Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saturday's postcard: Sun Valley Lodge and physical cosmologies


First, the facts. This is a postcard of Sun Valley Lodge in Sun Valley, Idaho. It was addressed to my great-grandfather, Howard Adams, postmarked on December 31, 1957, and affixed with a 2¢ Thomas Jefferson stamp. The cursive note on the back of the postcard reads:
This is where we came for our Xmas holidays. We love the snow and Kit is learning to ski. I enjoy the sleigh rides and long tramps in the snow and the ski lift up Mt. Baldy. Will write you a note soon. Nora.
That's all interesting. But my first thought upon seeing this postcard was: "I hope the new custodian and his family are doing all right this winter."

Yes, "The Shining" (the book, but moreso the Kubrick film) is deeply embedded in our psyches and our pop culture. It perhaps reached its apex of mainstream familiarity in 2009, when Bing.com aired a humorous commercial featuring the Torrance family and Lloyd the bartender.

So, leaving the Sun Valley Lodge far behind, here are some mainstream and decidedly non-mainstream tidbits about "The Shining":

All the various hotels

The Overlook Hotel: In Stephen King's novel, the name of the fictional hotel is the Overlook Hotel.

The Stanley Hotel: The Stanley Hotel, in Estes Park, Colorado, is the hotel that King and his wife stayed at in October 1974. It was their stay there that inspired "The Shining," and King experienced some of the same atmosphere and situations that became part of his novel. Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia, which includes some quotes from King:
Stephen and Tabitha checked into the Stanley. They almost were not able to check in as the hotel was closing for the off season the next day and the credit card slips had already been packed away.

Stephen and Tabitha were the only two guests in the hotel that night. "When we arrived, they were just getting ready to close for the season, and we found ourselves the only guests in the place — with all those long, empty corridors..." They checked into room 217, which they found out was said to be haunted. This is where room 217 comes from in the book. ...

Tabitha and Stephen had dinner that evening in the grand dining room, totally alone. ... Taped orchestral music played in the room and theirs was the only table set for dining. "Except for our table all the chairs were up on the tables. So the music is echoing down the hall, and, I mean, it was like God had put me there to hear that and see those things. And by the time I went to bed that night, I had the whole book in my mind."

After dinner, Tabitha decided to turn in, but Stephen took a walk around the empty hotel. He ended up in the bar and was served drinks by a bartender named Grady.
Filming locations: Kubrick's version of "The Shining" was filmed on elaborate sound stages in Borehamwood, England. It was one of the largest movie sets ever built. In 2008, Channel 4 in Britain painstakingly recreated the set for a TV advertisement to promote a season of Kubrick's films. Here's that fabulous 65-second commercial:



A few exterior shots for Kubrick's version of "The Shining" were done at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon.

When "The Shining" was remade as a television miniseries in 19971, it was filmed at the site of King's original inspiration, the Stanley Hotel.

The remixed movie trailer

If you haven't seen this, you're in for a treat.

What if "The Shining" was a lighthearted family comedy? This remixed movie trailer suggests it could have been just that. It also makes brilliant use of a song by Peter Gabriel.2



Physical Cosmologies

This is one of the trippiest things I've stumbled across on the Internet. (And I've stumbled across a lot of weird stuff.) It's a multi-part essay on Kubrick's film version of "The Shining" titled "Physical Cosmologies" and presented by something called Mstrmnd.

You could lose an entire day reading this thing ... and your mind.

You know you're in for a long, dense reading experience when even a small excerpt from the introduction is tough to wade through.3

The theory advanced by "Physical Cosmologies" is that "The Shining" might be the most complex film ever made:
"In reverse (a contradiction nearly invisible to the audience) the most visually unifying motion-art ever conceived, beyond the scale of any built, ideal, or imagined form existing inside fantasy, philosophy or reality. Forwards however, the film is a horror that slowly, unceasingly absorbs a human being into a series of left-right or upper-lower mirrors, encasing him in the frozen confines of a black and white still, a procedure the film's poster does more than hint at: it condenses the entire film's process into its near end-state with Danny on the verge of being flattened into a photograph. Within what seems to be a streamlined, dulled version of Stephen King's masterpiece pulp horror novel, Kubrick built a massive and alive mysterium."
Later on comes this line: "Once neurophenomenologically understood, The Shining can be seen as a preamble to a form of new, post-Western visual guidance..."

OK.

The essay is about 30,000 words long4 and includes a couple hundred screen shots from the movie. Here are just some of the topics, phrases and concepts it contains:
  • Parallels and connections to "2001: A Space Odyssey"
  • Motion-glyphs
  • Mesoamerican rites-of-passage
  • "The Shining is a film meant to be watched both forwards and backwards."
  • Navajo zig zag/diamond patterns
  • Mirror logic
  • The diaries of Roger Casement
  • Calendrical subterfuge
  • "English does not possess nouns that can describe this shift."
  • Revered Navajo deity Est├ínatlehi
  • "The indoors are endless but hidden in a mask that is finite."
"Physical Cosmologies" is either the most brilliant analysis of a film ever written or the most ridiculous example ever of reading far too much into what's on the screen. Or both.

Either way, it's well worth reading if you have a free day.

Footnotes
1. My wife prefers the miniseries to the movie, and she also thinks the miniseries is scarier.
2. Gabriel, as the original lead vocalist of Genesis, originally sang "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight," but not "Paperlate."
3. Here's just an excerpt from that introduction: "Film and soon videogame are next-generation, structural, motion-based languages that may, if only rudimentarily at this stage, access the human brain unlike any spoken or written alphabetical-text-language (consider the amount of tears shed collectively in the dark for Gone With The Wind, as an emotional experience it compresses days of reading into a few hours). Storytelling primarily through images not words. Obviously using eyes and ears differently than reading or hearing text, film forces the brain to develop alternate memory structures since its data is received in flowing, ideally uninterrupted motion. Film also has an advantage in how it is shared collectively: the medium entrances audiences to remain rapt as it directly employs, accesses and mutates visual forms guided by voice and gesture, augmented by music. Archetypes, symbols, metaphors, all in their expressively visual forms, advancing inter-culturally through a manner purely oral or textual media (encrypted onto pages or into voice by alphabets) cannot."
4. Thirty thousand words is roughly the equivalent of a 120-page book. At one point, the author states: "Please note: these notes represent 50% of the total data for discussion."

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