Monday, February 11, 2008

Mondays With Stanley - Jack Goes Apeshit

To be honest, the only reason I ever sought out The Shining is because it's a Kubrick flick. Kubrick is one of a handful of directors with which I'm so smitten that I'll watch anything they've done once.* Before I Netflixed it a couple of years ago my only exposure to it, in fact, was in Simpsons parody version. That's for two reasons. First, I'm just not a big horror fan. Not that I don't enjoy a good fright, it's just that most horror flicks strike me as terribly dumb. Second, before college, my only exposure to Steven King was the movies based on his books which were, well, terribly dumb. Thanks to jedi jawa I actually read some of King's stuff and while I'm not a huge fan, the man definitely has talent.

In my admittedly limited experience, King's skill doesn't lie so much in the actual tales told, but in the way he tells them. He's a master of description and does an excellent job at getting under your skin, even if what's happening isn't particularly interesting. In that sense, I think Kubrick was a natural to work up one of his books (even if King wasn't particularly happy with the result). Kubrick's penchant for long slow shots to establish scenes are the cinematic equivalent of King's descriptive writing. Thus we get a great sense of the vast emptiness of The Overlook and just how out in the middle of nowhere it is. It makes it perfectly plausible that anybody left there for months would go nuts.

And who better to go nuts than Jack Nicholson? The script provides Jack with ample opportunity for his trademark scene chewing. In fact, when it comes to paradigmatic "Jack as Lunatic" roles, this and his version of The Joker in Tim Burton's Batman are the ones I think of. Thankfully, Jack does going nuts very well and his descent into madness is quite compelling. He carries a lot of the load, given the small cast of characters, and does a better job of it than the kid who plays his son.

Rounding out the case is Scatman Crothers, in what has to be one of the prototypical Mystical Black Man roles. He shows up early on to set up the whole concept of "shining," give Jack's kid a forbidden destination, and promptly decamps to his swingin' Florida bachelor pad, complete with X-rated Nubian artwork (nekkid black chicks with big boobs and bigger fros!). Upon his return, he's turned into another horror movie cliche - the violently killed black character. Not only is the only black character in the film and he gets killed - he's the only person who gets killed in the film!

Even at nearly two-and-a-half hours, The Shining is a fairly taut piece of work. Kubrick's trademark/lamented pacing builds up the suspense slowly. When it pops - it pops big. Along the way you got a host of memorable imagery, from gallons of blood pouring out of the elevator to Jack's "Heeere's Johnny!", to a guy in a tux getting blown by a guy in a bear suit. A rousing bit of entertainment, then!

That being the case, that's about all it is. It doesn't really aim to make any larger points, as in A Clockwork Orange or 2001. For that reason, it may be my least favorite of the Kubrick flicks I own, but that's sort of like saying Boil That Dust Speck is my least favorite Mike Keneally album - it's not much of a condemnation.

* The others, for the record, are Terry Gilliam, Spike Lee, the Coen brothers, Kevin Smith, and, most recently, Akira Kurosawa.

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