Tag: The Shining

Watching The Shining In the Time of Trump

Watching The Shining In the Time of Trump

This evening, thanks to TCM and Lincoln Square Cinemas, I caught The Shining on the big screen for the first time. Though I’ve seen the picture dozens of times over the years, seeing it in a theater gave me a new appreciation for the impact of the steadicam, and just how frightening Jack Nicholson can be when his face is twenty feet tall.

I also thought about how I see this movie in the age of Trump. I won’t do a lengthy close reading. I’ll just lay out the film’s story as it seemed to me tonight, my head full of the themes and tropes of Election 2016.

A middle aged white guy with a wife and kid goes for a job interview at a hotel that caters to the 1%. He hopes very much to fit in and be a part of the hierarchy of the place, even though the job they offer him, winter caretaker, is pretty low. His alcoholism has led him to abuse his family in the past. He’s given up the bottle, but he resents the guilt that his wife and son make him feel for his past violence.

A month into this man’s job at the hotel, his wife ends up doing all his work to support him while he wrestles with his writer’s block. His son is seeing visions of terrible things in the hotel, but his supernatural guide assures him these things aren’t real. The man is also seeing visions, but lacking a guide to explain the situation to him, he takes them to be genuine, and he likes them because they appear to put him in positions of power. He loves the hotel, he tells his son, and wishes they could stay there “forever, and ever, and ever”.

Eventually, the man’s son succumbs to his curiosity about the forbidden room 237, and one of the visions attacks him. He escapes but is traumatized. The man’s wife accuses him of abusing their son again–a logical deduction. The man, enraged not only at being accused of something he didn’t do but at being reminded of his guilt for things he did do, heads to the hotel bar, where a phantom waiter invites him to drink. The man doesn’t question the phantom because he’s giving him what he wants, and under the influence of imaginary alcohol, he pours out his hatred of the mother of his child and lays claim to having to bear the “white man’s burden”. This vision is interrupted by the man’s wife, who comes to tell him that there’s a “crazy woman in one of the bedrooms”.

In the meantime, the son sends a black man the visions of his father entering Room 237. At first, the man’s vision is one of a Penthouse Letters-style male fantasy: he walks in on an attractive woman in a tub. She gets out of the tub, gives him a come-hither look, and they kiss. Only when the man looks in the mirror does the man see he’s kissing a rotting corpse.

The man flees the vision, but lies to his wife about it. When the wife suggests that they need to get their traumatized son away from the hotel, the man, sensing that his connection to the hotel and its power structure is threatened, berates her, storms from the room, and winds up in the ballroom at a lavish white-tie-and-tails party, a party where he appears to be a welcome guest.

A butler spills drinks on him, and in the bathroom, while cleaning him up, tells him that his son has been in touch with “a nigger” who threatens to disrupt the unfolding situation. The butler also explains that he’s “always” been the hotel’s caretakers, and that the butler has also “always” been here. This suggests the prize the hotel offers to the man, a paradise in which the past is permanent, white male supremacy is forever assured, and guilt over abuses to family members is erased under the euphemism of “correcting” them. The price of admission to this nostalgic paradise: the violent deaths of the man’s wife and son.

And so, the man decides to cut the hotel off from outside aid. When his wife comes to question him, he tries to kill her, but she hits him in the head and locks him up. The specters of the hotel taunt the man with the idea that his wife might be cleverer and more resourceful than he, which is sufficient to drive him to his final, murderous rampage. He finds an axe, uses it to chop through the locked doors to his family’s quarters, and pauses only because the African American cook’s snow cat pulls up to the front of the hotel. The man stalks the cook through the hotel, ambushes him, and kills him. The man’s son screams, starting a chase that leads out into the hotel’s hedge maze. The son outwits his father, escapes the maze, and joins his mother. The son and the mother escape as the man freezes in the maze, screaming “DON’T LEAVE ME HERE”. The man freezes to death, only to reappear, possibly in evidence of his rebirth, in a photograph of the hotel’s 1921 July 4th party, where he stands forever, in a jacket and tie, among “all the best people”.

I see the man of our story, Jack Torrance, as a Trump supporter. The spirit of the Overlook Hotel is Trump, a gilded fraud dangling booze, naked chicks, and phony promises of restoring a white male supremacist past to someone whose life circumstances make him a sucker for nostalgia. Jack hates the idea that anyone, much less a woman or a child, should make him feel guilty for his past abuses and longs to be in an environment free of that. The past, when men supposedly dominated and even “corrected” their families without need of explanation or apology, offers that environment. He’s a powerless man who wants to be connected to the power structure, to feel like he has a chance to move up in it by dint of his “work” and “moral or ethical principles”. This is the promise the rich have been dangling to the middle class and poor forever, without delivering. And Jack rages when the needs or actions of others (particularly women or people of color) threaten his shot at advancement. For Jack, the hotel is salvation. He believes in it fanatically, and if a blood sacrifice must be made to it to grant him his salvation, there’s nothing he looks forward to with greater pleasure.

Wendy, Danny, Dick Halloran are just struggling to either bring Jack to his senses or contain the damage he does to himself, mainly because they want to keep breathing, but also because the past the Overlook shows them, however attractive to Jack, holds no charms for them. Certainly none worth taking an axe in the chest for. Dick Halloran is unlucky, but Wendy and Danny survive and get what Jack will never have, and probably never wanted: a future.

 

 

 

42 Since ’71 (Part 1)

Julia Sweeney, she of Saturday Night Live and Letting Go Of God, describes a fun idea for a best movie list in her latest blog post:

I went on a Mike Leigh bender during May – I’ve seen all those films before, but it was lovely to see them again. Topsy Turvy is one of my all-time favorite films.  The audio commentary by Leigh is just delightful, almost as compelling as the film itself.  Nakedis so dark, so disturbing, and so beautifully shot – it’s such a mind-blower.  Topsy Turvy – is this my favorite modern film?  It might be.

When I say modern, to me that means a film made after 1959, the year of my birth. I have a plan that I hope to execute in the next months, on this website. I want to list and describe my favorite 59 films made before 1959.  My favorite films made in 1959 (which happened to have been a spectacular year for film: North by Northwest, Anatomy of a Murder, Rio Bravo, Some Like it Hot, Floating Weeds – to just name a few!  Then I was going to do this too: My Favorite 54 Films made after 1959.  (Why 54? Because I’m 54. Then I’d add one every year…) And then a few top-top-top lists and a favorite.  I’ve been noodling with my choices for over a year, but I haven’t organized them to post – yet…

In a comment, I told Julia I’d have to steal her idea and do my 42 favorite films since 1971 (the year of my birth). I’ll follow this with my favorite 42 films made prior to 1971, and my five favorite films of 1971. (Even in Hollywood’s best year, I’m not likely to find more than five to ten films I can classify as favorites.) Julia encouraged this theft, so here we go.

My favorite 42 films made after 1971 (in no particular order, in case you were wondering):

1. The Godfather

We almost have to begin here. There’s no way to talk about the last half century of cinema without talking about The Godfather and its sequel, The Godfather Part II. It’s a family saga, an immigrant’s epic, a meditation on the morality of capitalism, and a playground for the best American actors of their generation. It resurrected the moribund career of Marlon Brando, and it introduced us to Al Pacino. It even changed the way mobsters talk. Not bad for a pitch Mario Puzo gave to Robert Evans so Evans could justify giving Puzo $10,000 to pay off his gambling debts. Most important to all of us, three hours with this film feels like thirty minutes of most others (or 1.37 seconds of any given Michael Bay flick). That’s how entertaining The Godfather is.

2. Chinatown

I debated whether I should go with this one or Nicholson’s other post 1971 triumph, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But even though I admire that picture, it comes in second behind Roman Polanski’s tale of corruption and greed in ’30s era Los Angeles. All mysteries end with the villain unmasked and order restored, but few have the guts to leave the unmasked villain in charge of that order.

3. The Conversation

When Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather proved to be an unexpected smash hit, Paramount wanted a sequel. So Coppola made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. In addition to a car and a pile of money, Coppola wanted financing to do any movie he wanted. The movie he wanted to do: The Conversation. It’s a thrilling story of paranoia and surveillance all based on a seemingly simple question. Did the people that Gene Hackman’s Harry Caul was bugging say “If he knew, he’d kill us” or “If he knew, he’d kill us.”? Is Caul listening to potential murderers or potential victims, and is his wealthy client either their target or their hunter?

4. The Godfather Part II

Often called the best sequel of all time, The Godfather Part II deepens and broadens the story of the Corleone family, linking the tale of Don Corleone’s rise in America to his son Michael’s efforts to keep the family business strong fifty years later. Most movies have two or three good scenes. This movie has dozens, from the kiss of death to Kay’s abortion revelation,  from Senator Gehry’s extortion threats to Fredo’s last trip in the boat, from the first shot of the empty chair to the last shot of Michael, graying, sitting alone in wintry desolation.  The movie is an extraordinary look at how the system that fueled Don Corleone’s rise and sustained his wealth also led to the physical and/or moral destruction of his sons. The price of The Family is his family.

5. Network

To watch Network is to watch a work of supremely gifted comic insight. Paddy Chayefsky, the peerless satirical mind behind The Americanization of Emily, wasn’t a prophet, but he could certainly see what television was becoming, and how it could serve the interests of soulless hustlers whose only skill was taking any genuine emotion and molding it into something that can turn a quick buck. A key quote:

Diana Christensen: Look, we’ve got a bunch of hobgoblin radicals called the Ecumenical Liberation Army who go around taking home movies of themselves robbing banks. Now, maybe they’ll take movies of themselves kidnapping heiresses, hijacking 747s, bombing bridges, assassinating ambassadors. We’d open each week’s segment with their authentic footage, hire a couple of writers to write a story behind that footage, and we’ve got ourselves a series.

This was satire. Now, in TV, we do it for real.

6. Superman: The Movie

Much as I adore the cynical, satirical films of the 1970s, I also love Hollywood’s attempts to repackage a feeling of innocence and common purpose for an audience jaded by Vietnam, the Kennedy and King assassinations, and Watergate. Star Wars was one example of this, but though I look upon that movie fondly, as time has passed I’ve grown to like Superman better. Of the two, Superman has the more literate script, the deeper emotion, and a star in Christopher Reeve who truly commanded the screen. The part of the Man of Steel was thought to be impossible to cast, but in Reeve they found someone who could not only recreate the icon, but making him modern and relatable. That no one has really pulled this off since in live action is a testament to Reeve’s performance.

7. The Spy Who Loved Me

The best of the Roger Moore Bond pictures and still my favorite of the Bond movies made in my lifetime, The Spy Who Loved Me was, like Superman and Star Wars, an attempt to repackage the idea of a common purpose during a divisive time.  James Bond has to team up with a Soviet agent and the U.S. Navy to stop a rich lunatic from using captured nuclear submarines to ignite World War III. The movie boasts the best opening Bond stunt (the ski jump off a cliff), the best villain lairs (Atlantis and the Liparus), one of the best cars (the Lotus Esprit submarine), and the best villain’s henchman (Jaws).

8. Tootsie

How do I love this movie? Let me count the ways. I love the scene where Bill Murray’s playwright character spouts drunken pretentious bullshit at a party: “I don’t like it when people come up to me after my plays and say, ‘I really dug your message, man.’ Or, ‘I really dug your play, man, I cried.’ You know. I like it when people come up to me the next day, or a week later, and they say, ‘I saw your play. What happened?'” I love Michael Dorsey’s arguments with his increasingly impatient agent, (played by Dustin Hoffman and Sydney Pollack) “You were a tomato! A tomato doesn’t have logic! A tomato can’t move!” “That’s what I said! So how can a tomato sit down, George?” I love how when Michael Dorsey becomes Dorothy Michaels, he not only learns how much bullshit women have to put up with just to get through the day, but he realizes just how much bullshit he’s put women through. And I love the reveal. It’s magic.

9. The Shining

The Shining is one of the rare horror movies that scares you more the second time you see it than the first, and even more each subsequent time. I can understand why Stephen King didn’t care for Kubrick’s adaptation. King looked at the story of Jack, Wendy, and Danny and saw a metaphor for alcohol’s corrosive effects on the family. Kubrick was more interested in examining a man whose desire to lose himself in the past compels him to try to murder his present. In Kubrick’s formulation, that Jack seems mentally unbalanced from the beginning is beside the point. In the early scenes, Jack seems to fit life poorly because he’s trying to be something he isn’t–a decent modern man. The hotel seduces Jack into murder by offering him the prize of the life he really wants, one where, yes, he’s a servant of the toffs in the tuxes, but he can still swill free whiskey, abuse his wife and kid, boink the occasional guest, and use all the racial slurs he likes without consequences. Booze isn’t the real intoxicant offered to Jack Torrance in The Shining; it’s white male privilege.

10. The Empire Strikes Back

Of the six current Star Wars pictures, only this one gets my unreserved admiration. Star Wars was a triumph of production design and special effects, and the charm of its lead actors managed to elevate Lucas’s often incredibly corny dialog. (Honestly, a cocky pilot who insists on calling the movie’s only woman “Sister”? No one had done that in a movie in 30 years, for good reason.)  Still, it wasn’t Empire, which brought much better writing (thank you, Lawrence Kasdan) and a much more interesting approach to Darth Vader to the proceedings. (Even Han Solo’s sobriquets for Leia got an upgrade. He stopped calling her “sister” and instead referred to her by the wittier nicknames “Your Highnessness” and “Your Worship”.) Kasdan and Irvin Kershner fill Empire with thrilling set pieces which tie together into a narrative that enriches the Star Wars universe without ever bogging it down in exposition. (I’m looking at you, prequels.)

11. Raiders of the Lost Ark

When it comes to wish fulfillment fantasy, it’s hard to beat one that ends with the Nazis getting their faces melted off by the Ark of the Covenant. Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas teamed up with Lawrence Kasdan to both pay homage to and hugely surpass the adventure serials of the 1930s with Indiana Jones, a character who is compelling at least in part because he is a spectacular failure. Unlike 007, who always wins and gets the girl without sustaining so much as a bruise, Indiana Jones takes endless, cut opening, skin bruising, bone crunching beatings in his efforts to grab or hold on to objects that are constantly slipping from his grasp.  In Raiders, Indy never actually wins the Ark of the Covenant. Once he finds it, the Nazis take it from him. He chases after it and gets it again. Then he loses it, again. He chases, tries to bluff the Nazis out of it, and fails. Finally, after the Ark kills the Nazis off, we think he’s got it, but he loses it again, this time to Army Intelligence, who lock it up in one of the most famous parting shots of the 1980s. Harrison Ford’s Indy may be a loser, but he’s a brilliant, indefatigable loser whose defeats I never tire of watching.

That’s it for part 1. Part 2 will be all about disco, lonely gunmen, heroin, hot Brooklyn days, and the Holocaust.

UPDATE (8/2/2014): Here are links to the other three parts.

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

So Over It Contest #14: Dedication Edition

Once again, no winners for our previous contest. You’ll be kicking yourselves when I show you the picture from the front.

Hi. I have an appointment with Mr. Ullman. My name is Jack Torrance.

This is the Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood. It’s long been famous for its skiing and scenic beauty, though many remember it better because Stanley Kubrick decided to cast it as the Overlook Hotel in his 1980 horror classic The Shining. (If you go, don’t look for a hedge maze out back. Kubrick duplicated the rear of the hotel at Pinewood Stuidos in England, adding the hedge maze for story purposes. Also don’t expect the interiors to look the same. The interiors, particularly the lobby and Colorado Lounge sets, were based on a different National Park Service lodge: the Ahwahnee Hotel at Yosemite.)

On to the next contest. The location below was dedicated on this date, eighty years ago, by the President of the United States. Name it first and win signed copies of Dismantle the Sun and Blood Promises. Good Luck.

Screen Shot 2013-04-07 at 2.14.08 AM

The Worst Book Cover Ever

Only yesterday I was making a few suggestions about what the Summer of Long Knives cover should be. Basically, I suggested a theme and left it at that. The cover artist didn’t tell me how to write the book, so I think it’s fair that, a few general concepts aside, I let the man do his job. (He designed the cover for Dismantle the Sun, which you can see everywhere on this blog, so I feel safe.)

I’d feel less safe if I heard the guy who designed the following cover for the Brazilian version of The Shining was assigned to my cover (from Publisher’s Weekly):

I guess someone didn’t read the book, or see the movie, or see the Simpsons Halloween Special parody, or LIVE DURING THE LAST THIRTY-THREE YEARS, because this cover tells you nothing, absolutely nothing, about what The Shining is about, or even that it’s a horror novel. In fact, the cover is so off that, if I saw this at the airport in Sau Paulo,  I’d have to ask, “You mean THAT Stephen King and THAT The Shining?”

I’m reminded of a story Sidney Lumet tells in Making Movies:

I once made a picture called “The Hill”. It’s a good piece of work. It’s the story of a British prison camp during World War II, but the prisoners are English soldiers who’ve gone AWOL or been caught selling black market goods or have committed any other crimes while in uniform. It takes place in the prison, located in the North African desert. It’s a tough, hard movie, never leaving the confines of the camp except for one quick scene in a cafe and a minor scene in the commandant’s bedroom. Physically, it was as tough a picture as I’d ever made. By the end, I was exhausted.

 

Long after the ordeal of making it was over, I went to the distributor’s office to look at the opening day ads. It consisted of a full-page drawing of Sean Connery, mouth wide open as if screaming in rage. Above his head, in a “thought balloon” right out of the comics, was a drawing of a belly dancer. Don’t ask me why. Was he angry at the belly dancer? But there was more. Across the top of the ad, in big white letters, the copy read, “Eat it, Mister!” I couldn’t believe my eyes. Even if it had anything to do with the movie–and it didn’t–it made no sense. It was blatant insanity.

 

That night at dinner, I literally burst into tears.

I’m glad to have my cover artist. I really am.

What’s the worst cover you ever saw?