Archive for Room 237

Lost in Time and Lost in Space… and Meaning

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2013 by dcairns

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I was impressed by a shot in Adam Curtis’s free-form documentary found-footage mash-up IT FELT LIKE A KISS in which Doris Day closes a hotel room door in our face and the room number on it is 2001. Curtis uses this to evoke thoughts about the events of 9:11 and the more innocent-seeming world we dream existed before that act of unscheduled demolition opened the  war on abstract concepts. I became convinced that it might also be possible to draw connections between Kubrick’s film 2001 and the actual events on September 11th of that year. If, as ROOM 237 shows, THE SHINING can be bent this way and that to support an apparently unlimited range of unrelated theories, surely the even more open text of 2001 can act as a lens through which to view events which were still in the almost-unimaginable future when Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke conceived their space odyssey?

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Kubrick begins with a desert landscape populated by aggressive cave-dwellers. Al-Qaeda? Racist to conflate arabs and ape-men, but in a way we’re only following the racist logic of much media reporting to see where it leads. 2001 begins with a land that doesn’t need to be bombed back to the stone age because it’s already there. The simians are visited by a shiny rectangular artifact, which we’ll spuriously claim represents the Twin Towers. Gazing at it in awe, they are inspired to discover weapons and kill.

Of course, the connection between apes and the World Trade Center is really made by the DeLaurentiis KING KONG, in which Kong scales one of the towers before leaping to the other, driven by some primal urge (he apparently relates the towers to a geographical feature of Skull Island). Attacked by helicopters, Kong (like the 2001 man-beasts, an uncredited actor in a costume) is shot down. KING KONG is directed by John Guillermin, who had considerable skyscraper experience, having just made THE TOWERING INFERNO. Thus Kubrick’s film, without containing any shots of large-scale destruction, calls to mind the events of 9:11 in a variety of ways in its very first sequence.

In Steve Bell’s newspaper strip in The Guardian, entitled If…, George W Bush was always portrayed as a simian. And IF… is also the title of the film starring Malcolm McDowell which got Little Malcolm the lead role in CLOCKWORK ORANGE. (CLOCKWORK ORANGE can be seen as a black parody of 2001: a barbaric savage is reprogrammed by a higher power. In both cases, the primitive being is shown a film accompanied by German classical music — Moonwatcher the apeman perceives this with his mind’s eye, whereas Malcolm watches it on a traditional screen. The protagonists of both films end up in bed, transformed.)

In a justly famous transition, Kubrick match-cuts from a hurled bone to a spacecraft, cementing the notion of flying vehicles as weapons. Later we will meet spacecraft identified as belonging to Pan-Am Airlines, confirming that spacecraft are just evolved aircraft (and both are just evolved ape-weapons).

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Now we meet Space Station V, an orbiting base composed of two wheels, each constructed like a skyscraper swallowing its own tail. Parts of the station are apparently as yet incomplete, exposing red girders. To a Strauss waltz, we watch as a spacecraft flies directly into the station, but rather than causing destruction it is simply swallowed up. Like the twin towers of the World Trade Center, this space base has a restaurant and an unbeatable view. The WTC boasted of its top floor “observatories” and its “Windows on the World” restaurant and “Cellar in the Sky” bar. The SSV actually does feature windows on the world, through which the Earth can be seen, apparently spinning below.

On board, things are seething with international tension — in Kubrick’s vision of the future, Perestroika never happened so the Russians are still the threat. There’s also news of a strange discovery on the moon —

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The floodlit excavation sight is almost a dead ringer for New York’s Ground Zero, only with a skyscraper (the monolith) still rising out of it, impossibly. It’s existence causes another flight, this time to Jupiter (and beyond the infinite), which incidentally is one of the dozen places President Bush was flown to after the towers collapsed.

Now we find ourselves on a spacecraft on a secret mission, hijacked by a terrorist which started out disguised as a legitimate passenger on the craft (the shipboard computer). HAL kills the crew members in order to take over the ship, but he does it because “this mission is too important to allow you to jeopardise it.”

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Repeated image of a body tumbling through space.

Like the passengers on the hijacked planes, Kubrick’s astronauts can phone home. One receives the message “See you next Wednesday,” a line quoted in every John Landis film. Landis’s career has been marked by fatal aerial catastrophe. His movie SPIES LIKE US deals with a team of idiots deployed by corrupt commanders to distract attention while a war is started. His first movie, SCHLOCK, features numerous parodies of the apemen from 2001.

Like the passengers of United 93, Dave Bowman destroys the hijacker, resulting finally in his own death — but this is played in stylised form, first as a flight through distorted, psychedelic landscapes, then as an accelerated aging process, then with the traditional death-bed. In a white room whose floor is illuminated panels like the sides of a skyscraper.

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But at the foot of that death-bed, the monolith appears yet again, and once more we move inexorably towards its smooth surface, repeating yet again the collision with the WTC, an event which killed, among thousands of others, the sister of Marisa Berenson, who starred in Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON. She was also the wife of Anthony Perkins, best known for playing a knife-wielding killer who struck in disguise, and who appeared in Disney’s THE BLACK HOLE, which shares with 2001 a climax in which a passage through a space portal leads to a mysterious spiritual experience.

From the impact with the monolith, something new is born, but the movie is vague about what, exactly, can be expected from it…

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In a way this is a thought experiment, to see how many meaningful-seeming coincidences can be drawn between an event and a film which actually preceded it by decades and could not have been influenced by it in any traditional cause-and-effect way. In a way it’s a parody of such academic exercises. It’s also inspired a bit by the fancy footwork in this remarkable piece.

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Things I Read Off the Screen in “The Shining”

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2012 by dcairns

To Edinburgh Filmhouse (last week) to see ROOM 237: BEING AN INQUIRY INTO THE SHINING IN 9 PARTS. Rodney Ascher’s essay film is a perpetual joy, cunningly assembled from (sometimes manipulated) bit of Kubrick movies and other (tangentially) related films. Six obsessives describe their theories about the “true” meaning of Kubrick’s horrorshow, which range from “secret, encoded study of the Holocaust” to “secret, encoded meditation on the genocide of the American Indians” to “secret, encoded confession to a role in faking the Apollo moon landing footage.” Despite the eccentricity of some of the claims, the evidence the offscreen voices cite is really there, and most of it seems to be there on purpose to signify something. My only problem was, “If THE SHINING is ‘really’ about the moon landings, why does it have all this stuff about the Holocaust? And if it’s ‘really’ about the Holocaust, why does it have all this stuff about the Indians?”

Each of the film-analysts is focussing very selectively, and each of them is somewhat guilty of the intentional fallacy, assuming they can read Kubrick’s intent, although one does helpfully acknowledge this fallacy and admit that what Kubrick may have intended is unknowable to critics and doesn’t, ultimately, matter.

While one commentator was talking about the partially occluded Indian heads on the cans of Calumet baking soda in this scene, I started scanning the other containers in the b/g to see if I could find anything else of interest. I did!

PIMENTO PIECES. SLICED PEACHES. TOMATO KETCHUP.

All these references to “pieces” and “slices” are deliciously pointed, considering that Jack is working up to trying to dismember his family (which we already know because of the example of caretaker Grady before him). And that is likely the reason the Indian heads are all chopped up by the composition — think also of the spectral party guest with the split head — and rogue English accent. In fact, why are the 1920s flashback/visions populated with Englishmen (Grady himself is the very British Philip Stone)? Only Lloyd the bartender is a red-blooded American. Since Kubrick is shooting in England but dragging Albion up as Colorado, it seems odd that he should so nakedly display the falsity of the premise — but it’s in keeping with the various ways in which the insistently real, textured banality of the hotel set is made to behave in an unreal, Escher-like way, folding in on itself with dream geography so that little Danny can cycle round a corner and find himself one story up.

One interesting lacuna not addressed by any of the commenters, but noted by the mighty Michel Ciment in his Kubrick book, is that Grady the waiter/caretaker has two names to go with his two jobs: we’re told about a Charles Grady, but then he gives his name as Delbert Grady. Why? Maybe it’s part of duality (“You know, the Jungian thing?”) — two names, two jobs, two daughters…

The most obvious things to read in THE SHINING are the titles, in a typical Kubrick sans-serif font, but with a glowing, modern look that suggests sci-fi rather than Gothic (which is apt: the film’s denial of dark shadows miffed Pauline Kael). And then there’s the intertitles, which start explicatory and wind up pretty confusing, another random element hurled in to throw us off-balance — they more closely resemble the title cards of early Bunuel, which make perfectly sensible statements like “Sixteen years ago” and “In Spring,” yet become darkly funny and absurd because of the context they’re spliced into.

Then there’s Jack’s novel, which some poor bastard had to type up — it matters that this doesn’t look photocopied, every page is different, complete with typos — “All work and no play makes Jack a dull bot.” “All work and no play makes Jack a dull bog.” “All work and no play makes Jack adult boy.”

Students of the life of John Barrymore will recognize where Stephen King got the inspiration for this freaky revelation. It also reminds me of a plot point from Michael Moorcock’s The Final Programme, which sadly never made it into Robert Fuest’s tasty film. One of the novel’s MacGuffins is a book written by the American astronaut who spent the longest time in space. When finally obtained, the voluminous manuscript turns out to consist of the single word “ha” repeated a great many times.

“That madman business” — Shelley Duvall is reading The Catcher in the Rye, favourite reading material of crazed loners. Also, the book, favoured by John Lennon’s killer (and later by Ronald Reagan’s attempted assassin) takes its title from a Mondegreen, the lead character’s misapprehension of a song lyric. Stephen King took the title for The Shining from the lyric “And we all shine on” from the John Lennon song Instant Karma.

In the background of the Torrance kitchen we can see a bottle of Joy. The fact that advertisers chose to name a cleaning product “joy” displays baldly the sheer blistering contempt they held for housewives.

Off to the Overlook!

The KEEP THIS AREA CLEAN sign is darkly amusing, in context.

PLEASE PUT CUPS AND OTHER GARBAGE IN THE BINS PROVIDED

Oddly aggressive tone to this notice, don’t you think? Why is my cup garbage?

During this scene, where the chair behind Jack playfully vanishes and returns between reverse angles, the scrapbook in front of Jack also executes a neat unseen page-turn, although it maintains perfect continuity during the vanishing chair sequence — which is intriguing, because if we try to explain the missing chair by suggesting one of those shots was a pick-up, filmed weeks later, it’s hardly likely that the scrapbook continuity would match so perfectly. The scrapbook calmly bides its time until a wide shot gives it the opportunity to flip on a page or two.

The scrapbook is significant — Jack is researching the Overlook’s past, and when he meets Grady he recognizes him from his picture. I think there’s more of this in the book, whereas at least in the UK edit it’s unlikely anybody would notice the book and understand what it was there for.

NEWSWATCH. 10 GLENN RINKER. WPLG Miami.

Kubrick filmed this shot with the newly developed “ScatCam.”

Weirdly, the show is announced as “Newswatch 10” but the title just says “Newswatch.” Then anchorman Glenn Rinker is introduced, and the caption says “10 Glenn Rinker” which is just weird. It does actually seem like a moronic mistake, as if the captions guy had a scrap of paper with “Newswatch 10 Glenn Rinker” scrawled on it and he decided to break it up in the wrong place. Although it may be a veiled reference to Professor Ten Brinken from Hanns Heinz Ewers’ horror classic Alraune (filmed twice with Brigitte Helm).

The shorter UK edit (prepared by Kubrick himself after the American release) omits all the cartoons viewed by Danny, but we still have numerous cartoon characters in the form of stickers (with the vanishing Dopey), the Bugs Bunny-derived nicknamed “Doc,” and the presence of Scatman Crothers — but everybody is too polite to say “Weren’t you Hong Kong Fooey”?

In ROOM 237, much is made of Kubrick’s slow dissolves, particularly an early crossfade from hotel exterior to interior in which a stepladder echoes the point of the hotel’s roof. I agree that this is deliberate, and I think it may also be a tribute to Max Ophuls, who tracks past a stepladder in a hotel lobby at the start of THE RECKLESS MOMENT (another stepladder pops up earlier in Ophuls’ DE MAYERLING A SARAJEVO — I think he liked stepladders). Kubrick admired Ophuls and dedicated a shot in PATHS OF GLORY to the German director, on the day he learned of his death.

Fiona pointed out that in a later dissolve, Jack on his writing “throne” seems to acquire a matching “crown,” actually a light fitting bleeding through from the incoming scene. Again, this seems deliberate.

Kubrick insists, here and in EYES WIDE SHUT, that it is possible to perform oral sex through a full-face mask. “How much sex did Kubrick have?” pondered Fiona. Still, this is an impressive early appearance by “furries,” those creepy sex fetishists who get off on dressing up like cartoon animals. But it’s not the earliest!

This is SUPERBITCH, aka SI PUO ESSERE PIU BASTARDI DELL’ISPETTORE CLIFF? with Stephanie Beacham as a high-class escort giving the five-star treatment to a rich perv. I guess the furry fetish probably originated with fancy dress parties — alcohol, dancing, dressing up, can sex be far away? Then again, for some the connection may stem from early sexual fantasies being formed in childhood, while surrounded by cute imagery of talking chipmunks.

BTW, sorry my SHINING stills are 4:3. That’s the format Kubrick insisted on when his films first had their DVD release. Perfectionist, my ass!

“I don’t particularly like writing on the screen.” ~ Stanley Kubrick.