Oct 10, 2022Liked by Anna Rettberg

Doctor Sleep (2019) might be a fun movie for this podcast. It didn't perform very well, in part because its premise sounds like a total disaster (Ewan McGregor is an adult Danny who uses his powers to fight a cult of vampires, and the movie tries to split the differences between the book and movie versions of The Shining to be a sequel to both of them). But while it's definitely not Kubrick level, I was pleasantly surprised by it. It does a good job taking this movie's scattershot ideas and re-contextualizing them into something more cohesive, tying them into elements of the original novel that Kubrick cut out.

I have a feeling Casey will hate it, but that can be fun in its own way :)

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This movie is extremely well made and has tons of incredible scenes, but I always find it frustrating. I think it’s wildly unfocused and never coheres into a whole as good as its parts. I also think the last act is a huge disappointment, beyond what you called out in the episode.

For example, there are good scenes showing Jack gradually losing his grip on reality, and there’s the great “All work and no play” scene that shows Jack has been crazy this whole time, but those scenes don’t feel like they belong in the same movie. They undercut each other. If Jack’s been crazy all along, then the scenes in Room 237 or the bar don’t feel like meaningful inflection points. They’re just weird things that happen.

The titular Shining feels out of place and comically underdeveloped. It’s not clear if it’s related to the hotel’s influence or completely unrelated (people without the Shining have also been affected by the hotel!), and it’s too literal to be symbolic. The payoff for making it so literal is that it magically summons the chef… only for him to get killed in five seconds. Then it’s never mentioned again. It’s such an abrupt anticlimax that it feels like a joke.

In the last act, Jack Nicholson gets so outrageously over-the-top, Shelly Duvall contorts her face into a series of caricatures, and it’s just the broadest, least subtle thing in the universe. After so much gradual, creeping, oppressive horror, the punchline has no psychological depth at all. We just run away from a crazy guy with an axe.

I haven’t read the book, but I have read other Stephen King, and he’s not the most focused writer. And I think Kubrick taking bits and pieces from his book, changing so much else, then trying to leave the result open to interpretation just left it completely disjointed. So the movie ends up with a ton of different elements in play (alcoholism, domestic violence, isolation, insanity, a magical haunted hotel built on an Indian burial ground, a bunch of very specific things that previously happened in the hotel, supernatural telepathy…), but no clear sense for how they fit together or how to pay them off. It’s still a good movie in spite of that, but it’s never really clicked for me the way it did for you.

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Oct 10, 2022·edited Oct 10, 2022

In the context of the book, I think the killing of the chef was meant kind of as a joke, I don't want to spoil the book but my understanding is that Kubrick didn't like the way the story resolved so he switfty killed the character. I read the book first so I was shocked when the character died, but on it's own in the movie the whole shining thing and the chef don't make a lot of sense.

I read the updated Ebert review the other day and he said the ending was different for the press release and changed afterward for more clarity. It's like Kubrick liked the overall tone of the book but didn't like the details and tried to wing something better. I don't know if it's really how the script was developed but that's how it feels to me.

For the acting, the weird thing for me is while Shelly Duvall acting looks over the top, it feels genuine anyway. I don't know how to qualify that, but to me it's part of the intensity of the whole experience. Maybe it has to do with the staging, like when Jack's pursues Danny in the maze, he literally shouts right at the camera so it's like 3 minutes of being shouted at directly in our face... So I guess I like how Kubrick tried to push everything as much as possible in a general sense, even if it ends up looking like b movie acting.

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For modern movies feeling small i'd pay attention to just how often it directly relates to the now very fashionable use of extremely shallow depth of field. Just that one thing has such a huge knock-on effect. Sure, people aren't attempting to stage shots like John Sturges or Otto Preminger or whoever, but the popular "Rembrandt with glaucoma" look wouldn't even allow it-- The Batman's funeral scene has 200 blurry extras and feels smaller than an episode of Better Call Saul.

Kubrick, for some reason-- almost always very sharp pictures! Weird coincidence.

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Oct 7, 2022·edited Oct 7, 2022

For Psycho next week, since Casey talked a little bit about black and white vs. color, I thought I would mention that there's a remake by Gus Van Sant with cinematography by Christopher Doyle. I have no idea if it's good and the Rotten Tomatoes score is poor, but I watched a few scenes on youtube and the color choices seem interesting. If time permits, I'll watch both so I can comment on that next week!

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Oct 7, 2022Liked by Casey Muratori, Anna Rettberg

A fun exercise with Kubrick is comparing his approach to that of the books he often adapts. It really drives home just how good Kubrick is at showing instead of telling. E.g. clockwork orange is an amazing example of the differences between what you can do with written vs visual media. And of course all ya’ll mentioned, this movie’s visuals are AMAZING.

One thing I did really like about the novel that was absent from the movie, was the large amount of character development that goes into Jack; describing his childhood, struggle with alcoholism, etc. It makes his slow decent into psychotic “cabin fever” all the more terrifying in the book-- although of course the book is even more egregious than the movie with the whole, “Oh, it was evil ghosts, not insanity thing”. In the movie, however , I find Jack just a little too unhinged and weird from the start, which makes it a little harder to see how deranged he becomes in the hotel.

Unlike ya’ll, I wasn’t really bothered by the film’s ending where Wendy also sees spooky things; I felt it was still subtle enough to be explained by extreme-trauma-plus-cabin-fever-with-vague-mystical-elements. Jack and Danny are both sensitive people (alcoholism, childhood trauma), and so they perceive the horrors of the hotel and isolation more quickly. For Wendy, it’s when she literally fighting for her life that she sees how awful everything is.

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Oct 7, 2022·edited Oct 7, 2022

I like your interpretation of the ending with Wendy, it's more psychological than fantastical. I haven't read the book in a long while, but I remember when I saw the movie the first time that I preferred the way the father was already sick from the beginning in Kubrick's movie, I thought the book was more about the environment influencing his behavior. But I would have to reread the book, maybe I would have a different opinion now. Also, I remember being shocked at the twist with the cook. In a way I think it shows how Kubrick was not precious with the source material.

I'll have to read A Clockwork Orange and Lolita someday to compare with Kubrick's adaptations, but it's not hard to imagine he went places a book can't.

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One thing’s for sure, this club has definitely inspired me to reread The Shining-- it’s also been a long time since I read it 😅

Lolita the film is pretty tame compared to the book! I imagine it was made at a time when they had to-- for censorship reasons-- tone down the pedophilia. The trailer for the film was literally scenes of people saying “I can’t believe they made the film ‘Lolita’”

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Oct 9, 2022·edited Oct 9, 2022

I'll have to rewatch Lolita as well, I haven't seen it in 20 years. I don't remember much of it and I just assumed the book was boring... It's fun to revisit stuff like that, it's complex enough that you see things that you missed the first time.

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Oct 7, 2022·edited Oct 7, 2022Liked by Anna Rettberg

My take on The Shining is similar to yours, I share the same enthousiasm for the movie as a whole and basically have the same criticism about the ending. The movie is better when you don't take into account the supernatural stuff. The novel has more of that and Kubrick removed some of it, but still I too would have preferred that it would have focused on the domestic drama.

On more specific details, like you said, every shot is so well designed it would be possible to talk about the movie forever. I never paid attention to the dissolves at the beginning, but since we talked about Kubrick's editing for Paths of Glory it was more noticeable this time around. I think the transitions were much smoother and I liked that it provided contrast with the hard-cuts of the title cards. I also never thought about the mirror for the bed scene, but now that you mention it I get why the scene feels so threatening.

Maybe I can add a few observations on things I noticed for the first time. Two weeks ago I read a few interviews of Kubrick (I wanted to know if he gave his views on editing). What stood out in general for me from his answers is the way he described the way he read novels. What he really focused on was the feeling of his first reading. He didn't like writing, he thought he would get bored of the story by the time the shooting would begin. So from what I understand what he cared about was translating what he felt like when he first read King's novel. I don't know exactly how to describe the viewing experience, but seeing how he dialed up everything to 11 I thought he was a very peculiar reader, I mean the intensity is through the roof. To give an example, the way the camera follows the axe and pans violently at each hit on the door is so intense I was surprised somebody would even think about that. In general I think it explains why his movies are super striking but sometimes lack in my opinion some focus plotwise.

One other thing I noticed is sometimes the visuals and the dialogues are timed with the music (and not the other way around). Like the dialogues on the bed with Jack and Danny, they follow the beats of the Bartok piece. This to me is very interesting because he takes the arc of a great piece of music and builds the scene with it, so you get great timing for the editing and the flow of the dialogues. I am normally less attuned to writing but there I thought it stood out as exceptionnal.

Here's the interview where Kubrick talks about reading: http://www.archiviokubrick.it/english/words/interviews/1980mystery.html

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