Friday, March 26, 2010

"The Shining" by Stanley Kubrick

[Here's an excerpt from an essay Joyelle and I wrote about "The Shining" for a German book on Kubrick that will be out this fall:]

Dark Matter: A Shining Art Crime
by Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Göransson

1. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is not just a film: it is a performance of which the film is a mere documentation, a relic. The filming took place all inside a soundstage in England, using elaborate sets. The snow was salt. The camera men wore stilts with little boy’s shoes, like the actors in Genet’s The Balcony, representing the stilts worn by the actors in Greek tragedies. It was 110 degrees. The air was saturated with gasoline fumes. The cameramen had to wear gas masks as they chased after the little boy. There were antennae in the walls. Instead of using illusory walls, Kubrick built up a maze of actual rooms. The illusion is perfect. It must be the Real Thing.

2. It is Art, the greatest crime, the greatest threat against the American Work Ethic. Throughout the movie there is a tension between work and play. Throughout American history, Work has allowed terrible murders: Eden had to be worked into productivity and in the process we had to kill the Native Americans and enslave the African-Americans. For white people “indentured servitude” was dressed up as “seeking your fortune.” This is how we became Americans.

3. This history is evoked in the film from the very beginning. In the interview that begins the movie, we are told that Native Americans violently resisted the building of the hotel and that their attacks were repelled. The hotel is America.

4. Art is the great scandal in this phantasmagoria of Work Ethics. It threatens the entire social order with its excessive jouissance, its utter uselessness. It chokes the Child, to quote Sir Walter Raleigh (an artist in colonizer drag, who died for his prison writing and his uselessness.)

5. In The Shining, the moment of revelation, the moment when the viewer is informed that Jack is nuts, that he’s a sham, that his aims are perverse is when Shelley Duvall finds the “novel” he’s been writing: it is just the same words written over and over “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” It is as if all the mayhem he has engendered, all his mad grimaces and odd statements could be looked past, but his novel cannot be looked past. Art is both a useless nothing and that which cannot be ignored.

6. Yet the novel Jack has written could easily be seen as a conceptual artwork. The obsessive detournment of Ben Franklin’s maxim to moderation.

7. Politically correct analyses of The Shining tend to interpret Jack as the Patriarch, the Purveyor of Colonialism. We see in him the Artist who scandalizes America. Through his obsessive art, his obsessive behavior, he denaturalizes the hotel – shows that the hotel is not a real home, but a hotel, an obsessive maze of rooms, the obsessive pattern on the floor that participates in the same form as Jack’s obsessive novel.


10. The dynamics were repeated in another movie that ran into trouble because of its excess of meaning, its unruliness: David Lynch’s TV show Twin Peaks. This show also featured the endless maze-like hotel (“The Great Northern”), which was doubled in the demonic “Black Lodge,” a paradoxically very “red room” (echoing the child’s repeated warning of “red rum” in The Shining) with very similar, very repetitive patterns as in Kubrick’s hotel. As in Kubrick’s hotel, ghosts live in a hotel in the American West. Like in Kubrick’s film, the spirits seem to precede the onset of America of the Great Work Ethic and Genocide. It is as if in both cases the Native American dead were sublimated into strange hotels guests in America.


18. “Stanley, meanwhile, watched the deteriorating video pictures from outside the set, like a wrathful Nielson family suddenly given absolute power over the programming. The faster we had to move, the worse it got. I sometimes thought wistfully of breaking an ankle in the salt. It required enormous force to pull the camera around the turns and a degree of luck to find the right path while essentially looking backward. In addition, we were all acutely aware of the danger of fire and how difficult it would be to get out of the maze if the lights went out, with real smoke and burning Styrofoam - a genuine nightmare!” –Garrett Brown, “The Steadicam and The Shining.”

19. It seems patently obvious that Jack is Stanley, but while Jack doesn’t survive the film, Kubrick does. If Jack doesn’t succeed in remaking the nuclear family as a bunch of perverted, murderous artists, Kubrick subsumes the whole Nielson family into his perverse and patriarchal person, at the same time recasting his crew as his art-making demons.


Blogger Ty said...

I heard that Jack's "novel" exists. Kubrick apparently had one of his assistants type all those pages in different designs. Hundreds and hundreds of pages.

Kind of like the hotel, it must be the Real Thing.

8:37 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

I love it.


6:37 AM  

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