Kubrickology

THE GROWING FEAR

The Shining lives in my consciousness like no other work of art because, in a way, I grew up with it as it grew up with me—an older friend I had to mature for. Just when I gained a new hold on my surroundings, becoming aware of time—the days in the year, and the twelve months it took to get to another Thanksgiving, Christmas, and birthday—this film premiered in the United States, on May 23, 1980. I was three months shy of six years in the world. I didn’t see it—I was too frightened. But I imagined it and what I pictured scared me. Both a color and blood signified my soon to become infatuation with this horrorshow.

I have an explicit memory of yellow. Saul Bass (Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous credit sequence designer) created the movie poster, which also served as the cover to the rereleased novel. The image was pure canary yellow with the title askew in black bolds and in the towering “T” of “The,” a distorted face made out of pointillist black dots lived—an almost alien face, but a face that could just have easily been taken for Jack’s or Danny’s or the visage of some ghoul. Those bits of black on yellow were an unwonderful color combination because of its buzzing resemblance to the bee, the hornet, the wasp, the yellow jacket—frightening things that hurt humanity impudently—an early opinion based on one sting from a member of the Apocrita suborder of insects. When I read the Stephen King paperback nine years later, I would find it did have a significant scene with bees. I feared bees (and the others) and had seen 1978’s The Swarm on TV, where bees attack a family and a young boy drives a bee-drenched, yellow Mustang to escape them, using the windshield wipers to shuck them off. Soon, I became brazen to wearing the yellow in summer, worried it would attract them the way golden anthers of flowers did.

Unearthly pain came from cutting my finger on Christmas Eve a half year before the premiere—a long, deep cut for a small boy. I studied the seep of blood and a flush of feeling bubbled in my brain—a strange anticipatory admixture birthed from my eagerness for presents (the toys I wanted to explode against each other) and a hurt I hadn’t recognized. If the color of hurt was red running warm out of me, I soon came to feel loss equaled the most frightening moments in life. No wonder I maniacally babbled when someone I wanted to stay went away—I needed their shade to comfort me. A finger cut only reminded me of the awful that could occur. And come to think of it, weren’t many grimy things happening of late in my young life? I noted more sorrow (Why does he get to play with it? I would complain of another little boy), I noticed my sex, and I began to think those big people who went to work every day only to come home crushed and craving a drink weren’t the most fun to be around. I kept looking at that poor finger, judging it for hating me so—ruining my holiday and putting a frown on baby Jesus’s face.

As my gardens gained rot and April became May, I heard of a film coming soon, but probably already arrived. A family living in a large hotel for the winter. In initial previews, a boy my age with my brown hair and eye color cycled about on a Big Wheel type tricycle—my Big Wheel? The famed images of Danny riding it in the hotel stood as the sweets tempting me into the labyrinth. To be so small and in such a vast space as that old hotel on a mountain, surrounded by wilderness—it sounded like a famous fairy tale. I also clandestinely espied a critic reviewing it on television when my twelve-year-old sister left our living room. But added to this was the relevance of the reissued novel in preparation for the release.

At that time in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, there existed two national chain bookstores, B. Dalton and Walden Books. One B. Dalton was located in Southridge—the gigantic mall that would play a considerable role in my early involvement with The Shining. The cover nearly made me pee my pants, but then…the black and white stills from the film inside it. Photographs in 1980 were quite unique, with photography still an admirable art. Most people couldn’t afford to fuck around unless they had a Polaroid. Without me knowing who Stanley Kubrick was or what his name meant, my eyes fixed on images he had produced out of thousands of still possibilities. But even if still, when I examined Scatman Crothers’ wide-eyed terror-stricken close-up when he is in a Florida bed receiving Danny’s “shining” after the boy is attacked by the woman in the bathtub of Room 237, I felt an emotion I couldn’t factor into my five fumbling years of existence. I knew this benevolent black man was not happy. The hairless head, the glaze of the eyes, the enormous nostrils, the open mouth that fright would give a wiggle to in live action—each detail told of supreme disturbance. What could bring a man to such a brink? What could be happening in that world? Would the boy be alright? I had to find out, but I couldn’t.

Gradually I came to realize the story of the film and the problem implicit in the story. The father was turning into a murderer and trying to kill his family. Jack—how could he?

To be continued…