Hi guys! As part of the YALC Readathon (a week-long readathon dedicated to reading as many books by YALC authors as possible, running from today until the 29th June), which I’m co-hosting with the lovely Jess, Carly and Michelle, UKYA author Marcus Sedgwick stopped by the blog to talk about what he thinks about Stephen King’s famous novel, The Shining – and its film adaptation. I hope you enjoy the post – and if you’d like to sign up for the readathon or find out more, you’ll find all the details here. Over to you, Marcus. 🙂
Since YALC is taking place inside a film festival, I thought I’d talk about the moving pictures a bit, by asking: Stanley Kubrick, what the hell were you on about?
Stanley Kubrick is one of the greatest directors of all time, and certainly one of the most influential. The other remarkable thing about him is that he made a wild variety of films, from early pieces like The Killing (which directly influenced Quentin Tarantino), to biblical epics like Spartacus, to classic war films like Full Metal Jacket, to the unquestionably best sci-fi movie ever, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Along the way there was the shock-fest of A Clockwork Orange, the dark comedy of Dr Strangelove, but the movie I’m going to talk about here is Kubrick’s contribution to the world of the horror film: The Shining.
One of the first things you notice about Kubrick is how many of his films were based on books or short stories. He was a voracious reader, and according to his collaborators, was always on the look out for the next story that he found excited him enough to want to adapt.
And talking of books becoming films, ADAPT is the word. For the two beasts are not the same. A book is a book and a film is a film and each has things it is good at, and things it is bad at.
So Kubrick’s film of The Shining is very different from Stephen King’s original novel, and famously, King hated what Kubrick did with it. I doubt Kubrick cared very much; in fact, there’s some rather strong evidence to show that he didn’t.
If you’ve read the book, you’ll know that Jack Torrance and family drive a RED VW beetle. Kubrick was well known for the meticulous thought behind every detail in his films – if he put something in a shot, he did it for a reason. Given that he knew that King hated his intentions for the book; the car that Jack Nicholson ends up driving is a YELLOW VW beetle.
And if you’re thinking so what? Then see what exact car, of all the thousands he could have chosen from, Kubrick has crushed by an 18-wheeler in the car crash scene later in the film…
Oh, a red VW. Two fingers to you, Mr King, I’ll make my own picture.
I remember the first time I saw The Shining, I was about 20. I was so disturbed by it that I had nightmares for three days. But I think that what I thought I was having nightmares about was not actually what I was having nightmares about.
The film hasn’t dated well in many ways. As modern horror films go, it may seem predictable and short on scares. Though the cinematography is extraordinary, the acting is, by and large, appallingly bad. But let me ask you: do you think that the man who made 2001, who made the ground-breaking A Clockwork Orange, or the controversial Lolita, would be content with making an average and by-the-numbers horror film?
Of course he wouldn’t, and that’s why many people have pondered what else The Shining movie might actually be about. If you’re interested in some of the theories, there is a fantastic documentary on just that subject called ROOM 237. It’s where the VW beetle thing can be found, for example, along with many other ideas of what the film is actually about. These range from the strangely convincing (it’s to do the with Holocaust of the Jews in WWII) to the frankly ludicrous (NASA made him fake the 1969 moon landings and this is his way of letting the world know). But all in all it’s a great documentary because it gets to the heart of how creative people work, and how other people will then interpret what they’ve done.
There’s a thing called author intention, which your English teacher might have told you about, and it’s best summarised in this cartoon (I apologise for the swear).
On my trips around the country giving talks, I often get asked a version of this question – did you mean what my teacher said you meant? And the answer is this: sometimes.
Sometimes I didn’t, and the reader found that thing anyway. Sometimes I did, and the reader spotted it too. And sometimes I meant it, but no one spotted what I was doing.
I’m okay with that.
I think one of the best things that happens to us as we grow up is that first moment (and I very much hope there IS a first moment), perhaps in early teenage-hood, when we suddenly get an inkling that there might be MORE to what an author or a director is saying on the surface. That there might be something else, deeper, going on underneath. That The Shining is not just a horror film. That something else is going on.
To me, the best works of art are the ones that make you think a bit. The ones that give you everything neatly laid out on a plate can be okay, but they’re nothing like as ultimately absorbing as the ones that force you to wonder what the hell just happened.
With Kubrick the greatest example of all is 2001: A Space Odyssey. There can be no one ever who has watched that film all the way through, for the first time, and as it finished sat back and thought: well, yes of course, I get that. You might find it boring, strange, or confusing, but as to what it means… That takes a little more thought.
Some people hate that kind of thing. They want the answers on a plate, but I find that I am not interested in writing one-dimensional books. There! I’ve now attempted to make a case for my next book, called The Ghosts of Heaven. If anyone reads it through and really ‘gets’ it first time, I will be sorely disappointed. And if I lose some readers on the way, well, I lose some readers. Time will tell.