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Why does blockbuster movie music all sound boring and the same?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2016

The series of Marvel movies — X-Men, Avengers, Spider-Man, etc. — is the highest grossing film series of all time but the films’ music is largely forgettable and bland in a way that it isn’t in Star Wars, James Bond, or Harry Potter. In this video, the Every Frame a Painting gang explores why that is: partially a trend toward movie music not designed to be noticed and also the use by directors of temporary music that unduly influences the final score. All the Marvel movies run together for me (aside from Guardians of the Galaxy, which had distinctive music in it, I can’t recall a single scene from any one of the more recent films) and perhaps the music is one reason.

There’s a follow-up video to the one above composed of clips of movies played with their temp music followed by the same clips with the final music, which is nearly identical.

They’ve also started a Twitter account highlighting the influence of temp music on final scores.

These videos have me wondering…was Carter Burwell’s score for Carol influenced by temp music, specifically Philip Glass’ score for The Hours? This interview in Rolling Stone and the FAQ on his site suggest not:

It’s his ability to make music that compliments a scene rather than eclipse it that has made him an invaluable creative partner to filmmakers who work in such intense melodramatic registers, and Burwell is emphatic that his scores aren’t responsible for all of the emotional heavy-lifting. “As a listener, I do not like being instructed,” he says, emphatically. “It riles me when the music tells me something before I can figure it out for myself. In fact, I enjoy the discomfort of not being sure how to take something.” It’s the reason why he loathes listening to the temp music that directors often attach to rough cuts in order to point composers in the right direction.

But the similarities are there, so who knows?

Update: I forgot to mention that Stanley Kubrick ended up ditching the original score written for 2001 and sticking with the temp music, which were the classical compositions by Strauss et al. that we’re so familiar with today.

Update: In a video response, Dan Golding shows how temp music is not a recent Hollywood obsession…even the famous Star Wars theme was greatly influenced by temp music:

He questions that the pull of temp music by contemporary directors and composers is sufficient to explain why movie music is now so uninspiring:

Film music is an embrace of rampant unoriginality, and to think about how film music works, we need to think of new ways to talk about these questions, rather than just saying, “it’s a copy”.

Golding pins the blame primarily on technology but also on composers and filmmakers drawing from fewer and less diverse sources. Interestingly, this latter point was also made by Every Frame a Painting’s Tony Zhou in a recent chat with Anil Dash, albeit about originality in video essays. A lightly edited excerpt:

My advice to people has always been: copy old shit. For instance, the style of Every Frame a Painting is NOT original at all. I am blatantly ripping off two sources: the editing style of F for Fake, and the critical work of David Bordwell/Kristin Thompson, who wrote the introductory text on filmmaking called Film Art. I’ve run into quite a few video essays that are trying to be “like Every Frame a Painting” and I always tell people, please don’t do that because I’m ripping of someone else. You should go to the source. When any art form or medium becomes primarily about people imitating the dominant form, we get stifling art.

If you look at all of the great filmmakers, they’re all ripping someone off but it was someone 50 years ago. It rejuvenated the field to be reminded of the history of our medium. And I sincerely wish more video essayists would rip off the other great film essayists: Chris Marker, Godard, Agnès Varda, Thom Andersen. Or even rip off non-video essayists. I would kill to see someone make video essays the way Pauline Kael wrote criticism. That would be my jam!

ps. Also! Hans Zimmer — composer of film scores for Gladiator, Interstellar, Inception, The Dark Knight, etc. — was the keyboard player in the Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star music video. WHAT?!

We Work Remotely

Dr. Strangelove’s Secret Uses of Uranus

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 22, 2016

Kubrick Strangelove Titles

This is a page from one of Stanley Kubrick’s notebooks, on which he jotted down more than a dozen different titles for the movie that came to be called Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Among the rejected titles were:

Dr. Doomsday or: How to Start World War III Without Even Trying
Dr. Strangelove’s Secret Uses of Uranus
My Bomb, Your Bomb
Strangelove: Nuclear Wiseman
The Bomb and Dr. Strangelove or: How to be Afraid 24hrs a Day
The Passion of Dr. Strangelove

Fun titles, but they remind me of a chess quote I tweeted the other day: “When you see a good move look out for a better.” Glad Kubrick stuck with it.

The alternate titles made me curious to look at the script, which I’d never seen before. Even glancing at the first few pages are illuminating. I knew the main characters names were full of suggestive puns — General Buck Turgidson, President Merkin Muffley, General Jack D. Ripper — but that’s nothing compared to some of the names in the script, many of which do not appear in the film:

General “Buck” Schmuck
Admiral Percy Buldike
Ambassador de Sade (“Alexei de Sadeski” in the film)
Von Klutz
Major Nonce
Lieutenant Quentin Quiffer
Lieutenant “Binky” Ballmuff

And under “General Notes”, Kubrick lays out how he wants the film to look and feel:

1. The story will be played for realistic comedy - which means the essentially truthful moods and attitudes will be portrayed accurately, with an occasional bizarre or super-realistic crescendo. The acting will never be so-called “comedy” acting.

2. The sets and technical details will be done realistically and carefully. We will strive for the maximum atmosphere and sense of visual reality from the sets and locations.

3. The Flying sequences will especially be presented in as vivid a manner as possible. Exciting backgrounds and special effects will be obtained.

Nailed it. (via @monstro)

A tour of the Stanley Kubrick Exhibition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2016

The Stanley Kubrick Exhibition is currently showing at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and Adam Savage went to take a look and show us around. Super bummed I haven’t seen this in person yet. After SF, it heads off to Mexico City.

2001: A Picasso Odyssey

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2016

Bhautik Joshi took 2001: A Space Odyssey and ran it through a “deep neural networks based style transfer” with the paintings of Pablo Picasso.

See also Blade Runner in the style of van Gogh’s Starry Night and Alice in a Neural Networks Wonderland.

A visual comparison of Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2016

The films of Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick share some interesting visual similarities. Any influence was a one-way street, of course. With the exception of Bottle Rocket, which was cinematically spare compared to his later work, all of Anderson’s films were shot after Kubrick finished shooting Eyes Wide Shut.

A supercut of Stanley Kubrick references in The Simpsons

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2016

There are tons of movie references in The Simpsons, but the show leans more heavily on referencing Stanley Kubrick’s films than perhaps any other director. As you can see in the video, there are dozens of references to 2001, Dr. Strangelove, The Shining, and even Eyes Wide Shut sprinkled throughout the series.

Dr. Strangelove joins the Criterion Collection

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2016

Dr Strangelove Criterion

The Criterion Collection is coming out with a Blu-ray version of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Features include a restored 4K digital transfer and a bunch of interviews and short documentaries about the film. Strangelove is one of my top two favorite films of all time. (via df)

Movie references in The Simpsons

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 11, 2016

From Celia Gomez, a supercut of some of the most notable movie references from The Simpsons. The Simpsons came out when I was 16 and while I loved it immediately, the show started making a whole lot more sense after I watched The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Citizen Kane, and Dr. Strangelove in my 20s. Lots of Kubrick in the Simpsons.

The Chickening

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2016

The Chickening is a surreal visual remix of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining done by Nick DenBoer and Davy Force. It mostly defies description, so just watch the first minute or so (after which you won’t be able to resist the rest of it). The short film is playing at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

But seriously, WTF was that?! (via @UnlikelyWorlds)

Kubrick in Color

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2016

A video exploring Stanley Kubrick’s use of color in his films. See also Kubrick’s use of the color red. (via @john_overholt)

I am putting myself to the fullest possible use

posted by Susannah Breslin   Dec 24, 2015


A behind-the-scenes photo from “2001: A Space Odyssey” from Coudal’s treasure trove of “Stuff About Stanley Kubrick.”

View from the Overlook: Crafting ‘The Shining’

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2015

From 2007, a 30-minute documentary on the making of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Includes interviews with Jack Nicholson, Steven Spielberg, and Sydney Pollack.

Kubrick: more like music than like fiction

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2015

How many videos can we watch about the films of Stanley Kubrick? If you’re anything like me, the answer is never enough. This montage hinting at connections between his films is particularly well done.

The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2015

Making of 2001

Last year, Taschen came out with a limited edition book on The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. Only a couple thousand were made and one of them is selling on Amazon for $1750. This year, they’re releasing a regular edition for a much more reasonable $47. (via @michaelbierut)

Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2015

Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove is a 45-minute behind-the-scenes documentary about Stanley Kubrick’s kooky masterpiece (and one of my two favorite movies).1

And speaking of Kubrick, director Marc Forster is making a trilogy of films based on Kubrick’s script for The Downslope, a movie about the Civil War. *tents fingers* Interesting…

  1. The other is Rushmore.

Trailer for Wes Anderson’s The Shining

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2015

If you take Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel and mix in elements of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the result is pretty good.

(via devour)

The Directors Series: Stanley Kubrick

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2015

From Cameron Beyl, a three-hour video essay on the films of Stanley Kubrick. The essay splits Kubrick’s career into five parts: the early independent features (Fear & Desire, Killer’s Kiss, The Killing), the Kirk Douglas years (Paths of Glory, Spartacus), the Peter Sellers comedies (Lolita, Dr. Strangelove), the Master Works (2001, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining), and the final features (Full Metal Jacket, Eyes Wide Shut).

Beyl has just begun his second extended essay, on David Fincher. (via openculture)

Dr. Strangelove’s opening title sequence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2015

The Art of the Title covers the opening title sequence to Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

Notably, none of the aerial footage in the opening came from — or was even made for — Kubrick’s film. The footage is all stock. Because it came from more than one stock reel, the sequence features multiple aircraft, including an angle from a KC-135 Stratotanker’s refueling deck, which dates back to October 20, 1956 and came directly from the Boeing company. The sequence shows the KC-135 transferring its precious fluids to a B-52 Stratofortress, the colossal bomber featured later in the film. The phallic piece of machinery in the first shot, however, is not the refueling probe of a B-52 or of a KC-135, as one would assume, but possibly that of a Gloster Meteor jet fighter. Regardless, it is the first in a long line of sight gags and sex jokes sprinkled throughout the film.

Also included is a short interview with the title designer, Pablo Ferro.

Soderbergh’s edit of 2001

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2015

So. Steven Soderbergh has cut his own version of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Like, !!!1

I haven’t had a chance to watch this yet, so I don’t know what’s different about it aside from the shorter runtime of 1h50m. If someone watches it and wants to report in about the differences, let me know. Soderbergh also guessed that Kubrick would have liked shooting on digital:

let me also say i believe SK would have embraced the current crop of digital cameras, because from a visual standpoint, he was obsessed with two things: absolute fidelity to reality-based light sources, and image stabilization. regarding the former, the increased sensitivity without resolution loss allows us to really capture the world as it is, and regarding the latter, post-2001 SK generally shot matte perf film (normally reserved for effects shots, because of its added steadiness) all day, every day, something which digital capture makes moot. pile on things like never being distracted by weaving, splices, dirt, scratches, bad lab matches during changeovers, changeovers themselves, bad framing and focus exacerbated by projector vibration, and you can see why i think he might dig digital.

See also Soderbergh’s B&W edit of Raiders of the Lost Ark. (via @fengypants)

Update: Reader and 2001 fan Dan Norquist watched Soderbergh’s edit and reported back via email:

I love everything Soderbergh does and I love the fact that he cut this film. It’s fun to see it in a more concise form. Really, there’s no choppy edits or anything that doesn’t make sense (except the whole movie of course!). I did miss some of my favorite parts. I love when the father is talking to his daughter on the video phone. Also, if you weren’t around in 1968 it’s really hard to describe how scary the Cold War was. There was always this thing hanging over our heads, that the Russians really had the means to destroy us with nuclear weapons. So you really need the full scene where the American meets the Russians (Soviets). The forced, unnatural politeness is so brilliant and helped to give the film context in its time.

All the important stuff is there — the apes, the monolith, HAL turning evil, astronaut spinning away, the speeding light show (shortened?), old man pointing at space child — and it’s all recut by a master.

Finally, there is something about the full length of the original film that is part of its strength as a piece of art. There is no hurry, no cut to the chase. It’s almost as if you have to go through the entire journey before you can earn the bubble baby at the end.

No surprise that he tightened it up into something less Kubrickian and more Soderberghish. Dan closed his email by saying he would recommend it to fans of the original. (thx, dan)

Update: I’ve seen some comments on Twitter and elsewhere about the legality of Soderbergh posting the 2001 and Raiders edits. The videos are hosted on Vimeo, but are private and can’t be embedded on any site other than Soderbergh’s. But any enterprising person can easily figure out how to download either video. The Raiders video has been up since September, which means either that Paramount doesn’t care (most likely in my mind) or their lawyers somehow haven’t caught wind of it, even though it was all over the internet a few months ago (less likely). We’ll see if whoever owns the rights to 2001 (Time Warner?) feels similarly.

An interesting wrinkle here is that Soderbergh has been outspoken about copyright piracy and the Internet. From a 2009 NY Times article about a proposed French anti-piracy law:

In the United States, a Congressional committee this week began studying the issue. In a hearing Monday before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, Steven Soderbergh, the film director, cited the French initiative in asking lawmakers to deputize the American film industry to pursue copyright pirates.

Deputizing the film industry to police piracy sounds a little too much like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. I wonder if Soderbergh feels like these edits are legal to post publicly, if they are fair use for example. Or rather if he feels it’s not but he can get away with it because he is who he is. (thx, @bc_butler)

Update: Soderbergh has removed his cut of 2001 from his site “AT THE REQUEST OF WARNER BROS. AND THE STANLEY KUBRICK ESTATE”. So, that answers that question. (via @fengypants)

  1. I also found out that apparently I had jury duty last week on the same day in the same room as Soderbergh. Total embarrassing fanboy meltdown narrowly avoided.

The original score for 2001: A Space Odyssey

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2014

During the production of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick commissioned well-known film score composer Alex North to do the score for the film. North had previously done scores for A Streetcar Named Desire, Spartacus, Cleopatra, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and later received an honorary Oscar for his lifetime of work. As production progressed, Kubrick began to feel that the temporary music he used to edit the film was more appropriate. From an interview with Kubrick by Michel Ciment:

However good our best film composers may be, they are not a Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music available from the past and from our own time? When you’re editing a film, it’s very helpful to be able to try out different pieces of music to see how they work with the scene. This is not at all an uncommon practice. Well, with a little more care and thought, these temporary music tracks can become the final score. When I had completed the editing of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I had laid in temporary music tracks for almost all of the music which was eventually used in the film. Then, in the normal way, I engaged the services of a distinguished film composer to write the score. Although he and I went over the picture very carefully, and he listened to these temporary tracks (Strauss, Ligeti, Khatchaturian) and agreed that they worked fine and would serve as a guide to the musical objectives of each sequence he, nevertheless, wrote and recorded a score which could not have been more alien to the music we had listened to, and much more serious than that, a score which, in my opinion, was completely inadequate for the film.

And so the temporary music became the iconic score we know today. For comparison, the embedded video shows how North’s original score would have sounded over the opening credits and initial scene.

Selections from North’s original score were later released publicly. Here’s a 38-minute album on Spotify:

Kubrick was absolutely right to ditch North’s score…it’s perfectly fine music but totally wrong for the movie, not to mention it sounds totally dated today. The classical score gives the film a timeless quality, adding to the film’s appeal and reputation more than 45 years later. (via @UnlikelyWorlds)

Update: Two additional facets to this story. North first learned that Kubrick ditched his score at the NYC premiere of the film; he was reportedly (and understandably) “devastated”. And even when Kubrick was artistically satisfied with the music he chose, negotiations to procure the rights weren’t necessarily smooth.

2) Kubrick’s associates did obtain licenses from Ligeti’s publishers and from record and radio companies, although they were not forthcoming about the pivotal role assigned to the music in the film; 3) Ligeti learned about the use of his music not from his publishers but from members of the Bavarian Radio Chorus; 4) he attended a showing of the film with stopwatch in hand, furiously scribbling down timings — thirty-two minutes in all;

Kubrick was undoubtably of the “shoot first, ask questions later” school of negotiation. (via @timrosenberg)

2001 explored

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2014

Worth a listen: a 30-minute BBC Radio show on 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Francine journeys through time and space to uncover the mysteries of this 1968 classic. Searching for the mind of H.A.L. and lost alien worlds among the delights of the Stanley Kubrick Archive at London’s University of the Arts. Joining Francine on her voyage of discovery are 2001 chronicler Piers Bizony, former urbane spaceman Keir Dullea and the woman who built the moon! Other voices include production designer Harry Lange, make-up genius Stuart Freeborn, editor Ray Lovejoy, all now so much stardust, as well as those of lead ape ‘Moonwatcher’ (Dan Richter) & Stargate deviser Douglas Trumbull.

The unfinished films of Stanley Kubrick

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2014

Narrated by Malcolm McDowell and featuring interviews from many collaborators and colleagues, Lost Kubrick is a short documentary on the films that Stanley Kubrick never finished.

Through interviews and abundant archival materials, this documentary examines these “lost” films in depth to discover what drew Kubrick to these projects, the work he did to prepare them for production, and why they ultimately were abandoned. Some of the unfinished project discussed here are “Napoleon”, “The Aryan Papers” and also “A.I” (which we know finally made by Steven Spielberg).

A.I. movie merch: Super Toy Teddy

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2014

Super Toy Teddy

Today I learned that Hasbro released a toy based on the talking teddy bear in Kubrick/Spielberg’s A.I. W? T? F? And of course it’s super creepy:

Noel Murray has the whole story, along with an appreciation of the movie and Spielberg’s direction of it.

A.I. in particular still strikes me as a masterpiece. I thought it might be back in 2001; now I’m certain of it. But it isn’t any easier to watch in 2014 than it was before my first child was born. Like a lot of Spielberg’s films — even the earlier crowd-pleasers — A.I. is a pointed critique of human selfishness, and our tendency to assert our will and make bold, world-changing moves, with only passing regard for the long-term consequences. Spielberg carries this theme of misguided self-absorption to child-rearing, implying that parents program their kids to be cute love machines, unable to cope with the harshness of the real world. He also questions whether humankind is nothing but flesh-based technology, which emerged from the primordial ooze (represented in the opening shot of A.I. by a roiling ocean), and has been trained over millennia to respond to stimuli in socially appropriate ways. A.I. blurs the lines between human and mecha frequently, from an early shot of Monica that makes her look exactly like one of Professor Hobby’s creations, to the way Martin walks, thanks to mechanical legs.

2001 behind-the-scenes photos

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 03, 2014

From a large collection of photos shot on the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey, two of my favorites:

2001 Behind 01

2001 Behind 02

Those are a pair of smooth criminals right there.

2001: A Font Odyssey

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 03, 2014

From a new blog, Typeset in the Future, an examination of the typography in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It’s Futura again, with an M borrowed from Gill Sans, and a W that I don’t recognize from anywhere.

Fear and Desire

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2014

Well lookie here, a restored full-length version of Stanley Kubrick’s very first film, 1953’s Fear and Desire, has popped up on YouTube:

Kubrick famously disliked his first film. From a 1994 episode of All Things Considered:

D’Arcy: But Stanley Kubrick hates the film and to keep it off the screen he threatened Film Forum with copyright violations, even though Fear and Desire is in the public domain. Through a Warner Brothers’ publicist, Kubrick called his first feature ‘a bumbling amateur film exercise’.

Goldstein: Kubrick had Warner Brothers send a letter out to all the press in town saying that the picture was boring and pretentious and of course, that only drew more attention to it. So it now, now it really is a must see, because now it’s the picture Kubrick wants to suppress. So that makes it even sexier as a box office attraction. So I think he’s increased our attendance four-fold.

(via @SebastianNebel)

The five editing techniques of Vsevolod Pudovkin

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2013

Vsevolod Pudovkin was a Soviet film director who developed influential theories of film editing. In this 12-minute video, Evan Richards uses clips from films like 2001, Lawrence of Arabia, and The Godfather to illustrate Pudovkin’s editing techniques.

Pudovkin’s book, Film Technique and Film Acting, which is available to read for free online. Stanley Kubrick was a fan:

The most instructive book on film aesthetics I came across was Pudovkin’s Film Technique, which simply explained that editing was the aspect of film art form which was completely unique, and which separated it from all other art forms. The ability to show a simple action like a man cutting wheat from a number of angles in a brief moment, to be able to see it in a special way not possible except through film — that this is what it was all about. This is obvious, of course, but it’s so important it cannot be too strongly stressed. Pudovkin gives many clear examples of how good film editing enhances a scene, and I would recommend his book to anyone seriously interested in film technique.

Room 237 is Crazy Good: A Dissenting Opinion

posted by Adam Lisagor   Sep 27, 2013

Because I like and respect Jason Kottke, I’m taking this opportunity to express a contrary viewpoint on a documentary he reviewed not two days ago, Rodney Ascher’s “Room 237”.

Before I forget, happy birthday, Jason.

Now, what I suspect has happened here is that both he and our friend John Gruber, whose tweet spurred Jason’s post, sort of missed the point. Which is that the film’s ambition was not to cast light on the conspiracy theories around their beloved Kubrick film (“The Shining”, in case you’re coming to this late), it was not to document further context around the film or to disclose any of its master filmmaker’s process or intentions, but rather to paint an artful picture—a media collage if you will-of obsession, and mania.

But “Room 237” isn’t about “The Shining” or about Kubrick, it’s about a small assortment of unrelated film scholars(?) who have selected “The Shining” as their thing. It’s about the degree of their obsessions, the intricacies of their fixations.

Or rather, it’s not about the people, it’s about the infatuation. Watching the film, you’ll notice fairly quickly that the filmmakers have made the unique and brilliant choice to never show the theorists’ faces on-camera. All we know of them is their voices and their theories. This was at once a respectful and calculated choice. Respectful in that it protects the interviewees from some of the involuntary judgments we the audience will tend to make when given the benefit of someone’s physical appearance. And calculated in that presenting the subjects in audio only frees the viewer from the distraction of a fully fleshed-out human connection. Sure, we can extrapolate character and make judgments based on vocal tone and demographic (not to mention the content of the speech). But the main focus is on the visualizations themselves, which are nightmarishly brilliant.

What we have in the supporting media is a mashup of Kubrickian archive, bizarro warpy analog synth music, some digital wizardy, and old dollar-bin stock footage, all coming together to form a spooky dream fort — a haunted factory built of unfamiliar nostalgia.

You know that psychological effect that has no name, when you used to find an old VHS tape in the back of the cabinet, one that your family would use to record TV shows a decade before, and you’d play it, only to find that the commercials were still intact? Remember that creepy, kind of gross but comfortable remembrance? That’s what “Room 237” has in spades.

I have a unique (or at least memorable) story of my first viewing of “The Shining”. Short version: impacted largely by the medium through which I viewed it, the movie scared the living piss out of me. But I’m willing to put a stake in the ground and say that as scary as “The Shining” is to me, “Room 237” is even scarier. Not because I believe any of the conspiracy theories to be true, but because our minds are capable of manufacturing them.

After The Shining

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 27, 2013

The documentary Room 237 doesn’t sound like it’s about any of the things I like about Stanley Kubrick’s films, especially The Shining. But Stephen King reminds us that he doesn’t like The Shining either, and for better reasons than novelists usually give when talking about movies based on their books:

Shelley Duvall as Wendy is really one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film, she’s basically just there to scream and be stupid and that’s not the woman that I wrote about.

Wendy’s best moments in the film are when she’s not that thing, but yeah, she’s mostly that thing.

But at the same time King is bothered by one of the things that is actually super-distinctive and weirdly compelling about Kubrick, fucked up as that dude clearly was:

I’m not a cold guy. I think one of the things people relate to in my books is this warmth, there’s a reaching out and saying to the reader, “I want you to be a part of this.” With Kubrick’s The Shining I felt that it was very cold, very “We’re looking at these people, but they’re like ants in an anthill, aren’t they doing interesting things, these little insects.”

So wait, why is Stephen King talking about The Shining? Because he has a sequel to the book, just out today, called Doctor Sleep. It’s about Daniel Torrance, the little boy from the novel. It follows him through his childhood, and now he’s all grown up.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”

“Aided by a prescient cat”! Oh, whoever at Studio Ghibli becomes the anointed heir of Hayao Miyazaki, please give us a warm, weird, spooky film version of this. This book trailer isn’t doing it for me.

King’s BBC interview is better. Besides Kubrick’s movie, he talks about how The Shining was in retrospect a way for him to autobiographically work through his own drinking problems and resentment for literary fiction.

Room 237

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2013

John Gruber’s tweet last night reminded me I’d never written up a review for Room 237, the documentary about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Gruber writes:

Broke down and watched “Room 237”. It was bad. Really bad. Boring bad. Crazy people.

Just watch “The Shining” again instead.

I agree. I watched it earlier this year and disliked the film so much, I didn’t even finish it, which is rare for me. As I hinted at on Twitter, I’m exposed to enough anti-vaccine, anti-evolution, anti-anthropogenic climate change, anti-science, and religious fundamentalist “theories” in my day-to-day reading that are genuinely harmful to humanity that an examination of how the minds of conspiracy theory crackpots take the smallest little details and weave them into fantastical stories that make no sense is not how I want to spend my time.

As if to underscore my dislike of the film, the following arrived in my inbox shortly after I watched it.

To: Jason Kottke <jason@kottke.org>
Prospective Story: Re: Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”

i’m not good at salesmanship so i’ll get right to the point. i’ve solved the mystery of room 237 in stanley kubrick’s ‘the shining’ i’m shopping this information to various media sources. here’s the deal:

*** the price is $13,000.00

*** i’m aware of the documentaries, the scholarly analyses and the terrabytes of web space dedicated to the topic

*** nobody has gottten it right

*** i guarantee satisfaction

*** there’s no risk. either you think the solution to the greatest cinematic mystery of all time is worth 13k or you don’t. all i require beforehand is a conditional agreement protecting me from ip theft

*** i remain anonymous. once the transaction is complete the information is yours. i don’t care who receives credit or what you do with it

it’s been over 30 years. this information should be public. YOU can be the first.

i look forward to your response

Putting on my tin foil hat for a minute, DONT YOU SHEEPLE UNDERSTAND WHAT THIS MEANS? That someone is watching what I’m watching! How did this person know I had just watched Room 237?! I bet it’s the NSA! Or something! They are watching for people with large audiences to plant lies about Kubrick to deflect attention away from the faked Moon landing! For some reason! THIS IS THE PROOF WEVE BEEN WAITING FOR!??

Yep: “Really bad. Boring bad. Crazy people.”