Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Halloween … an appropriate night to revisit my favorite hotel.

Many people say that movies, not matter how great, lose something every time we watch them. That may be true of many movies, but not all. In 2010, one of my all-time favorite movies, The Shining (1980), turned 30-years-old. Like everyone, at some time during their life, I asked myself where all that time went – (into the past, I’m reliably informed) – and why it all had to go by so quickly – (because I got busy with stuff, I am also reliably informed). A lot has happened in three decades; good, bad, ugly, tragic, joyful … just like it has all through history, as it will no doubt follow with each year that still comes to pass; a mix of sadness and delight for everyone.
I remember one Saturday afternoon back in 1980 so clearly. I was 12-years-old, an avid reader, and already bitten by the writing bug, sitting on the couch reading the arts and cultural section in the middle of the newspaper because it covered the latest book and movie releases. That particular weekend there was a two-page spread on the release of the latest Stanley Kubrick movie. The release of one of Kubrick's movies always seemed like a major cinematic event in itself. That year it was The Shining, adapted from the novel by Stephen King, starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and ‘Scatman’ Crothers. The news report didn’t give too much of the plot away, but just enough to hook my interest, and I had to know what was behind that now-famous maniacal grin that Jack Nicholson pulls so effectively, when he presses his face into the splinter gap in the door and says: “Heeeeere’s Johnny!”
The tagline on the poster repeated in my mind: “The tide of terror that swept America IS HERE”. In the weeks that followed, I saw a short “teaser trailer” on TV, a series of flash images: Jack running through the snow, hefting an axe, a young kid peddling a trike through narrow corridors, a woman holding a knife and running for her life through other corridors … I was hooked even before I’d seen the movie in full. I had to know what this story was about! In those days, 18-rated movies were given an “X” certificate. Back then, I was not even a teenager and there was no way I’d get to see it on the giant cinema screen. VCRs had been on the market for a while by then, but it would still be at least another year before the movie would be released on video cassette for rental, so I knew I had to wait.

In the meantime, I went out and bought the new edition of Stephen King’s source novel and read it before seeing the movie.

My first copy of the novel was the movie tie-in edition, with a yellow jacket and cover art from another version of the movie poster.
In the center of the book was eight pages of black and white stills from the movie.

Sadly, that copy fell apart decades ago because paperbacks will only stand so much re-reading before they disintegrate.
I would later buy a replacement copy of that particular edition and I keep it stored away because it’s now collectable.

These days, when I feel like rereading the novel, I have a cool hardback copy with a cover art image reminiscent of jolly Jack Nicholson’s grinning face from the movie.
The story is one of the best I’ve ever read: Jack Torrence is an ex-school teacher, a wannabe writer, and recovering alcoholic. On the edge of bankruptcy and losing his family, Jack is desperate for work. His friend, Al Shockley, puts in a good word for him and helps him to secure the job of winter caretaker at the Overlook hotel, which is isolated in the mountains and cut off during the months of heavy snow. At first, it seems the perfect solution to all their problems: for the months they are residing at the hotel, they have no rent to pay, plenty of food stored in the hotel pantry and freezer, they are being paid to stay there, once the snow cuts them off Jack will not be tempted to frequent a local bar, and there is no alcohol on the premises either. It is a time of quiet, almost monastic, solitude in which he and his wife, Wendy, and their young son, Danny, can recover from their troubles while Jack finishes his play.
The Shining of the title is the psychic ability Danny is born with, a gift shared by the hotel cook, Halloran. Danny experiences terrifying and prophetic flashes, but he is too young to properly interpret the visions. Jack also experiences similar visions, which suggests that Danny inherited the power from him.
From the back-story we learn how the marriage is in trouble, made worse when Jack lost his previous teaching position because of an alcohol-related incident. He also has a violent temper. However, they remain optimistic about their future … until they are shut in for the winter, the snow cuts them off from the outside world, the hotel begins to come to life and supernatural forces start to work against them.
They each occupy themselves as best they can through the following days and weeks, as the snow gets deeper, the wind howls, and time seems to stand still: Danny plays on his tricycle, using the long, deserted hotel corridors as a grand prix circuit, and plays with his cars and fire engine. Wendy cooks for the family, watches TV and attends to the daily routine of the hotel heating system.

Jack settles in the cavernous Colorado Lounge and makes it his own study as he tries to work on his book.

Jack’s gradual mental disintegration is frightening to watch. “Cabin Fever” is a real condition and frustration, isolation and boredom can have a debilitating effect on the human psyche. The eerie winding hotel corridors move in tighter as the evil force turns the family against each other.
There are several differences between the novel and movie, particularly with the endings, but both work in their own right.
Stanley Kubrick’s direction gives the story a suitably chilling atmosphere. The camera work is flawless, particularly the breathtaking fly-over of Wild Goose Island at St Mary Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana, in the scene that opens the movie. This is followed by the aerial shots over the beginning titles, with the camera following Jack in his VW car as he follows the winding mountain roads, which lead him to The Overlook Hotel. The exterior of the hotel was shot at The Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, Oregon.
This is far more than the average brainless stalk-n-slash story. The build up to the horror is slow and deliberate. As in real life, these things can be the result of a gradual build up of events.
However, The Shining is, at its core, a ghost story, with the ending of the movie version even hinting at … ah, but that would be telling.
To those who haven’t yet seen Jack Nicholson swing that fire axe and breaking through those doors with practised expertise, a skill acquired from his real-life time in the fire department, along with all the eerie pleasure and superb photography this movie has to offer, all I can say is save a dark evening, keep the lights off, turn up the volume on this one and enjoy a truly great movie.
I took this photo for posterity and the purpose of this blog, because wherever I go, the opportunity to watch and enjoy the movie always comes up. I was able to pass some time of a plane flight, with the screen on the back of the seat in front of me. It was a long flight and I was able to pass the hours with The Shining, followed by Stanley Kubrick’s 1963 black comedy masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove. Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963), and Ridley Scott’s swords and sandals epic, Gladiator (2000).

I spent a night in a hotel and, as I was relaxing on the bed watching the weather report on the TV news, propped up with pillows behind me, a scene from The Shining flashed into my mind. Here I was, reliving a scene from that movie: the part where Scatman Crothers, as Halloran, is relaxing in his hotel room, also watching the weather report on the TV news.
When I returned home, I re-watched the movie … again! It was partly to check my photo with the scene, which I could have done by using the scene selection and jumping to that particular section of the movie. But I didn’t. I watched the whole movie again, pausing when I reached that scene to compare my picture with it.
There was no portrait of a beautiful and voluptuous woman above the TV in my hotel room, or lamps on either side of the TV, or pillow beneath my feet ... but still - pretty close!
The Shining, both novel and movie have never lost anything for me over the years since 1980. Reading a favorite book and seeing a favorite movie can be like being visited by an old friend. It takes me back to other times in my life when I have either reread the book or watched the movie again. During the late 1980s, I was lucky enough to see it on the big cinema screen, a repeat screening, double-billed with The Border, a crime drama Jack Nicholson made in 1982, co-starring Harvey Keitel, Valerie Perrine and Warren Oates, another under-rated classic.
I wonder when I will watch The Shining again, where I will be in my life when I take another walk through those fictional hallways, what other goals I will have achieved by then, what news I will have from my friends, and what will be new in the world.
It was a great Halloween … an appropriate night to revisit The Overlook, my favorite hotel … not that I need an excuse to revisit that particular hotel any time.

Shine on everyone!

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