Archive for The Final Programme

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!


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.


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.


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.

The Mysterious Mr If, Part the Ninth

Posted in FILM with tags , , on July 25, 2011 by dcairns

The whole time I was writing this, my unproduced screenplay, I never had a clear idea in my head as to who I might like to act in it. Usually I’ll have both a Blue Sky Casting List (drawing from all actors, living and dead) which can be helpful to find a character’s voice, and a more down-to-earth selection of who I might actually be able to get. What you probably don’t want to do is cast the Blue Sky choice, should you suddenly be lucky enough to be able to get them, because an ever-so-slight tension between performer and role is often helpful.

That said, I have a hankering to see Jon Finch take his rightful place in the mainstream, and I think, though MR IF would hardly be likely to achieve that, he’d be fun in it — you have to see him in THE FINAL PROGRAMME rather than FRENZY or MACBETH to get that, though. Alternatively, the actor Stephen Dillane had managed to leave no particular impression on me until I saw his extremely witty perf in Raoul Ruiz’s KLIMT, playing an absurd and possibly hallucinatory arts bureaucrat. In the same film, Nikolai Kinski’s physical performance as Egon Schiele (making Schiele-like shapes with his hands!) also impressed me no end.

To contrast with the craziness, I’d like to get more naturalistic, muted performers in the other roles, though they’d need to have some comedy prowess. Britain is full of such players, due to the amount of TV soap opera and cop shows and the like dominating the culture. But we also have our share of flamboyant eccentrics, partly thanks to Shakespeare. In that vein, Ifs of earlier years might have included Peter Wyngarde, Graham Crowden, Tom Baker and Nicol Williamson.

Freddie Jones as Mr Netherbow!

Now Read On…


Howie puffs furiously to cool his mouth. Sheena laughs at his red face as he struggles with a mouthful of vindaloo.


So how did you get to be a human?


I was born. A baby could have done it.


I mean, the human in the zoo. Making an exhibition of yourself. It’s not something anybody would do.


Well, I always liked my fellow animals. I’ve learned a lot from them. How to smell fear, how to scare off predators by making myself look bigger…

He inflates his cheeks and puffs up his chest.


– how to order the hottest dish on the menu?


Damn my simian impulsiveness! I can’t help acting on instinct.


I think that’s good. We get to be too civilized.


Yeah. We’re all animals really.

They are leaning closer together across the table.


Yeah, we shouldn’t feel bound by all these ridiculous constraints.


I agree. We should be like lions, or fruit bats. We want something, we should just go for it.



A silence. Nothing happens.

A loud giggle from another table.


Prue Wasson. Prue fucking Wasson.




I’d know that simpering giggle anywhere. I was at school with her. She called me Sheena McQueen of the Jungle one day and then everybody did it. She used to walk about with her hands up her sleeves with just the fingers sticking out like this:

She shows Howie. He is silently appalled at this affectation.


And she used to hit me with her hockey stick. And she used to WRINKLE HER NOSE.


Damn her eyes!

Sheena laughs.


Damn her nose.


I’ll show her! I’ll show her – baboon style!

He stands up indignantly, walks over to the next table, loosening his trousers, and taps a thin, papery-skinned young LADY on the shoulder. She is sitting with her hands inside her sleeves.

As she turns to face him, he turns his back on her and drops his trousers, bending to give her an eyeful of arse. He slaps his butt cheeks at her.

Straightening up, he turns back to his own table, now empty. The restaurant door bangs shut behind the fleeing Sheena.

Prue Wasson picks up a fork and jabs.


A YELP from within.

Sheena hurries out of the Taj MacHal Restaurant* (with its tartan minaret emblems). A shadowy figure sweeps after her, leaving behind him spray-painted GRAFFITA on a wooden FENCE:


Howie runs from the Taj MacHal clutching his backside, looks around, and sets off after Sheena.

A DRUNKEN WOMAN staggers by the other way. As she passes we see the letter H has been spray-painted on her back. As she nears the graffita there is a WHUNG!

The shadowy figure has just fired a HARPOON GUN.

The harpoon skewers the drunken woman to the fence. With her back to us, she now completes the graffita:


A melodramatic LAUGH echoes out.


The door bursts open as Sheena enters, a protesting Howie on her heels. She slams the door on him.


I’m sorry! I’ve been hanging out with monkeys too long! I was just doing what baboons have done for, oh, decades, probably. It’s to repel enemies.

Sheena turns from the door, sees something, and screams.


What is it? Let me in!

He hammers on the door. Sheena opens it, trembling. He comes in and stops in surprise.

Sheena’s cat, Edward Woodward, is dressed as an Eskimo – furs, a little harpoon. His litter tray is now a tiny igloo.


An Eskimo.


They’re called Inuit People now.


An Inuit mog. Does he do this often?


No. He bloody doesn’t. It’s that FUCKER. He’s been in my house and he’s got Edward Woodward done up as an Eskimo.




I’ll KILL him.

(shouting at the ceiling)

I’ll kill you!


(also shouting at the ceiling)

You heard! Leave her alone or I’ll show you my arse! And leave her cat alone too!

To be continued…

*Though the Taj MacHal is fictitious, there is a genuine Edinburgh restaurant called the Kebab Mahal. But when I picture it, I usually imagine the Passage to India restaurant on Leith Walk, which used to have a picture of Alec Guinness in brownface on the sign.


Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , on January 22, 2009 by dcairns


Don’t forget THE FORGOTTEN!

My latest article is over at the Auteurs’ Notebook, where you should leave your comments if you have any.

Robert Fuest’s visionary THE FINAL PROGRAMME is one of the less obscure films I’ve treated in THE FORGOTTEN, but justice won’t be done until it’s better-known than STAR WARS.