REDRUM and All That Jazz

ImagePerhaps re-reading The Shining a week before staying at The Stanley Hotel is not the wisest thing to do. I’m only 90 pages in and I’m already having aural and visual hallucinations in my apartment. I can’t imagine what will happen in the place that inspired Stephen King to write the novel–a place that delights in selling ghost tours and K-meters and Redrum mugs.

I’ve always been a complete chickenshit. My brother — my younger brother — can attest to me sleeping with covers over my head and often asking if I could climb into bed with him, after stupidly reading something about Bigfoot (the mean version) or Satanic possession and/or surviving a conversation with Pentecostal cousins who insisted all my TV and rock music was a one-way ticket to hell.

At least I don’t sleep with my head covered anymore. Not very often at any rate. Okay, not when it’s really hot and Cara’s here to protect me.

Also, at 90 pages in, I can see clearly why King talked so much shit about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining over the years — in fact right up to the point that, consumed with hatred for it, he decided to produce his own version and to secure the remake rights, Kubrick forced him to sign a contract saying he’d shut up about it already.

Me? I wouldn’t have shut up. Look, my contrarian streak doesn’t extend to movies. If a movie is good–whether it’s commercial or artsy–I’ll give it thumbs up. Hell, if it’s bad in a good way, I’ll give it thumbs up. But if it’s crap? Sorry, it’s crap. “Crash” from a few years back? I didn’t think it was absolute trash because so many supposedly smart people in New York and the Academy of Motion Pictures heaped it with praise. I thought it was trash because it was horribly written–“deep thoughts” as thought by an 18-year-old stoner.

I’m not saying Kubrick’s The Shining is trash. What I’m saying is that as an adult, seeing it all the way through for the first time recently, I didn’t think it was the epic horror movie of all times that it’s often made out to be. Being an adult–or at a certain stage in life–is, of course, crucial to your perception of a book or movie. If I’d seen Rudy when I was in high school — as a short kid at a Catholic school (that used Notre Dame’s fight song) pining to play football — I would have hailed it as art and would likely still watch it frequently. Instead, I saw it a few months ago and, man, it was so hokey I was just about ready to pull my left foot out and turn myself about.

The Shining seems to be liked by a great number of people who saw it as kids. And film critics. And technical movie geeks. This all makes sense. The movie, what with the screeching score–you know, the sort of heavy-handed THIS MOMENT IS SUPPOSED TO BE SCARY thing other directors get slapped for–and the rivers of blood and DADDY WITH AN AX would scare the crap out of a child. Ninety-eight percent of movie critics are contractually obliged to love Kubrick. And the movie is chock full of amazing technical advancements. The steady-cam shot following Danny on his tricycle is worth the price of admission and Kubrick is always good at setting a mood.

But the fact is I found myself almost laughing at the quick-cut back to Nicholson’s frozen face in the bushes. And the casting of of Shelly Duvall and Scatman Crothers made absolutely no sense–especially considering that Kubrick was so unhappy with her line delivery that he’d driven her to an actual nervous breakdown by the end of shooting. But her line delivery wasn’t nearly as bad as Crothers. Loved him as Hong Kong Phooey, but I’ve seen better delivery in a porn. (Then again, when your writer/director is ripping up the script and rewriting lines the minute before a shot–something some people see as mad genius, something others might see as being an unprofessional asshole–maybe it’s hard to inhabit a scene.)

But all that’s forgivable. What isn’t is that there is no emotional heart to Kubrick’s The Shining. There’s no character arc. Jack Torrance shows up at The Overlook already established as an alcoholic jackass teetering on the edge. His wife is already freaked out. His kid is already crazy. 

And that’s what drove King crazy. Sure, the novel version of Jack has struggled with drinking, once broke his kid’s arm and actually lost his job because of a temper issue. But it’s very clear he’s a loving and devoted father. He loves that kid. And Wendy isn’t a complete dishrag. She’d almost left him that one time. And Danny doesn’t talk to his finger. He’s got this shining thing that he’s just discovering how to use. In the movie, when they arrive at the hotel, all is already lost. In the book, the Jack and Wendy swell with hope that they’ve put the past couple of very bad years behind them. Then it starts to unravel.

That makes a huge difference. Listen, directors are free to monkey around with novels. Hell, David O. Russell took The Silver Linings Playbook and changed the ethnicity and name of the main character, changed the exact nature of his mental illness, played around with the ages of the characters and some climactic moments. But it was still in the spirit of the novel.

Kubrick took an emotionally layered story and gutted it. He went with what he called “archetypes” and made something that is often fun to look at, sometimes scary, but completely lacking in heart (which is very Kubrick, I guess).

This is not to say that I’m dying to see the miniseries produced by King. I’m sort of curious, but there are a lot of elements in a King book that don’t translate well to screen and King’s usually not the best at translating them. He’s too literal with his own work. (Perhaps Frank Darabont should be the only one allowed to do it.) I stumbled across this piece by Stephen Gallagher offering a detailed comparison of the two versions. He found Kubrick’s lacking, but the miniseries was simply weak. (He also gets at the trouble of converting King to film.)

Would I watch Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining again? Sure. Why the hell not. As a movie, it was okay. Pretty to look at. Full of little easter eggs and supposedly deep symbolism. As a story, it wasn’t much.

The novel, on the other hand, is giving me nightmares.

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