DD: What is your background? How did you get involved with the Studies in the Horror Film: Stanley Kubrick's The Shining [Centipede Press, 2015] book project? What was your role in the making the book?
JB: I interview film-makers/actors/actresses for a living. I've written for such print publications in the past as Fangoria and Videoscope, and at present am a featured contributor with the long-running Shock Cinema magazine. I also "blog" full time. I do interviews for several different film/television websites all owned by one mega-company based out of Michigan. I blog out articles and interviews on a plane of film/television topics which are credited to my name and done anonymously as well.
I came to work on The Shining book in late 2012, when Jerad Walters, the owner of Centipede Press approached me about wanting to re-print an interview that I had done with Shelley Duvall from late 2009. Prior to Jerad reaching out to me, I had just finished conducting about twenty or so interviews with various members of the cast and crew of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) for a project I was interested in putting together about the film, but that eventually fell by the wayside. I had mentioned my 2001 interviews to Jerad one afternoon over the phone, and out of that, he asked me to contribute as many interviews as I could come up with related to The Shining for his book project.
As for my involvement in the book... Basically, I did all the interviews that are included in the volume, except those with Leon Vitali, The Burns twins, and Diane Johnson. I did a share of the research for the project. I found the previously published interviews for the book with Jack Nicholson, Scatman Crothers, and the director of photography John Alcott as well. I had to track down the rights holder for the Alcott interview. I hit all of my interview subjects up for unpublished materials, memoriums, speeches, photos etc… Out of that I found those never-seen Greg MacGillivray photos from the set, a couple of pictures belonging to Ray Andrew – that amazing Maze panorma. I sourced all kinds of vintage essays and magazine articles on the film across various outlets, I found other interviews with cast members etc... I'd find them, and I'd send them over to Jerad. From there, I imagine all the stuff I sent in went to the editor of the volume. I was also supposed to write an essay on the film itself, but I got overworked with tracking down people, scheduling interviews, my own research into the film for the interviews, the hype of Room 237, etc... So I abandoned my essay on the film. I have about 4000 words that I've done about the film, but I'm saving my piece for now. I might do something with it in the future, but for the time being – frankly, I'm just a little tired of The Shining.
DD: What is your essay about regarding The Shining?
JB: Let's talk about the essay at the end of this. It will give the interview a good wrap-up.
DD: How many times have you seen The Shining? And what Kubrick resources do you really like?
JB: I was counting early on in the project, but, for whatever reason I stopped. I can tell you that I watched the film, at least, once a day for six-to-seven months straight. My resources for this project? I think all the books that have been written about Kubrick to date are really solid, well-written books. I think one can take a little from each that they read. But I would advise those who have an interest in Kubrick to stay away from John Baxter's biography however. That book is riddled with errors. In fact, as I was researching the film, I would listen to John Baxter's commentary track on one of the most recent Warner Brothers DVD releases of the film; and on that, Baxter states something that is ridiculous – yet it took me down a weeks-long rabbit hole when I first heard him say it. Baxter says, and forgive my paraphrasing here: "Kubrick chose to use the numbers 2-3-7 in The Shining as an homage to Dr. Strangelove (1964) as they were the same numbers that were supposed to disarm the bomb..." When I heard Baxter say that on the DVD commentary, I freaked out. I think it was right around the time that Room 237 had been released. I was interested in the idea because of how much attention 2-3-7 had gotten in Rodney Ascher's film, Room 237. I decided to explore the idea because I thought, maybe, that if I brought that bit of information out in the book through an interview it be would this amazing factoid that would discredit Ascher's film in some stupid way. See, when I first saw Room 237 I was not a fan of it. I just thought it was ridiculous. I'm like most people, I'm of the school of thought that if you put forth a theory about something you need to have some evidence to back it up. And I didn't see the participants in Room 237 as having any real creditable proof to support their claims. It seemed, at least to me, that Ascher's film just managed to capture these incredible, almost, unbelieveable coincidences. It really made me think of something writer Norman Mailer once said, and I think he was paraphrasing Shakespeare when he said it: "Out of drama comes great coincidences..."
In pursuing some evidence to back up Baxter's claim, I went back and re-watched Dr. Strangelove. Now, I've seen Strangelove at least thirty-times. So, I know that there is no visual reference to 2-3-7 in the film itself nor is there any dialogue mentioning those numbers. Thanks to a archivist friend I managed to get my hands on the shooting script for Strangelove. I opened that, and of course, there is no mention of 2-3-7 in there either. So that led me to read the book that the film was based on, Peter George's Red Alert. There is nothing in there pertaining to that number, of course. I read Peter George's novelization for the film too. Guess what? – There is nothing in there to support Baxter's claim either. Out of frustration, and hoping to just get an answer in my search, I emailed John Baxter directly. His response? "I don't remember." I searched for a couple additional days for connections. I cross-checked 2-3-7 with military communication codes, I checked the numbers up against number theory, even numerology as well. There was nothing whatsoever that connected 2-3-7 with Dr. Strangelove. I really think that Baxter just made it all up for the commentary.
DD: I'm glad you brought up Room 237. I wanted to ask you about it anyhow. What makes this book so special is how it reacts against things that are in Ascher's film. The analyses of the documentary – from the scene of Jack Nicholson reading the Playboy magazine, the geography of the set, and its other hypotheses – are discussed with its creators, who usually think that it goes too far...
JB: Yeah, well, as I already mentioned, I didn't like Room 237 on my first-viewing of it. I've since seen it a few times, and I admire it now as a film for its aesthetic approach. I do think Rodney Acher's a brilliant film-maker. I'd be going too far to suggest that Ascher's re-invented the documentary as we know it for the zeitgeist, but he has certainly re-defined it aesthetically. It's just too bad, that in doing that, he's been completely overshadowed by the subject matter of his film though. I, frankly, for one, am so sick and tired of documentary films about movies or makings-of about the making-of. They all seem to blur together for me, and they all take the same aesthetic approch. One thing everyone is guaranteed to see in any of the recent documentaries to come out in the last three-four years about any film or rock band – it's that moment where an image appears on screen with that reverse zoom. There's an image, in color, then it goes to freeze frame. The image then turns to black and white, and whatever the subject of the image is – a person, let's say, then, that person is cut out of the background and we always get that slow reverse zoom. The figure in the image slowly moves closer to us. You see it in every single documentary that is made today practically. That's what I loved about Room 237. I loved that it changed up the entire approach to documentary in a sense. Ascher's film is really great because of how it strived to not just be about these theories in relation to The Shining, but that it strived to exist on a different aesthetic plane in it's presentation. I know many people bitched and complained about how they felt it was confusing because of the fact that one doesn't see any of the "talking heads" in the film, but I found that profound because of what it does to one psychologically.
If you're really asking me about whether I agree or adhere to any of the ideas in Room 237, I will say that I do not. But that doesn't mean that they don't hold any merit. I mean, those theories or ideas or whatever you wanna call them--those are those peoples' truths and realities. Film is completely subjective, right? Hell, all art is really subjective. It's what makes the film critic, or the notion of film criticism completely null and void of merit itself. Some of the ideas in Room 237 are interesting for sure. There isn't enough time to talk all of the theories in Room 237, so let's just talk about the (alleged) American Indian connection. Am I interested in the idea that The Shining may be some sort of allegory about the atrocities upon the American Indians? No, I'm not. I'm not, because there isn't enough evidence to support the theory, and every thing in Room 237 that is pointed out in reference to the Blakemore theory can be explained away with ease. I feel like in my interviews in the book, one should get a good idea of Kubrick's working method. By understanding this, one should be able to shake off the ballyhoo of the idea of the American Indian imagery in The Shining as having some secret meaning...
To start, if you read The Shining volume, one knows that Kubrick sent a research team out across the Southwest of the United States to take photographs of many hotels for research for the film. The "Red Bathroom" in the film was copied from a bathroom that one of the research team saw in Arizona. I believe it was at The Biltmore hotel there – if memory serves... We know that the research team visited the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, California. Have you see photos of the inside of the Ahwahnee ever? I mean, even today, some thirty-odd years after they visited it, it has almost the same decor inside of it. It is just covered in American Indian imagery. The red elevator doors, with the black lattice surrounding them that we see in The Shining film – that idea was taken from the mens' bathroom there at the Ahwahnee. One need only read the interviews with Les Tomkins and Brian Cook in the book, to understand how Kubrick was adament about virtually duplicating what he saw in his research from the States. He liked the visual aesthetic of the hotel, so he duplicated it for The Shining – indian imagery and all. This is certainly consistent with what, I believe, is suggested in Jon Ronson's wonderful documentary Stanley Kubrick's Boxes (2008) from a few years back. In that documentary, one of the researchers on Eyes Wide Shut (maybe Manuel Harlan?) talks about how Kubrick wanted him to take photographs of nightstands in the bedrooms of the apartments he was visiting. Apparently he was fascinated by the layout of the items on the nightstands? I believe he said something like: "You could never create that same arrangement on the nightstand of those items ever..." In one of my interviews in the book (maybe with Brian Cook?) something similiar is discussed regarding the Overlook hotel design/motifs: "Why would I try to design something like the hotel, when the original is much more interesting..."
In addition, the notion of the Indian imagery also appears early on in Stephen King's book as well. Anyone who has ever said that "the book is so much different from the film..." has never read the book carefully or read it at all. Over the two years that I worked on this book project, I read King's book ten times. When the Torrences arrive at the Overlook for the first time in King's book, King notes how there are Native American masks adorning the walls of the hotel. In Kubrick's thirty-forty page treatment of the novel, there was an early idea where Danny, in one of his visions, sees one of these masks spewing out green flames. Kubrick felt that his film was very faithful to King's book, and I for one, agree with him. I think if one goes back and re-reads King's book carefully, and doesn't treat it like the "page-turner" it is, one might notice the many subtle ideas on the page and how they may have influenced Kubrick. One easy example to point out: The idea of the maze appearing in the film. People often city the inclusion of the maze in the film as being one of the elements added by Kubrick to the story, but in fact, if one goes back to King's book, one will read about every ten-twelve pages about how, and sometimes King does it in half a sentence, but usually at the end of a chapter: "...the hotel was maze-like..." or "...the corridors of the hotel twisted..." or something like that. I'm paraphrasing again, of course. But it's totally there in the book.
The elevator appears in the book. The weird dog-faced man who felates the well-dressed gentleman appears in the book. As an appartion, the dog-faced man confronts Danny in the book in one of the hotel corridors one afternoon saying – almost verbatim – Nicholson's Three Little Pigs line from the film...
Yes, Kubrick did shift around certain narrative-points of the story. Yes, he cut out sub-plots. Yes, he changed the ending. But, these are things that any screenwriter would do on his own. These are things that any director would do. But, it's such a point of contention for many, as if in some ways it reduces the merit of the film in some way. It's crazy. I think Kubrick was right in his approach to the film. He "trimmed the fat," as he said in some interview around the time of the film's release. And rightly so, it's a terrible book, in my opinion anyhow. What's the addage? Good books make bad movies? Bad books make good movies?
While Room 237 is aesthetically wonderful as a documentary, for me, it's a dangerous film as well. One thing that I really took from it, an element that I think is wonderful in it – it reminds one of the importance of a discourse about any work of art, right? But, it's dangerous too, because of its audience being the internet generation. The first time I saw Room 237, I walked out saying, "Great, now all of these hipster kids are gonna go around telling people that they think that The Shining is all about the atrocities inflicted upon the American Indians." Because our culture revels so much in film-as-entertainment, and not film-as-art (no matter how much it claims to be for the latter), we don't want to have to think about what we see. We are spoon-fed information and we often times accept it with open arms. If one spends five minutes on Facebook, and visits any number of the several Stanley Kubrick Groups, one sees those riddled with Shining/Indians references. Search Facebook for a hashtag "#TheShining" and see hundreds, well, maybe not today, but last year hot on the release of Room 237 – "The Shining is really about the atrocties of the Holocaust or the American Indians..."
Yes, Kubrick was interested in a element of the American Indians appearing in the story! But as an allegorical device? I don't think so. I think he understood, through his research, the idea that he needed a guise to implement the supernatural into the narrative. There's that, plus there are the elements in King's story too, as I've already mentioned, however spare. And, of course, the hotel SK was duplicating was grounded in Indian imagery as well. One plus one plus one doesn't equal one hundred, it equals three.
DD: What I like about Studies in the Horror Film: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining are all its interviews. It’s like the Ciment book, which had some good interviews, but this book goes a lot further, by interviewing a lot of the periphery characters in the film. I was wondering how it was to find all of these interviewees? And do you have any other cool stories from the experience?
JB: If I told you, then I might be out of a job in the future. Other cool stories? I have so many stories that I cut out of the interviews. I had to cut some stuff at the request of the interview subjects, and Centipede Press also cut a thing here or there on the advice of their lawyer as well. My favorite experience? I have two... The first: Just this general feeling in the air that I felt during the interviews. As a Kubrick fan you've heard all of these stories about how brutal he was... How meticulous he was... How crazy he was... Yet, his crew – he worked with almost the same crew members film-after-film-after-film. That should tell you right there exactly what his crew thought about him, and what he thought about his crew! His crew loved him. So, in talking with many of the crew members, one could feel in the air that there was still this great sadness swirling around above, even all these years later, that he was still very missed. In fact, one crew member I interviewed, when we got around to talking about SK's passing, began to cry. I could hear tears in his inflection. That got to me.
Another moment that got to me, perhaps, more than any other, was when I spoke with one of SK's cameraman on The Shining. This particular crew member, when I first called him to inquire about a interview turned me down. He thought that I was only interested in talking about Kubrick, the crazy, eccentic guy that the media has grown quite fond of reporting about over the years. Which, of course, I wasn't interesed in doing. This crew member and I ended up talking for well over two hours one Saturday morning over Skype, and at the end of it, after having talked for those two hours about The Shining and Kubrick, his favorite cameras, his favorite lenses, etc… The crew member said to me, completely out-of-the-blue and unprovoked: "You know, Justin. I'm sorry you never got to meet Stanley. He would have really liked you..." And when he said that to me, I got choked up. It really made me emotional. And for what reason? I mean, what is it about Kubrick that would cause me to have such a response?
DD: Was there anyone that you wish that you could have included? I was wondering why the assistant director Michael Stevenson, Stanley’s daughter Vivian Kubrick, and the executive producer Jan Harlan weren’t included?
JB: Absolutely, in fact, there were many people that I spoke with in-passing that I wanted to talk in-depthly with but, for one reason or another, wouldn't commit to a time to talk. I exchanged many, many emails with little Danny Lloyd, now grown-up, a teacher out East. We went back-and-forth for months and he just wouldn't commit to talk to me, yet, near the end, he graciously granted an interview to some little UK online website. Jack Nicholson, I reached out to, and his Manager got back to me but in the end decided wasn't worth his time. A friend of mine, a well-known screenwriter, actually gave Nicholson's phone number, but in the end, damn – I was just too scared to call him. I just didn't want to call him unsolicted. I also exchanged many, many emails with The Shining Costume Designer Milena Canonero – but she was always tied up with work to talk with me. I got in touch with The Shining Assistant Director Terry Needham, Camera Operator Danny Shelmerdine, Shining composers Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind, Richard Daniels, one of the soundman on the shooting of the film. Lou Bogue, a grip on The Shining. All declined participation for one reason or another. I tracked down one of The Shining electricians even. He was so busy with work that he could never commit to a time to talk with me as well. I even pursed an interview with the Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz. Kurtz had been a Borehamwood during the shooting of the film. He was there with George Lucas waiting to start Empire Strikes Back (1980). Their production was delayed start a few weeks, I was told, because of The Shining. I was told by a source that Kurtz and Kubrick had it out a couple times because of The Shining delaying the shooting of Empire Strikes Back at the studio. But I never got to confirm this with him directly.
Sadly, too, there were some involved in the film that I reached out to as well, that just couldn't talk with me because of illness. One actor from the film was too ill as was one of the crew members. Pivotal people in the making of the film, that may not be with us much longer. I never reached out to Jan Harlan, as Centipede Press informed me early on in the project that Harlan had declined participation but that he wished us luck with the project. Michael Stevenson, I spoke with briefly on the telephone. He also declined to participate as he said he was instructed not to speak with me about the film because of another book in the works about the film. Vivian Kubrick? I reached out to her, and I also reached out to Kubrick's other daughter Katharina Kubrick as well. I heard nothing back from either, nor did I hear back from Christiane Kubrick either when I emailed a request for interview. There were others too, whom I'm forgetting now in this moment as well. I reached out to everyone that is still alive. I even reached out to the African American model who was the subject of the nude painting that we see hanging on the wall of Scatman's apartment in the film. I found her on Facebook. We exchanged a few messages, and in the end she wanted financial compensation to talk to me.
DD: The interviews offer fascinating, varying and sometimes even contradictory perspectives on Stanley Kubrick and The Shining. These interviews are helpful to understand the film but do you think they demystify the aura around it as well?
JB: Not really. Maybe. I don't know actually. I was always more interesetd in demystifying the Kubrick mythos than I was in trying to do such relating to film itself. Any questions that hint at Room 237 theories, really came up because that film was out and circulating and it was on everyone's mind that worked on The Shining. The crew members would often bring it up in our conversations. One might say: "Did you see this rubbish?" I think the interviews do a decent job at breaking some of the tabloid notions associated with Kubrick, and yet, they also add to them as well...
DD: What are your thoughts on the ending deleted scene of Danny in the hospital? I think that it’s really important and I wish that that footage was still available. Just from the description it seems like it almost anticipates Eyes Wide Shut – the secret society, the brainwashing and controlling of women and children, and the banal menace.
JB: I like the way the film ends now. The hospital footage is out there. I know of someone (allegedly) who has it here in the States. Maybe someday it will surface or then again, maybe not. SK didn't want it to be seen, so as someone who is faithful to the artists intentions – I'd like to respect his wishes.
DD: Two areas of interest for me regarding Kubrick are his connection to the moon landing footage and his relationship with Steven Spielberg. I find the William Karel documentary Opération Lune to be really convincing. And I don’t care what Leon Vitali says, Kubrick was a very private person, and it could have been a secret that he worked more closely with NASA. While the Steven and Stanley documentary shows the two as being good friends. What are your thoughts on these subjects?
JB: I think Opération Lune (2002) was a joke, wasn't it? Isn't that the documentary with Donald Rumsfield in it? I am one-hundred percent certain that Kubrick had nothing to do with the moon-landing. His connection to NASA came out his friendship with Arthur C. Clarke. I've always thought that Jay Weidner from Room 237 has probably just watched Capricorn One (1977) one too many times...
DD: I really like the Emilio D’Alessandro interview. How were you able to get in touch with him? Have you read his book Stanley e me? Is it only available in Italian? And the Joan Honour Smith interview, about the retouching of the final photograph, is really great. How did you go about to find her?
JB: I have a friend, a great guy, who runs this incredible site in Italy dedicated to 2001: A Space Odysssey. I think I got in the door there through him, if memory serves. From there I just called Emilio up and we spoke one evening. I believe, that yes, Stanley e me is currently only available in Italian. I actually suggested to Emilio that he contact Centipede Press about publishing the book in the United States but I don't know if anything came out of that suggestion. Joan Smith – she was a lot of fun to talk with. She was actually pretty easy to find. The challenge, initally, was finding out who had done the photographic work on that picture in the film. But once I found that out, she was very easy to find online.
DD: Are you happy with the final product? Or was there anything else that you wished that you could include?
JB: I am, yes. Actually, I got into a spot of trouble when the book arrived to me back in June, as I had forgotten to include my wife's name in the acknowledgements. When she opened the book and saw that her name was missing she wasn't very happy. She said: "I watched that movie with you every night for months!" I think that Jerad Walters at Centipede Press did one hell of a fantastic job with the design and the layout of the book itself. When I got the galley from him back in December of '14 to review it so I could suggest edits I was really impressed with the design of it even back then in its raw presentation. I really wished those that those, who declined interviews with me, would have participated however... What could've been will always be a question in my head I think...
DD: And what about your essay on the film?
JB: Well, I am almost hesitant to talk about what it's about, but I will, I guess. The thing that has eluded almost everyone regarding The Shining is Kubrick's aesthetic approach to the film. For Kubrick, all of film was a dream. In fact, if you pick up the great book that Alexander Walker did on Kubrick at the start of the '70s, Kubrick tells Walker: "to me, all film is a dream..." So with that mind, one can free themselves up to explore the film through that lens. Considering how fascinated Kubrick was with Freud and Jung – in particular, Freud's The Uncanny – in relation to The Shining, it stands to reason that we can explore the film even deeper through the guises of the Freud and Jung, even their dream modules. In particular: Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams and Jung's Man and His Symbols. Using those books we can look at visuals in the film with the idea that the visual cues serve as symbols for subtextual context in the film itself. An example of this: So much is made in Room 237 about the non-sensical appearance of Shelley Duvall reading J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in The Rye in The Shining, and how it is really a weird choice for inclusion into the mise-en-scene itself as in the prior sequence in the film with Nicholson at the hotel he tells Stuart Ullman that "..his wife is a confirmed ghost and horror story addict..." Again, forgive my paraphrasing there... Yet, when we consider the core of the narrative in relation to the moment in which this information is relayed to us, we know that Jack Torrence has hurt Danny in the past, right? He's come home, one evening, having had too much to drink and injured Danny – pulling his arm out of his socket. As a dream symbol in the film, Salinger's The Catcher in The Rye serves a very potent visual cue to suggest to us, the audience, Shelley's state-of-mind. We know, from reading The Catcher in The Rye, that one of the major aspects of its narrative is this notion that Holden Caufield must protect the children's innocence. When, you consider this idea in Catcher in The Rye juxtaposed up against the mise-en-scene with Shelley sitting at the table reading the book, her cigarette ash growing and growing (another visual dream symbol) – Kubrick is communicating with us visually the unconsious state-of-mind of Wendy Torrence. She is terrified within the familial unit. The unspoken, natural bond that is constructed within the family unit between man and woman and their child – it's been forever tainted by Jack Torrence's drinking and violence toward his son. She is terrified for her son's safety from the start of the film itself. This, of course, being one of the most important aspect of the story to Kubrick – if we are to read closely, his interview with Michel Ciment from 1980....
There are so many "dream symbols" in the film itself. Whether Kubrick researched them or allowed them to come to fruition out of instinct – we'll never now. I'll leave it up to anyone that might read this to explore this idea farther. I have, in my essay, about forty or fifty well-marked dream symbols in the film.
The most potent dream symbol in the film is the vision of the elevator of blood. People should really look to that as a visual cue up against Freud and Jung interpretation... It's quite staggering when you consider it in the context of the narrative.
DD: What new projects do you have in the works?
JB: Thanks for asking. Right now, I'm finishing up a year of work on a sort of experimental print anthology about the films of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Norman Mailer. Mailer produced some very polarizing work – three films in the 1960's, a film in the '80s, and a slew of scripts that he wanted to make but didn't get a change to get off the ground before the end of his life in 2007. Mailer was a big supporter of the avant-garde cinema. In the '60s he helped finance the films of Robert Downey Sr., and Ron Rice. His written works are layered with film metaphors even. Film was very influential upon him, and he wrote some pretty incredible theory stuff in the late '60s – in the spirit of Eisenstein and André Bazin. His films are amazing because they mix theatrcality with Dostoyevsky, film noir, Godard, and Cubism.
I'm also working on a biography of film-maker Frank Perry. I've been working with his estate closely for the last couple years on it. They've been a great source of information and guidance. I've done about 100-120 hours of interviews thus far relating to Frank and his incredible films. On The Shining book, I did about 35 hours of interviews in total. I'm hoping to have the Perry book done by late 2016. After that, I'm taking a very long break.