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Million Dollar Movie

Mark Jacobson on the new Kubrick documentary:

After Strangelove, the canon was filled in. There was The Killing, from 1956, in which Kubrick reconfigured time to stage a racetrack heist and had Vince Edwards tell Marie Windsor, “Don’t bug me, I got to live my life a certain way.” There was Tony Curtis, talking like Sidney Falco/Bernie Schwartz as he washes Laurence Olivier’s back in Spartacus. And, of course, there was James Mason’s Humbert Humbert shooting Clare Quilty in the boxing glove and telling Dolores Haze of the “great feeling of tenderness” he has for her. But how could anyone have predicted the transformative experience of 2001? Four straight nights, we lay on the carpet between the first row and the screen, staring up into the Light. When it was over, the usher peeled us from the floor.

Which brings us up to The Shining, which, like so many Kubrick fans of my vintage, I lined up to see the night it opened at the now-torn-down Criterion Theatre in old, scuzzy Times Square.* Barry Lyndon had been an oil painting. But The Shining augured so much more. Pre-Internet rumors had been circling for months: Kubrick, holed up in his English mansion, had ordered forklifts of books delivered to his file-filled study. He read the first few pages of each book, groaned, and threw it against the wall with a thump. A huge pile of discarded material grew, a dozen feet high or more. Then the thumping stopped. The master had found his new vehicle: a Stephen King horror story set in a haunted hotel. Brian De Palma had a hit with Carrie; King was hot. Bemoaning that for all his success he had yet to make a film that had “done blockbuster business,” Kubrick pounced. Aesthetically, it made sense—a Kubrick horror picture, a return to the reliable genre chassis, one more opportunity to merge the high and the low in that seamless wiseguy way.

Except it sucked. For the Kubrick fan, The Shining was like watching Roger Corman on Robitussin, a 16-rpm Fall of the House of Usher, some classroom chunk of faux-Pirandello absurdism. Among my ilk, the verdict was that the great Stanley, egghead avatar of Cold War cool, had gone terminally corny midway through A Clockwork Orange, halfway through the “Singin’ in the Rain” scene. The Shining seemed the final nail in the suddenly square-shape coffin. It was a rough year for the heroes of youth, with Bob Dylan born again, Muhammad Ali finished, and now Kubrick.

I mean, “Here’s Johnny!” This was supposed to be funny?


1 BobbyB   ~  Mar 25, 2013 1:30 pm

Fascinating article. Hard to believe that Stephen King didn't like Kubrick's adaptation but King is a Redsox fan which speaks volumes about his tastes. I still think it's one of the scariest movies I've ever seen whatever it's subtext.

2 Alex Belth   ~  Mar 25, 2013 2:25 pm

It is creepy as hell.

3 Chyll Will   ~  Mar 25, 2013 3:18 pm

Classics often take some years before they reveal themselves as such, so whatever.

Not that I put it on the same shelf, but the effect that The Blair Witch Project had on me after mercilessly ridiculing it throughout watching was classic. My buddy and I did not sleep a wink that night because we were terrified by every single shadow, wind and creak we saw or heard, not to mention the notion that one of us would creep into the other's room and scare the living shyt out of him!

4 The Hawk   ~  Mar 25, 2013 3:55 pm

Great movie, and a terrific example of the power of not being subtle.

Stephen King not liking it as adaptation is understandable from an ego point of view as it departs from the book considerably ... and improves on it considerably, as well.

5 RagingTartabull   ~  Mar 25, 2013 4:26 pm

my only criticism of the movie, and I love the movie, is right from the very first scene you can tell Jack is batshit crazy. It's never a real leap from "mild mannered Jack Torrance" to "axe murderer Jack Torrance"...just that part where he's talking about the Donner Party. He's goddamn terrifying there! And that's like 2 minutes into the movie!

6 The Hawk   ~  Mar 25, 2013 7:17 pm

[5] Yeah I believe that was a real bugaboo for King too, and I get it in principle, but it just seems right to me anyway. Maybe one good thing is you never get into a moment where you're not buying the transformation. The idea that evil is already in him and just needs to be pulled out is not bad. Also just in terms of vibe, it sets up creepiness from the get go, which helps with the unrelenting dread thing.

7 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Mar 25, 2013 8:54 pm

Amazing film. The Big Wheel sequences are just mad, and the two little girls still terrify me. 'Come and play with us, Danny..' Yikes!!!

8 Boatzilla   ~  Mar 25, 2013 10:15 pm

Easily one of my top 20 movie experiences of all time, and I've scene it at least 20 times.

[3] Blair Witch? Sorry, but IMHO that is one of the worst and least scary movies I have ever seen. Absolute garbage. I can't understand how that trash moved even one single person. I would have walked out, but I don't walk out of movies.

9 Chyll Will   ~  Mar 25, 2013 11:38 pm

[8] Oh don't get me wrong, I hated the movie and it was straight garbage, but I like the subconscious effect it had on me after watching it. The reaction I had was classic, not the movie. The second one completely killed off any kind of potential it may have had going forward.

10 Boatzilla   ~  Mar 26, 2013 6:49 am

[9] Interesting. I was always surprised that a movie (and other movies) could have such a profound effect on some folks and literally nothing (in my case) on others. And I am quite impressionable. I go to movies hoping to be knocked out.

Thanks for your intriguing response. Maybe I should see it again...uh oh we gots and oith quake...(that's the truth...always like to report as I am feeling the shakes.

11 Chyll Will   ~  Mar 26, 2013 7:37 am

[10] Good luck with that, last time we had an earthquake was 2009 I think; I was working on a movie and the truck I was on started bouncing like someone was jumping on and off the tailgate. The only reasons I knew it was an earthquake was because someone later asked, "did you feel that?" and because my cell died quick, fast and in a hurry. Weird.

To get the maximum effect from BWP, watch it on a big screen at night in the dark. That helped with the creep factor. There were only a few genuine moments of creepiness (particularly around the end), but that was enough for the whole audience to feel it when we saw it.

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