I'm quite entertained by this view, but ultimately, I'm not convinced. Even if the people in the photo are who Ager says they are, what of it? The Overlook has hosted "all the best people," from celebs to Presidents to rich folks of all variety, both in the film and in the book. He goes into this much more than I am, here, and for all I know, he is 100% correct; if indeed the people in the photo are who he says they are, it certainly does suggest Kubrick is saying something about the personalities involved in unleashing what G. Edward Griffin describes as "The Creature from Jekyll Island," i.e. the Federal Reserve.

Your money's no good here, Mr. Torrance. (But your credit is excellent.)
Further to Ager's read are the shifting physical parameters of the Gold Room, indicating the deception over America's gold reserves:

But I think Harlan's explanation about deliberately playing tricks with the viewer's perception re: its proportions, etc. covers this.
and the "Midnight, the Stars, and You" song, which accompanies Jack's joining-the-party in the Gold Room, as well as over the final reveal that he has been subsumed into the Overlook:

"Midnight and a rendezvous" - referring to the top-secret trip to Jekyll Island to hammer together what became known as the Federal Reserve system, "your eyes held a message tender," i.e. tender=currency, and "saying I surrender..." loss of American sovereignty over its own monetary supply/ gold reserves.
As mentioned above, Kubrick was well-known for coming-at-a-topic in such a roundabout way. Strangelove and Lolita most particularly; the former can be read as the farce of male sexual anxiety (as can Eyes Wide Shut, but much more Freudian-ly, although this is an essay/ discussion-over-pitchers for another time) and the latter (both in the film and in the Nabokov novel) as the intellectual-European's "seduction" by this young, nubile language/ perspective, i.e. English. (Don't take my word for any of this, by any means; I certainly didn't, when these ideas were first floated by me.)

All of that said... I think this is a bit of a stretch. Also, it doesn't quite line-up with how Kubrick revealed to be approaching The Shining, i.e. as his "mainstream" film. I'm not saying he didn't put in any such subtext; I am saying, though that if he did, it's odd no trace of it exists in his archives, where he provided volumes of evidentiary support for all of his work. (Even his never-made work, like Napoleon.) What exists in the archives for The Shining is Jack's scrapbook, which does indeed detail various goings-on of the banking class of the Jazz Age, but no real "I was trying to talk about the Federal Reserve" smoking-gun.

In other words, there's some party here...

but the guests have all gone home. If you're into this sort of thing, though, here's another one. Like The Shining, The Wizard of Oz lends itself well to multiple interpretations.
The second interpretation I'd like to discuss is Bill Blakemore's theory that The Shining is about the murder of Native Americans and the consequences of that murder for the American psyche.

"If you are skeptical about this, consider the Calumet baking powder cans with their Indian chief logo that Kubrick placed carefully in the two food-locker scenes. (A calumet is a peace pipe.) Consider the Indian motifs that decorate the hotel, and the way they serve as background in many of the key scenes. Consider the insertion of two lines, early in the film, describing how the hotel was built on Indian burial ground.
"Not only is the site called the Overlook Hotel with its Overlook Maze, but one of the key scenes takes place at the July 4th Ball, (a date with) particular relevance to American Indians. That's why Kubrick made a movie in which the American audience sees signs of Indians in almost every frame, yet never really sees what the movie's about.
"Ullman says, 'The site is supposed to be located on an Indian burial ground, and I believe they actually had to repel a few Indian attacks as they were building it.' This bit of dialogue does not appear in Stephen King's novel.
"The film is about how the all-male British military establishment, itself forged in bloody empire-building, passed on to its offspring continental empire, the United States, certain timeworn army-building methods... yet we never meet an actual Indian. But we do get to know, and like, and then see murdered, a powerful black character, Chef Hallorann,, the only person to die in the film other than the protagonist, villain and victim, Jack. The murdered black man lies across a large Indian design on the floor, victim of similar racist violence.
"As manager Ullman says in the opening interview, 'It's still hard for me to believe it actually happened here... but it did.' The type of people who partied in the Overlook included 'four Presidents, movie stars...' 'Royalty?' Wendy asks. 'All the best people.' (Ullman responds) King's novel has nothing to do with any of these things."
"We never hear the rushing blood (that gushes from the elevator shaft). It is a mute nightmare. It is the blood upon which this nation, like most nations, was built.
White man's burden, Lloyd, white man's burden.
"As the credits roll, the soundtrack ends, and we hear the 1920s audience applaud, and then the gabble of that audience talking among themselves - the same sound the crowd of moviegoers itself is probably making as it leaves the theater.
"It is the sound of people moving out of one stage of consciousness into another. The moviegoers are largely unaware of this soundtrack, and this reflects their unawareness that they've just seen a movie about themselves, about what people like them have done to the American Indian and others.
"The opening music, over the traveling aerial shots of a tiny yellow Volkswagen penetrating the magnificent "West" wilderness, is the "Dies Irae." (i.e. REQUIEM)
"At the end of the movie, in the climactic chase in the Overlook Maze, the moral maze of America... in which we are chased by the sins of our fathers ("Danny, I'm coming. You can't get away. I'm right behind you.") Danny escapes by retracing his own steps (an "old Indian trick") and letting his father blunder past." i.e. (Bryan again) You are the caretaker here; you have always been the caretaker here...
"The Shining is explicitly about America's general inability to admit to the gravity of the genocide of the Indians - or, more exactly, its ability to "overlook" that genocide."
It's a fun theory. (Well, as "fun" as anything looking genocide square in the face can be) But does it work?

My problem is mainly with its inaccuracy. Kubrick didn't invent the "Overlook" as the name of the hotel. The novel (as discussed in the blog lost in the Phantom Zone) can be read as an overlook of personal alcoholism ("I was the guy who wrote The Shining and didn't realize I was writing about myself," King says in On Writing, something which should not be taken to indicate Jack Torrance is a stand-in for King-the-author, but as an externalization of King-the-father's fears? Probably.) but also the father-murders-child myth of countless-origins/ losing-control/ anger. Also, King might not mention Indians but the "Do you see the Indians in this picture?" motif is used more than once when describing how the ghosts may or may not be there. 

Additionally, to Blakemore's charge that the "all the best people" bit was invented by Kubrick, that is not so; the Overlook as indicative of a certain 20th-century-American-character is explicitly mentioned by Jack in the novel.

(Also, is "covering your tracks" really an old-Indian-trick? I'm pretty sure I've seen it elsewhere, in stories well-predating Columbus. The Minotaur from Greek Mythology, to name but one.)

The tying together Indian massacres with American racism thing, though, does provide a satisfactory frame around one particular image of the movie, which was Kubrick's invention:

A shot I've never been able to explain to myself satisfactorily, although it could just be color-coding. (No pun intended)
You get the idea. So, while ultimately I feel both theories above are not quite kosher, they are fun to think about. Personally, I agree with James Smythe's review in The Guardian: "(Both the novel and the film) are stories about hidden evil emerging when the snow sets in; when a family is isolated and broken, and when a man with buried darkness finally collapses and becomes what he was always, inevitably going to be."

"Symbolically," writes Kev, again, "the Overlook's preoccupation with its violent past mirrors Jack's destructive personality. Mistreated as a child by his father, Jack is unable to break the cycle of anger and abuse. (His) discovery of the hotel's scrapbook allows him to wallow in the hotel's past without being aware of its hold on the present, or is effect on his son; the scrapbook becomes a clouding addiction as destructive as his own alcoholism."

The mini-series (God help me)


  1. I see all the spacing/ format/ font errors, but after my last experience trying to correct them, I'll just live with them!!

  2. Well, it's funny I guess. I guess if you take the Kubrick side, that must make me the Spielberg, Darabont side.

    I'll save my remarks on the miniseries because quite frankly I don't what they'll be without a review to think about, no need to give spoilers here though.

    In comparing the book to the film, though...

    First, some artistic first principles. Stephen King has a quote from novelist Frank Norris (who's had a brush with Hollywood himself in the form of Eric Von Stroeheim's "Greed") which goes, "The Book is the Boss." In other words, story is what matters, all else is bells and whistles.

    I think that's a key sentiment when it comes to judging book or screen. My second first principle is, of course, Jung's theory of archetypes.

    A final principle is probably most important. I don't know what it is about the film that gets people so much into it, yet if I had to guess it would be both the look and technique of how it was all filmed.

    That may be all well and good (Kubrick is a great cinematographer) yet what we're talking about there is one of the bells and whistles. Maybe it's because I'm naturally introverted, but I long ago stopped paying much attention to the visuals of any film, even great ones, and focus more on character and story.

    I believe even the dullest shot film can be great provided it's story holds true and the cast knows it. Case in point, there's not much fancy camera work in Godfather, yes the lighting and color are great, yet it's the characters and story that bring people back, not how the Godfather's office looked.

    To be continued.


    1. Continued from last post.

      That said, the only character in Kubrick's film who at least is trying is Nicholson, yet he doesn't give all there is. He portrays "part" of the character, not the whole, which I actually believe he could have pulled off if given a better script and direction.

      Which brings up the question of emotion. The problem here is what standard you use.

      The greatest two hours of performance I've ever seen on film came from the small, not big screen. It was Patrick Mcgohhan and Leo Mckern going crazy and taking on the establishment in the two part finale of The Prisoner.

      Is it my benchmark for what should be seen in a performance, well, maybe not as much as I might believe. Brilliant as it is, thinking back on it, I seem once more to esque it all in favor of character and story (and believe me, if you've seen the original Prisoner you know it's a story with characters that bear pondering). All of which reestablishes the idea that how a character is written and not so much performance is what matters as a conviction, at least for me.

      In working this out, maybe it's the way Kubrick wrote the character rather than Nicholson's performance that's lacking. I sure as hell know Duvall isn't any help in the story, and again maybe writing is more to blame than performance, the truth is she's given so little to work with that it's hard for me to say anything except the same goes for young Danny Loyd. So maybe a good equation for this film is underwritten = underplayed.

      Of all the actors, Nicholson is given more to work with and hence gives more of a performance, yet it's not enough, for me anyway. I always get that sense that something's missing, and I wonder if King thought of it in similar terms. Vito Corleone wouldn't be half what he is, Brando or no, if the story hadn't been so great after all (and if that's hard to believe, look at some of the bad stuff Brando has done).

      Still, this is just two cents, another quibble is the idea of the archetypes the performers are supposed to embody. On this theory, the closer they are to the archetypes, the more the film works.

      I'll come back to this.

      Be seeing you.


    2. I appreciate your perspective, Chris. I disagree, in this case (as is probably obvious from my blog itself) but of course, these are just my two cents, as well. I don't want to write another blog in my reply, here, so let me just offer these final words and then happily cede the floor.


      Well... no offense, but I'm not sure if this makes you not a very reliable film critic. Maybe "reliable" is wrong, but limited, really. How can you accurately judge a film like The Shining if you're not paying attention to the visuals? The visuals are essential-biology-of-the story-organism for a film like The Shining. At any rate, I'll respectfully disagree - the characters in Kubrick's version embody the archetypes flawlessly, from this viewer's perspective. So, I can't say it's fancy camera work vs. story; it's more of mastery-with-the-camera bringing-out-the-story, to me. The Godfather is one of the most beautifully-shot films in American history, to be sure; it wouldn't necessarily be improved by moving the camera around alot. (Probably would be tarnished, actually) But it's also a story with different preoccupations/ different archetpyes, if you will; the movement of the camera in The Shining IS, I'd say, half-the movie.

      Tho you'll get no argument from me on the brilliance of The Prisoner. Emotional-alienation/sudden-lashing-out-from-"cabin fever" (tho in this case it's the conformity of the British establishment that acts as the winter/ the Village that acts as The Overlook) is also an ongoing theme of that series, as well. The Leo McKern/Six scene you describe is practically impenetrable to most people. (I recall it being on once and my wife actually getting angry at me for watching it, haha - it just doesn't work for most people. I am, happily, one it DOES work for. For me, it's satisfyingly mind-warbling, and it serves as a great penultimate episode.) The Prisoner is groundbreaking, challenging, brilliant, but it's practically inaccessible to all but the most dedicated film-fan. Kubrick is much more immediate.

      As for "the book is boss," frankly, that's a recipe for disaster when making a movie. A book's plot/ characterization MUST be expressed in different ways, and that's where a master like Kubrick (vs someone like Garris, who we'll get to next time) has an edge in knowing how to transcribe such things into camera-movement, mis-en-scene, musical cues, and getting-the-performance-the-scene-needs-to-sing-the-subtext (hence his much-discussed "hundreds of takes.") So, with all due respect to King/Norris, they're simply mistaken; a book and a movie are not just apples and oranges, they're apples and Buicks.

      As I wrote, I can totally understand King's reaction, and I have sympathy for it. I disagree with his take on the movie (and will get into that more next time in discussing Weber), but I can understand. However, his "rebuttal," once we finally saw it, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Kubrick was, actually, correct. But, next time.

      I didn't mention the performances much (besides Nicholson's) but I enjoy both Duvall and Lloyd, particularly as representations of Wendy and Danny. I've read a lot of anti-Duvall-ness, but it rings a false note with me. (the "anti," not her performance) Could just be personal taste, of course; they are, at the very least, exactly what they're supposed to be in Kubrick's mise-en-sene.

    3. Aw crap, my quoted-section didn't come through. The part of your reply I was quoting was this:

      "That may be all well and good (Kubrick is a great cinematographer) yet what we're talking about there is one of the bells and whistles. Maybe it's because I'm naturally introverted, but I long ago stopped paying much attention to the visuals of any film, even great ones, and focus more on character and story."

    4. p.s. re: Kubrick side vs. Spielberg/Darabont side. I'm a big fan of all three!

      Hope I didn't come across as too contrarian in my response or anything, I just happen to quite-pointedly disagree on these things for The Shining. But, as with all these things, the world/ King-fan-community is certainly big enough for all these perspectives/ philosophies, and more.

    5. Anyone who is purposely not paying much attention to a movie's visuals is ... well, let me be kind and say that they are doing it wrong. That'd be like looking at a painting and purposely ignoring the use of color.

      Or listening to The Beatles and purposely ignoring Paul's bass lines. I get that that can be done, but why would anyone actually do it? And why would they expect me to take their opinion on "Drive My Car" seriously?

      I simply don't have the time to respond to the post in as detailed a fashion as I'd like, but here are a few bulletpoint observations:

      * On the charge that Kubrick's movies are cold and emotionless: false. Kubrick's movies are Rorschach tests of a sort, and they reflect back the emotions the viewer brings to them. "2001" is one of my absolute favorite movies, and it's because every single time I watch it, I'm bringing with me my fundamental -- and considerable -- awe for the notions explored within the movie. I saw the movie when young; did it create those notions in me or merely reflect the notions already present? Beats me, and it doesn't matter.

      * Nicholson may or may not be over the top here. Let's say, for argument's sake, that he is. What he's doing up there is so interesting that ... why in hell would anyone want him more restrained? Sure, a great movie could be made wherein Jack was portrayed in a more (for lack of a better word choice) realistic fashion, and probably will be someday. Who cares? That doesn't make THIS performance any less awesome.

      * That Woodrow Wilson thing is just stupid. I'm a big proponent of reading things into movies, and books, et cetera, but there has to be basis in the text for that reading. The Woodrow Wilson reading is unsupportable. I mean, hey, if that's what someone gets out of it, more power to them, but to me, that's the sign of a deranged mind. Same for the Native American thing. Readings like that are made by people who are not interested in story; they are interested in politics, or psychology, and want to impose their interests on a text. They then subtly bend the text to make it fit their views. They annoy me quite severely. They should be corrected.

      * The shot of Scatman with the naked lady painting above him is not actually that hard to explain. What do you see? You see an old man lying, fully clothed, all alone in bed, watching television (I think -- don't quite remember if he's watching tv, but I think he is). The painting indicates that at some point, he was ... fill in that blank however you wish. The important thing is that the painting is a very passionate sort of statement, whereas what you see from Scatman lying listlessly on the bed is the very antithesis of passion. Basically, what I get from the shot -- apart from endless amusement -- is that Dick Hallorann is simply not the man he used to be. This might explain (a bit) why he is so willing to run off at a moment's notice to help people he barely even knows.

      So many thoughts, so little time.

    6. I have a bit more patience for the alternate-readings than you do, it seems, but ultimately, I agree. I have fun looking at films through various lenses/ interpretations, and those two are backed up by the film in interesting ways (the Native American massacre one moreso) but, again, it's just not "there."

      Still! As a parlor game, it's fun. For me, anyway. (I like "they should be corrected," tho - well-played, Mr. Grady.)

      Agreed on Nicholson and particularly Kubrick/emotion. It blows my mind when people find Kubrick's work "cold." I covered only a few examples, but his work is just profoundly emotional.

      As for Scatman, I hear ya, I just think it's such a weird shot in context of the film, so my brain tries to find a way to tie it into the themes.

    7. It'd be hard to NOT have more patience for those readings than the amount I've got, for the amount I've got is virtually nonexistent. Some topics turn me into a grump, and that -- which reminds me of pretentious discussions of terrible poems in college lit courses -- is one of them.

      Somewhere out there is a man who is convinced -- convinced, I say! -- that "A Clockwork Orange" is a metaphor for Kubrick's feelings on the Volstead Act. This man deserves to get flat tires on a monthly basis.

    8. All kidding aside, tho, you are correct. I very-much-appreciate Kubrick's above-board ambiguity and - as Harlan puts it in that quote - "Cubist" approach to filmmaking. He leaves his work open to multiple simultaneous interpretation. But all too often people mistake the forest for trees (or sometimes, not even trees, but pet-agenda-paper-mache-recreations.)

      I tried to sketch out where Ager and Blakemore were coming from without "tipping my hand," i.e. I ultimately disagree with their takes. But, such things can be fun, too. I'm someone who enjoys it, anyway.

    9. Such theories on "The Shining" definitely abound. They ARE interesting, no doubt; I just don't have the patience for them. I've got plenty of patience for them, though, in the context of a blog post like this one; as long as there's somebody standing between me and the lunatics, it's all good! ;)

  3. Okay, as much as I hate to admit it, it's true. I can't tell Paul's from John's baseline to save my life. I know George's part, but that's only cause I found out he's lead guitar. I am not proud of this.

    Back on topic.

    First off, thank God for honest thought. Second, contrarian? Aucontrare, quite the contrary in fact.

    As for the visual's of a story...well i have some thoughts prettym uch if not entirely workd out. I'll save this for the miniseries report.

    I will say I am a fan of Kubrick (paths of Glory and Strangelove in particular) and Woody Allen, even Allen's later period is okay by me.

    I do still wonder how much psych typology might play in the judgement of a book or film (I say there's no fundamental difference between the two but leave that for the proper entry).

    My question here being whether introverts or extraverts review a film from two different standpoints determined by their bio-typological make up. If so, does that count as personal taste? If so that may be a problem, as I believe taste has no place in aesthetic judgment, good and bad art being objective facts.

    Still, next time...

    I will say this about The Prisoner, I've since run into a certain type of moviegoer/book reader who I think of as literalists. These are people who often don't understand that fiction and real life are not the same thing, with virtually no correlation between how fictional characters act and how people behave in real life. These are people uncomfortable with more abstract films or symbolism, the type who can't enjoy something if it's not easily explainable in some fashion....

    It just occurs to me to hope I don't sound like I'm being overly critical of say, certain significant others, CAUSE THAT'S THE LAST THING I'M TRYING TO DO, NO SIR, NOT ME.

    Anyway. It takes a certain expanded mind to get shows like Prisoner.

    And I got to thank Bryant for summing up what I have to say about looking for too much in films. I got the gold and Native American theories beat. Some guy on the wiki entry for Kuckbrick's Shining says te film is about the Holocaust.

    Such tastelessness deserves no comment to dignify it.

    Of course I don't ay nothing against looking into the sub-text, technically that brings up another part of my future response. All I'll say here is I do it as much as anyone. Hell, I know this one guy on a Prisoner website who makes a pretty convincing (to me) case that a key word spoken (Die Six, DIE!) is the only time you hear the series real villain speak his only line.

    More I'll not say, that would be telling.

    Be seeing you.


    1. "That would be telling," nice!

      I used to own the 3-disc Prisoner soundtrack and listened to it an awful lot - wish I still had. I should probably try and track it down. Out of context, the music and bits-of-dialogue are quite mind-bending.

      Yeah I saw the Holocaust theory... I haven't watched all of Room 237, which summarizes many of the theories floating around out there, but just wanted to tip my cap to two of the more creative ones. The Native American massacre one gets an extra thumbs-up from me - not that I agree with it but because Blakemore at least made a sound effort to use the film-text to support it. Ager's bends the text a little (read: a lot) more... so does Blakemore, of course. He misidentified some things, for one, as Kubrick's invention and not King's.

      Meh - either way. I disagree with both their takes, but I do enjoy their attempts.

      "It just occurs to me to hope I don't sound like I'm being overly critical of say, certain significant others, CAUSE THAT'S THE LAST THING I'M TRYING TO DO, NO SIR, NOT ME."

      I'm telling my wife! :-)

      I fear you may not enjoy my blog on the mini-series! (Spoiler alert: I really kind of hate it.)

      Still, these are all great comments, and I very much appreciate them.

  4. Chris C. is indeed a terrific commenter. I don't always agree with him, but that's no prerequisite!

    Mildly related topic: I've never seen "The Prisoner." I need to fix that.

  5. Speaking of the Beatles, I've always thought Paul McCartney is a damn underrated bassist. His prowess as a songwriter and those golden pipes of his tend to overshadow how much those bass-lines rock. That bass-line to "Rain," alone, is just genius, just as one example, but even his "simpler" parts are such perfect and essential parts of every Beatles tune. Don't want to sound like Dana Carvey's (admittedly hilarious) impersonation of Sir Paul, but the way he "bops" when expected to "bip" is a musical education all of itself.

  6. Thanks for the comments and double thanks for bringing up the Beatles cause I just remembered the perfect Xmas recommend.

    Meet Jeff Walker. Who's he you may ask? Oh he's totally bat-plop insane. It comes with territory. You have to be insane in order to write a book called:

    Let's put the Beatles Back Together, 1970-2010.

    I swear I'm not making this up, here's the amazon link:

    It takes a certain kind of crazy not only to come up with such an idea, but also to outline an entire alternate history timeline in which the Beatles become a musical collective band, the fab four revolution that never was if you will, complete with fictional manager named Arnold Zonn (later SIR! Arnold Zonn).

    Yeah, this guy's has really gone into it, even divided these post sixties Beatle releases along series volmumes like that Black Box (Black Album) series and the Moondog series.

    I don't know whether to applaud or not, all I know is Walker's arranged whole tracks taken from what are deemed the best of all four individual band member's albums and spliced them into Beatles records,AND DAMN IF THE BLOODY IDEA ACTUALLY DOES WORK!

    All I can do to persuade here is to take a leaf out of Walker's book.

    Here's a set list from a page in the book.

    Go listne to the following Beatle songs in the following order, see what difference it makes and report back:

    Mccarteny: Ballroom dancing (extended version, type this last in).
    Harrison: Love comes to everyone.
    Lennon: I'm losing you (Cheap Trick backing version)
    Harrison: Set on you
    Lennon: Move over Ms. L (rehearsal version)
    Mccarteny: Cafe on the left bank
    Lennon: Cleanup time (stripped down version).

    Yeah, it's all crazy, but a darn good listen. The irony is how good the book is, it even make a pretty persuasive case, it even reveals how the only thing the made the band split up was greedy managment, and how their post sixties attempts at a reunion were blocked by what I can only describe as the original rock and roll comedy of erros from hell.

    Not that I'm bitter about that. This book even explains why so much of Sir Paul's output is...let's say wanting. The reason surprised even me.

    Think of it as something for Xmas.


    1. Interesting! I THINK a friend of mine had this and read it at one point, I'll have to ask him.

      Tho if I'm being honest, Paul's is my favorite of the post-Beatles' output. He had many stinkers, but many gems, as well. I'm used to being the only one who thinks this, trust me...

  7. Fun review of Room 237: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/8508523/documentary-year

    "You can't just watch Shakes the Clown 300 times and decide it's a metaphor for the Khmer Rouge"

    Oh, give me time...