Friday, 26 August 2016

Sometimes the Silver Screen Don't Shine by Ruby Barnes

In July 2016 the Barnes family spent two weeks in Majorca, during which three of the four of us read The Shining by one Mr Stephen King. The readings were punctuated by Mrs R appearing at doorways and saying "Here's Johnny!" in her best Jack Nicholson impression, which was scary enough. Imagine our individual surprise when the "Here's Johnny!" phrase was nowhere to be found in the 2011 paperback reprint of the 1977 original novel. We resolved to watch Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film version of the story on our return to Ireland, as it was before my daughter's time and I had never managed to watch the film all the way through.
 
Many times re-published, this edition of the 1977 novel has a 2001 introduction by the author.

The novel revolves around a very limited number of characters in an ultimately claustrophobic setting. What happens before the family of three reach the Overlook Hotel is of great significance when it comes to understanding why Jack, Wendy and little Danny Torrance behave the way they do once the Overlook become snowbound. Jack's history of drink and violence, and his struggle with self-esteem as a writer of limited success, are essential elements. Danny's psychic premonitions, guided by his imaginary friend Tony, build a sense of menace from the start. The dubious history of the Overlook itself is a key driver for the plot. The head of steam built by the hotel's faulty boiler and the thumping of the wooden mallet in Danny's trances built the tension at an ominous pace.
There are very few loose ends or lame components in the novel. King himself says in his introduction that "there is a cocky quality in some of The Shining's prose that has come to grate on me later years, but I still like the book enormously and recognize the choice it forced on me". The choice he talks about is between creating an obvious monster and a more subtle, reality-based horror such as the Jack Torrance of this novel. All three Barnes critics found it to be a great read.

Here's Johnny!

It was with great expectations that we sat down on our return to watch the 1980 film version of The Shining. My previous failed attempts at watching the film I put down to my short attention span and poor hearing. Pretty soon good old Jack Nicholson was stomping about the Overlook in his pre-manic style, gearing up to full lunatic (as seen in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest).
But wait! Where was Jack's back story? His history of violence and drinking, of abuse and being abused. What about the Overlook's own history? Where was Danny's sense of premonition, the thumping of the wooden mallet, the imaginary Tony's warnings?
New additions were thrown into the mix. Scary twins girls featured regularly. Tony was reduced to a finger puppet. Nothing hung together. The brief appearance of a man in a dog costume only made sense having read the book. It was a disjointed mess. Kubrick had gone for the cheap trick, a full-on Nicholson monster with little or no plausibility. Nothing much more than a slasher film of gratuitous madness.
In his paperback introduction King alludes to the fact that he had just one single conversation with Kubrick about the film and they had come to different conclusions regarding Jack Torrance. I suspect it was a much more marked difference than that.
I never did "get" The Shining as a film and I never will. It's the worst kind of clich├ęd interpretation of a great novel. Nevertheless, it retains a reputation as a key part of pop culture.


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