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?