Friday, December 22, 2006

Tight and shiny

this is something i've been putting off for awhile b/c it seemed like too big an undertaking. i've learned that blogging must not be too thought out in advance though, and i need to just get this damn thing off my chest. i don't even know if i have anything insightful to say on this topic, but here goes...

basically, what's happening is that I just finished reading "The Shining." yes, Stephen King's "The Shining." you might be laughing and that wouldn't surprise me, since i've gotten a lot of askance looks since i started toting this thing around in public. i can't exactly say that doesn't bother me, but my desire to read the damn book sort of trumped that. it couldn't have helped that the edition i have is bright freaking yellow with a dumb wanna-be-scary picture of a scowling boy on the front. that old edition, the silver and black one with the faceless head on the cover was supercool. wish i had that one.

anyway, the whole time i was reading i was, as you might guess, thinking about the differences between the text and Kubrick's film version, which happens to be one of my favorite movies of all time. as you prolly know King was famously dissatisfied with Kubrick's version. i wish i could find a more extended version of King's critique, but all that seems to be floating around is this pithy statement: "I have my days when I think I gave Kubrick a live grenade on which he heroically threw his body."

now maybe i'm dumb, but in all honesty, i have no real clue what this actually means. at the same time, it sounds real nice and is highly quotable, so i felt like i should include it here. i don't think i'm going to try to interpret it just yet (or maybe at all) but i just wanted to talk a little about the differences between the two versions.

i guess the main thing that struck me about the book was how--and to say this sort of thing about a horror story has sort of become a cliche, but in this case it's really true--the book isn't really about supernatural stuff at all but basically about the personal demons that can destroy a family. King goes into excruciating detail about Jack Torrance's alcoholism and temper problems, examining them from all sides: where they came from (his dad, who had seriously abused his mom), how they affect his marriage and his career, and most of all, how they affect his son.

Danny, Jack's son, is a really intense character. basically King uses this whole idea of "shining" or mind-reading to portray what its like for a kid to have to grapple with grown-up thoughts. he reads his parents' thoughts when they fight and sees the word "DIVORCE" and becomes terrified, or he can sense when his dad is longing for a drink ("the Bad Thing," as he calls it). King does an amazing job of portraying how tragic it is when a kid has to deal with these sorts of adult issues. i like this passage in particular. Danny thinks,

"But grownups were always in a turmoil, every possible action muddied over by thoughts of the consequences, by self-doubt, by selfimage, by feelings of love and responsibility. Every possible choice seemed to have drawbacks, and sometimes he didn't understand why the drawbacks were drawbacks. It was very hard."

so basically it's this idea of sort of knowing too much, of being cursed with knowledge. this carries over into the whole Overlook hotel setting, b/c everyone who stays there has to grapple with the entire sordid history of the place. anyway, so Danny is a great character and you get a little more sense of his vulnerability in the book, whereas the kid that plays him in the flick kind of makes him seem like this weird dispassionate alien boy.

another thing i noticed is that the movie gives you no sense whatsoever of any chemistry whatsoever between Jack and Wendy. basically for the entire film, Nicholson acts like a sarcastic asshole and Shelley Duvall acts like a total wet blanket. they both quickly become repulsive and you get no sense of there ever having been any happiness in their marriage. King paints a pretty grim picture of their relationship, but there are a few pretty intense sex scenes and talk of their courtship that show they actually have something meaningful together.

on the subject of the Jack character, i'd have to say that while Nicholson doesn't do the greatest job of conveying his conflicted nature, he does get the sardonic-rage part absolutely right. in the book, there are some scenes of real remorse--such as when Jack almost gets in a car accident and swears off drinking--but you just don't really see those in the movie. the closest thing is when he's sort of catatonically telling Wendy that he dreamed he was murdering his family.

but yeah, Nicholson nails the asshole part of the character, obviously. a lot of what you get in the book is this real sense of bitterness and entitlement, stemming from Jack being both a frustrated writer and an alcoholic. King and Kubrick both really get this fundamental thing about Jack's character, which is the romantic notion of the literary alcholic, the writer who gets wasted and spews out this sort of pretentious allusive crap which is supposed to pass for poetry or be some kind of badge of intellectualism.

Kubrick is wise to lift a lot of King's dialogue during the famous bar scene where Jack talks to Lloyd the bartender. but there are a few lines he leaves out, such as, "Lloyd, you're a wonder... Set up already. Your speed is only exceeded by the soulful beauty of your Neapolitan eyes. Salud." that's a great one.

another detail that sticks out for me is the "dogman" that you see for just a second in the movie. remember when Danny is running through the halls and he sees that dude in a bear suit going down on some guy in a tux? obviously that just registers as sort of this subliminal perverted detail there, but in the book that whole business is fleshed out in a really creepy way.

King tells us that the dogman is the gay lover of Horace Derwent, the mogul who originally built the hotel. Derwent is only sort of half interested in this guy, but he likes to lead him on. so at the hotel's opening costume ball--which is the party that Jack finds himself immersed in during his hallucinations--Derwent tells his lover that he might sleep with him if he comes dressed as a dog. the dude does and Derwent spends the whole night tormenting him, like making him do somersaults and bark and do all kinds of degrading crap.

meanwhile, Jack is dancing with a beautiful woman (or hallucinating that he's doing so) and he starts to notice Derwent tormenting this poor guy, who by this time has failed at somersaulting and smacked his head against the ground and begun to bleed. so that's when the whole ball hallucination becomes sort of nightmarish. it's just a really cool detail that King throws in; it really captures the perverse debauchery that the hotel represents.

i guess the other thing i feel like i should mention is the character of Dick Halloran, the hotel cook, who's much more endearing in the book than in the movie. as played by Scatman Carrothers, he's like this Louis Armstrong sort of caricature, but you spend a lot of time inside his head in the book, and he's a little bit more rounded out.

the following passage is, yeah, sorta ridiculous, but in the context of the book, it really works: "...[Dick] had reached a sunny plateau after years of struggle. He had good friends. He had all the references he would ever need to get a job anywhere. When he wanted fuck [ed.--!!!], why, he could find a friendly one with no questions asked and no big shitty struggle about what it all meant. He had come to terms with his blackness--happy terms. He was up past sixty and thank God, he was crusing."

say what you will about King, but he can do characters really well. if he had written this about Halloran right up front, it would've been really lame, but this comes near the end of the book, after we've already spent a lot of time with the character. by the time it comes, you believe this summation, however pat it is.

yeah, the book ends sort of happily. no dramatic freezing-to-death-in-the-hedge-maze stuff (or "Heeeeeere's Johnny!" either, for that matter). i won't lie; i was sorta choked up at the end of the King. there's plenty of lame stuff--i couldn't really deal with the hedge animals constantly coming to life--but i was really impressed by how gritty and detailed the book was. as i said, it's a very believable portrait of a dysfunctional family. all the horror is built on that, and the way the trials of Jack, Wendy and Danny are interwoven with the sordid history of the hotel is pretty masterful. if nothing else, it's a hell of an imaginative story.

have to say, tho, Kubrick wins for most resonant image, which is that final shot of Jack in the Overlook photo from the '20s--that's just an intense encapsulation of this whole idea that he and everyone else who's ever stayed in the hotel sort of exists in this weird simultaneous limbo. King alludes to this concept and Kubrick drives it home with that closing shot.

so i guess overall i'd say i don't think either version is better per se. in fact they complement each other really well. as for the grenade comment, i'm still kinda clueless. is he almost congratulating Kubrick for how far he went in depicting the Torrance's mania? is he faulting him for playing up the sensational aspects of the story over the realistic ones? i just can't figure out what the "heroically" part is alluding to. any insight into this would be appreciated. anyone ever seen the full interview this was taken from? i guess having read the book, i can't really see how it could've been filmed all that much better, but hey, i didn't write the damn thing.

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