Saturday, 21 September 2013

I love Stephen King but he’s just so wrong about Kubrick

Doctor_SleepI notice that the BBC have interviewed Stephen King ahead of the publication of ‘Doctor Sleep' (great cover, by the way), his sequel to ‘The Shining’. There's a far better piece in The Guardian today, though it doesn't really add to the points I found interesting from the BBC interview. They came in the context of a brief chat with the now ubiquitous Will Gompertz when King explained how and why he dislikes the Kubrick film. Naturally, the BBC seemed to ignore this point entirely and punctuated King’s interview with clips from the Kubrick classic when they could have used clips from the 1997 mini-series adaptation of the book, starring Steven Weber and Rebecca De Mornay, which King himself has said he prefers. That they didn’t means they’re either lazy, indifferent, or implicitly stating where their own preferences lie.

King is of course bound to prefer the 1997 version given that he executively produced the series. It probably means that he’ll never admit that it was the kind of made-for-TV show you watch with mixed feelings about whether you can be bothered returning for the final episode. It is plodding, rather too gentle, and utterly faithful to the novel. He’s just as unlikely to ever admit that the series proves why he’s so wrong about Kubrick’s version.

Let me say that I really like King. He seems one of the good guys in a world filled with fakes, charlatans, and snake oil salesmen. I love listening to King talk, especially when he’s talking about the writing process and literature. However, I have occasionally found it difficult to get through his books. For me, his strict 2000 word a day policy sometimes translates into books that break down into 2000 word chunks, switching between characters in a way that hinders the forward momentum of the novel. He loves creating such full worlds of the characters that it sometimes gets in the way of narrative. On occasions, that huge vision works really well. I enjoyed ‘The Stand’ and ‘It’. Sometimes it works less well. I recently couldn’t make it through 1400+ pages of ‘Under the Dome’. I was sitting there desperate to know more about ‘the dome’ when King only wanted to give me endless backstory about minor characters. Eventually, I realised I didn’t care about ‘the dome’ or ‘the book’.

I seem to remember also struggling to get through ‘The Shining’ but that’s not why I prefer Kubrick’s version.

Kubrick’s film is the ultimate example of mercurial filmmaking: scavenging just enough from the novel but craftily layering it with the things that obsessed Kubrick. King says it’s too cold but that’s precisely why Kubrick made films and didn’t write novels. It’s intellectual horror, not the physical horror rooted in familiar themes that King enjoys. King says that Shelley Duvall is the most misogynistic representation of a woman ever put on film and that all she does is scream but, for me, Kubrick destroys her so ultimately (including in real life) that she eventually finds her deepest instincts for survival. King also says that Nicholson played the character as crazy from the beginning. I would agree, although, that’s why it’s intellectual horror. The supernatural elements are almost psychological in Kubrick’s version. The Overlook Hotel feels like being trapped in a warped mind. King says that Kubrick's version is 'a domestic tragedy with only vaguely supernatural overtones' but I think that's it's greatest virtue. King wants us believe that the family found horror on the mountain but I think Kubrick wants us to think they found horror within themselves and that message is far more potent.

I suppose it’s understandable the King doesn’t like the Kubrick version because his characters are all but missing from the film. Kubrick’s ‘Shining’ shines because of Kubrick. In a way, the BBC report just highlighted this discrepancy. Even as it tried to promote King’s writing, it was reminding us of how much poorer we all became when we lost Stanley Kubrick.


Other than deciding whether I’ll be trying ‘Doctor Sleep’ (Hey! a review copy would be great! Sorry... Little in-joke there between me and Samsung), I’ve had a busy twenty four hours. I drew a quick cartoon to celebrate the birthday of an architect and then, as I predicted, I ended up tinkering with my graphic short story ahead of sending it on Monday. I tinkered with it all day yesterday and until 3.30 this morning: more cleaning up the drawings, more crosshatching, adding a little more humour, smoothing the prose where it didn’t quite feel right on the ear, and then I changed the overall tint. Turns out that printing greyscale on my on Canon gives things a very slight brownish hint which was just the effect I’m after.

It means I slept late this morning but woke up to find a wonderful gift in my inbox. It was an interview with Sparks, in fact, possibly the best interview I’ve ever heard them give and nearly an hour long. I now intend to spend too much time on the internet seeing if Samsung have announced the price of the new Note 10.1 (2014) edition which, if rumours are correct, will be appearing in shops on Wednesday.


  1. Have you read any articles on The Shining on websites like The Kubrick Corner? The film seems like an allegory of The White Man's Burden. A very Western, Imperialistic attitude toward minority groups, the Hotel amassing riches but based on rivers of blood.

  2. Ah, thanks for that. I didn't know (but now obviously have found) a website called 'The Kubrick Corner'. What you say about 'The White Man's Burden' makes complete sense. Wasn't the Overlook meant to have been on the site of a native American settlement? Was that part of King’s novel? It’s so long since I read it that I can’t honestly remember, though I don’t recall ever thinking King a particularly allegorical writer. Kubrick, on the other hand, was deeply allegorical. I remember being blown away by ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, which friends hated but I thought was just so deeply layered it was like a wonderful box of tricks you could take your time unwrapping. Perhaps that’s what King hates about ‘The Shining’ and why he accuses it of being cold. It’s a film that’s so wonderfully aloof but filled with puzzles. Despite writing horror, King is a surprising warm writer but I don't think particularly symbolic.