Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Shining (1980)

It's quite a sharp shift, going straight from Ed Wood to Stanley Kubrick. Regarded as one of the few true geniuses who found themselves putting their ideas across through the medium of cinema rather than in some great philosophical thesis, Kubrick had a knack for adapting his source material into a film with depth usually well surpassing that of the book. He would take the basic story of the novel and reform it around the messages he intended to pervade.

Perhaps the best example of Kubrick's reanalysis of a work is his 1980 film The Shining, which I watched for the second time a week ago today. Stephen King was far from happy with Kubrick's adaptation of his homonymous seminal 1977 horror masterwork. He disagreed with the casting of Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, saying Nicholson's previous role in Milos Forman's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest would suggest to the audience that Torrance would go mad before the film had even begun. He disagreed with many of the new aspects of the story that Kubrick had introduced. He mistook a drastic new take on his story for a badly beefed-up interpretation. King's Shining and Kubrick's Shining are two explicitly different works. Many adaptations struggle as they simply put the words from the page onto the screen, without exploiting the opportunity for making a unique film from a framework that has already been created.

The trouble with (or greatest thing about?) The Shining is the fact that Kubrick buried the true message behind the film so deep within the plot, script and photography that no one knows for certain what it is.  While most fans agree that there is some metaphorical depth beneath the surface tale of a man being driven to kill his own family by the ghosts in a hotel he is looking after over the winter, they can't agree about what it is. The recent documentary Room 237 (which I am desperate to watch) explores the many theories behind The Shining, with a group of hardcore fans tossing their suggestions into the ring. These range from the film being about the persecution of native Americans (the hotel is built on an ancient Native American burial ground; a can featuring a Red Indian profile is strategically placed in one shot), the Holocaust (a subject that fascinated Kubrick for much of his life) and, most strangely, the authenticity of the Apollo 11 moon landing footage. One man believes the film is Kubrick's admission that he actually directed the fake moon landing film. His sole proof for this seems to be, Danny wears an Apollo 11 jumper in one scene.

It's fair to say that Kubrick hardly hands it to you on a plate, though. At times, The Shining can feel like a drug-induced nightmare, a surreal, Dantean hallucination that confuses you more than scares you. Nearly every shot contains some odd incongruity that could be read into as representative of a certain idea. Some may not be intentional. It wouldn't be difficult to choose a random message before the start and find a fair amount of evidence for it. Even more interesting is trying to find the answers to the film's many mysteries that remain unaddressed at the end. If the ghosts are all in Jack's mind, how does he escape from the larder? And what is that photo at the end supposed to mean?

And when it's not being wonderfully perplexing, a good chunk of The Shining is simply terrifying. The first act is deeply ominous and full of foreshadowing, stretching the tension to breaking point, before Jack snaps in the second half, trapping his wife and son in the hotel during a snowdrift, and letting the spirits of the hotel take over his fragile mind. Jack's famous axe-wielding assault on his family's room as they frantically try to escape through the slightly-too-narrow bathroom window is the most frightening few minutes of cinema I've ever watched, above all the crappy modern exorcism movies I've been subjected to. The suspense as Jack chases his son through the hotel's maze is palpable. 

With one of the most spectacular manipulations of tension of any horror film, and one of the most startling final shots ever filmed, The Shining is a fantastic film to get your teeth into. Far from being ruined by repeat viewings, they are almost necessary. It's near impossible to only watch The Shining once. Every time you watch it again, it gets even better, as you notice more details and begin to form your own opinion on what it is actually about. I myself have no idea. The Shining is a cerebral masterpiece, a film beyond most others, so it shouldn't be much of a task to keep watching. Forever and ever and ever.

Follow me on Twitter: @crunro

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

Just over a week ago, I decided it was about time I used the two twenty pound Amazon vouchers I had got for my birthday in May. I had, at long last, come to a conclusion about what I would spend this forty quid on. After some negotiation with my sister, I bought three Pixar films: Wall-E, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo. Remarkably, I still had much left over, and I decided to use it on another film poster for my bedroom. Texting around my friends, I decided I wanted a poster from the classic era of Hollywood film-making, pre-1969 or so, when the posters were at their most over-the-top and striking. For the same reason, I scouted around classic horror posters, through Hitchcock, before settling on what is one of my favourite watching experiences: Ed Wood's classic Plan 9 From Outer Space, famous for being one of the worst films ever made.

In the mood after buying the poster, I had a look on Youtube, where the entire movie is available for free. Despite it taking me into the early hours of the morning, I watched the full thing. It is an object of beauty. Hardly a scene goes by without some blatant mistake, be it the boom mike wobbling around the top of the screen, clumpy dialogue moving along like high heels on a whole street of chewing gum, characters disappearing from the story without mention, or the classic cardboard flying saucers dangling from string that no one has bothered to try hiding. There is nothing to not like about a film in which almost everything is disastrously wrong.

It is introduced by a feverishly dramatic man, who launches into a passionate yet nonsensical speech about the invaders from space, which contradicts confuses so many things before the actual film begins. From there, it's a tantalising story about very camp, very humanoid aliens descending on a small rural town in the USA and initiating 'Plan 9', which involves resurrecting the Earth dead. Handily, the precise science of this technique is explained in the script - 'long distance electrodes' are shot into the pineal and pituitary gland of the recently dead. Don't be getting any ideas, now, it might just work...

It is exactly this tacky awfulness that makes Plan 9 From Outer Space so much fun to watch. Search for it in the Internet Movie Database, and have a read of some of the quotes. It is far funnier than most of the comedies I've been subjected to over the years, and the laughs come in every form, in every other line. The narrator is superb, attacking the English language with a demonstration of faux-deep philosophy and embarrassingly corny metaphor that it must actually take some impressive dexterity to accomplish. The poor actors try so hard to disguise the mediocrity of the writing, but their serious manner only succeeds in making it even more hilarious. The special effects are non-existent, with flashes of the studio lights substituting any budget-swelling explosions. In fact, no expense is wasted  anywhere...

Ed Wood has gone down in history as one of the worst directors of all time. Perhaps that's unfair. I enjoy his films far  more than most of those I see in the cinema these days, with multi-million-dollar budgets. There's an innocent appeal to these films that it's difficult not to enjoy. Unlike other qualifiers for worst film ever made, which are bad sheerly for being offensively misjudged in terms of tone (see; The Day The Clown Cried), Wood's movies are simply too entertaining to complain about. For this reason, Plan 9 From Outer Space is far from being the most dreadful picture to be shown on a cinema screen. It is glorious good fun to watch. The legendary Ed should be proud of this achievement, simply because it ended up so astronomically far from what he intended it to be.

Follow me on Twitter: @crunro