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The Kubrick Version

by Ann Lewinson


Back in the dark ages before annotated director’s cuts on DVD, I was sitting at one of the University of Chicago film library’s two Steenbeck flatbeds running the same mysterious footage forwards and backwards. “Hey Mickey,” I called out. “Do you remember a man in a bear suit fellating the bartender in The Shining?” Because there it was, frozen on the screen.

Mickey was in the next room shooting stills from a Hollis Frampton in which the filmmaker burns old photographs on a hot plate. “No, I don’t remember anything like that. But they always cut for TV.”

“It’s just weird.” I kept running those hundred or so frames back and forth. I untorqued the reels and carefully pulled the film out of the gate, holding it in front of the tiny light bulb, just to make sure the machine was not playing tricks on me.

“Actually, quite a bit of The Shining was cut before its initial release,” said Mickey, coming in for a look. Since he was a film professor, he knew about these things. Since he was a young assistant film professor with his generation’s all-consuming passion for pop culture, he knew that Stanley Kubrick was just as important as Hollis Frampton. Since he was my thesis advisor, and my boyfriend (at least part-time), I knew enough to listen to him. “A lot of exposition was cut by Kubrick at the behest of Warner Brothers—someone explaining that the hotel was built over an Indian burial ground and a long scene at the beginning of the film of the little boy in psychotherapy with Anne Jackson. Her name’s still in the credits, even though she’s not in the movie. The initial European prints were the director’s original cut, but in the U.S. this is all we’ve got.”

That night my mother called, as she does every Tuesday night, and I asked her if she’d ever seen The Shining.

“Of course, dear,” she said. “Everyone’s seen The Shining.”

“Do you remember a man in a bear suit—“I stopped myself. Halfway through my twenties there were some subjects I still couldn’t broach with my mother. “Apparently twenty minutes or so were cut for the American release. In the European version someone explains that the hotel was built over an Indian burial ground, and there’s a long scene at the beginning of the little boy in psycho-therapy with Anne Jackson.”

“That’s no European version. Your father and I saw those scenes at the Whippany Drive-In on Route 10.”

The next day I told Mickey. “No way—your parents must have seen some print that fell through the cracks,” he said. “No one has seen that stuff.”  “I think it’s a better film without the exposition.”

“Yeah, but it would still be cool to see it.”

We were driving to see a friend of Mickey’s who lived in a sprawling loft on Damen, hard on the El tracks. You could walk out his back door for a smoke and find yourself standing right there in the gravel, the Blue Line rushing past you. Mickey’s friend, whose parents had named him after a recently departed grandfather with the unfortunately coincidental name of Paul McCartney, installed THX sound systems in movie theaters and in his spare time collected films and exhibited them in unusual places, like projecting 2001 onto Niagara Falls. NPR even did a story on that one. I didn’t really get the point—what could you see, really?—but Paul McCartney knew his Kubrick. We had come to pick up a gorgeous print of Barry Lyndon which he was donating to the university. Gor-geous it was, upon screening it later for a packed house at the Max Palevsky—gorgeous until it cut from the climactic duel with Lord Bullingdon to Slim Pickens riding the H-bomb to Armageddon. Paul had no idea how those frames from Dr. Strangelove got into his print. “Some joker,” he shrugged.

“Have you ever seen The Shining?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said. “Everyone’s seen The Shining.”

“Do you remember someone explaining that the hotel was built over an Indian burial ground and a long scene at the beginning of the little boy in psychotherapy with Anne Jackson?”

“The European version? No—why, do you have it?”

“No, but my mom swears she saw it in a drive-in in Whippany, New Jersey, ten years ago.”

“Could be,” said Paul. “You know, a true director’s cut doesn't even exist on that one. There’s even some footage the studio cut from the European release.”

“Like what?”

“Well, there’s this whole sequence where the topiary hedges come to life. It’s in the novel. Kubrick said he wanted to put it in the movie but the special effects were too expensive. Truth is he was covering his ass. He shot it but it looked crummy and the studio cut it, probably destroyed it. That footage is the holy grail for guys like me.”

That afternoon, visions of topiaries dancing in my head, I went to see my friend Audie, who was pursuing a double-major in popular culture and liberation theology and was writing a dissertation entitled “Slapstick as Resistance: The Inarticulate Speech of the Subaltern on Gilligan’s Island.” He was, as far as I knew, Stanley Kubrick's biggest fan. Over the years he had pursued an unrequited correspondence with the great recluse and, ever since picking up a sheet of “slides” from A Clockwork Orange at a science fiction convention—actually frames butchered from a print and stuck in plastic mounts, a telltale optical track squiggling up the side—he had collected pirated Kubrickiana, procured from an international network of the obsessed.

The Shining?” he snorted. “Everyone’s seen The Shining. That’s so ‘The Channel 26 Seven-O’clock Movie.’ The happy-hour entertainment of thick-necked commodity traders in Rush Street bars, bellowing ‘Here’s Johnny!’ and then whacking each other on their backs. Why aren’t you writing your thesis on Paths of Glory or Killer’s Kiss?”

I didn’t want to get into a whole explanation about how The Shining, as it involves the patriarch of a nuclear family’s descent into madness—in a hotel with many mirrors, no less—is a particularly pure illustration of the application of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory to film studies: the family unit as a metaphor for the signification of desire (in which the Name of the Father is “Jack Nicholson”); the viewer’s gaze as “objet a,” that is, the locus of lack, of desire, of castration; the material film itself as phallic symbol and anamorphic ghost; and thus the watching of film as an act of, to put it in layman’s terms, “penis envy”—because then Audie would have asked “What about Lolita?” which, honestly, I didn’t think was worth writing about (the film, that is). So I told him about the excised footage explaining how the hotel was built over an Indian burial ground and the long scene at the beginning of the little boy in psychotherapy with Anne Jackson and what Paul McCartney had said about the topiaries coming to life.

“Oh, he’s looking for the topiaries too,” he said rather dismissively, as if that were such old news. He pulled a cassette from a shoe box marked “Kubrick” and popped it in his tape deck. “Check this out.”

It was a tape of Stanley Kubrick yelling at Shelley Duvall between takes. No, “yelling” is not the right word. It was more like a loud whining, a squeaky, incongruously high-pitched Bronx sneer. I don’t know what I expected. Something more directorial, I guess.

“You know Robert Altman discovered Shelley Duvall behind the cosmetics counter in a Houston department store,” he said.

I nodded. That seemed way off-topic.

“The big game,” he said, twisting his stick-insect legs in a worn, thrift-shop easy chair, “is an early test reel of the caretaker in the topiary maze—“

“Alive?”

“The caretaker, not the topiaries. The deal is that at the time the test was shot Scatman Crothers couldn’t get out of his Chico and the Man contract and was replaced with Meadowlark Lemon.”

“Of the Harlem Globetrotters?”

“You find that test reel and you find gold.”

The next day after my Hollywood Auteurs of the Fifties seminar (we were studying narrative tropes in the westerns of Budd Boetticher) I asked Professor Freihoffer if he'd ever seen The Shining. Freihoffer had famously written the textbook used in most Introduction to Film classes. I found his celebratory approach to film rather unsophisticated—John Ford was the D. W. Griffith of the talkie! Howard Hawks was the Thomas Ince of the genre picture!—but I was taking his course because a recommendation from him was worth more than ten thousand recommendations from junior-faculty Mickeys. As would be my luck, he would die suddenly at the end of the semester before I had a chance to ask him for one. I wasn’t doing very well anyway.

The Shining,” he bristled. “Everyone’s seen The Shining.”

I told him about the excised footage explaining how the hotel was built over an Indian burial ground and the little boy in psychotherapy with Anne Jackson and the topiaries coming to life and Meadowlark Lemon.

“That’s not the half of it,” said Professor Freihoffer, his moustache twitching. “There is, of course, the original film of The Shining.”

“The original film?”

“1938, Frank Capra. Jimmy Stewart and Myrna Loy. It was rumored to have been a real breakthrough for Stewart, casting him against type—even then he was chafing at the nice-guy bit. It's even rumored that Alfred Hitchcock saw the film before it was destroyed, inspiring him to cast Stewart in those mold-breaking roles in Rope, Rear Window, and Vertigo. But Capra disowned the film and it was destroyed—incinerated, actually—by the studio.”

“But the novel wasn’t written yet.”

“That’s what’s so extraordinary about the film. It would seem that Capra was filming a novel which did not actually exist at the time. Yet he filmed it accurately, chapter by chapter.”

“Dancing topiaries?”

“Like Babes in Toyland. It’s rumored—and it’s a wishful rumor, I’m afraid—that there is one short reel of film extant. An audition film of little Freddie Bartholomew’s index finger saying, ‘Danny isn’t here, Mrs. Torrance.’”

Professor Freihoffer said he’d heard about the audition film from Xaviar Glump, a former Canned Heat roadie turned freelance film scholar who published a ’zine out of his crumbling Maxwell Street loft. So of course I went to see him.

I leaned on the buzzer of the address Professor Freihoffer had given me to no avail, until I heard a voice from above. “Who you looking for?”

“Xaviar Glump. Do you know him?”

He came right down and escorted me back up several flights of rickety steps to the roof, where several pigeons sat in cages. “I’ll be with you in a minute,” he said. He was scooping another pigeon into a net.

“What are you doing, exactly?”

“I’m taking these pigeons to Kankakee.”

“What’s in Kankakee?”

“Wetlands. Freedom. If it weren’t for me you’d be eating these pigeons in your Kung Pau Chicken.”

“Hmm,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say. Xaviar Glump was pink and puffy. He looked like he lived on Kung Pau Chicken.

“You’re here about the Freddie Bartholomew audition reel,” he said, locking up the last of the pigeons. Professor Freihoffer had already called him. “I’ve been looking for that for ages. Been to every archive in Hollywood. But it’s got to be somewhere. There’re always unlocking hidden closets in old office buildings and finding storyboards for East of Eden or production notes for Mrs. Miniver. It’ll turn up one of these days.”

“Hmm,” I said, still not knowing what to say.

“You just got to have faith.”

“There’s one thing I don’t get,” I said. “How could Frank Capra have filmed a book that hadn’t been written yet?”

“Who told you that, Freihoffer? Old man is out of his mind. James Hilton wrote The Shining in 1933, in between Goodbye, Mr. Chips and Lost Horizon. Capra filmed it right after Lost Horizon—MGM had already bought the rights to Goodbye, Mr. Chips and Capra was contracted to Columbia, so he made The Shining instead. They said that Hilton’s novel was unfilmable—they were probably right at the time. It was the Depression, you know—audiences didn’t want to see Jimmy Stewart chasing Myrna Loy with an ax.”

“Then what about Stephen King?”

“King rewrote The Shining word for word, without ever having read Hilton’s novel. Claims he didn’t even know it existed. That’s what’s so extraordinary. And that’s not the only one. The Stand was actually written by Ayn Rand in 1957.”

“No way. What about Carrie?”

“Written by Muriel Spark in the sixties.”

Pet Cemetery?”

“Evelyn Waugh, 1948.

Cujo?”

“Jack London. What Stephen King does—it’s genius, really.”

I was now on the trail of James Hilton’s The Shining, of which the Library of Congress had no record.

“Certainly you mean Stephen King’s The Shining,” said Mr. Trevor, my rather supercilious librarian, staring down at me over the tops of his half-focals with the practiced disdain of those who hold readers of pulpy horror novels in contempt.

“No, it’s James Hilton. An earlier novel, 1933.”

“Same title?”

“Same novel.”

Mr. Trevor shook his head.

“You see, I’m writing my master’s thesis on The Shining—you know, the film by Stanley Kubrick?”

“Of course. Everyone’s seen The Shining.”

I told him about the footage that was cut—about the hotel being built over an Indian burial ground and the little boy in psychotherapy with Anne Jackson, about the topiaries coming to life, about the Meadowlark Lemon test reel, about Freddie Bartholomew auditioning for a lost Frank Capra film of The Shining back in the thirties.

“Which was based on this James Hilton novel you’re looking for.”

“You see what I’m up against, Mr. Trevor.”

The contempt in his eyes had drained into a residue of pity, and he smiled. “Please, call me Glen. I believe I have something that should interest you.” He hit a buzzer and a wooden gate swung open.

We walked for what seemed like blocks through the stacks, the librarian using one heavy, medieval-looking key after another on his dish-size key ring to open a door to a dark, musty room, and then another dark, musty room, and then a modern cinder-block extension where the lights tripped on as you passed over hidden wires, and then another modern cinder-block extension, and then another, and then back into another dark, musty room.

“Haven’t we just made a circle?” I asked.

“Perhaps.” The light switch didn’t work. Mr. Glen Trevor took a large flashlight from a holster on the wall and switched it on. “Yes, this is the room.” The flashlight found a lock on a cage in the center of the room. He swung a final door open.

Stanley Kubrick was sitting at a Remington Rand manual typewriter, punching at the keys with two clumsy index fingers. “Never did learn to type,” he muttered. His beard was heavy, his skin a sallow, pale gray, his eyes rimmed with deep creases.

“Mr. Kubrick, I—but I thought you lived in England.”

“P.O. Box 123, Boreham Wood, Hertfordshire?” he giggled in that high squeak, without looking up from the typewriter. “No doubt you’ve sent a half-dozen letters to that phony address. You kids are all so pathetically stupid. Falling for that England crap. I’ve never even set foot in that shithole.”

“Mr. Kubrick,” I said, taking a step back, “I can’t tell you what your work has meant to me—”

“Then don’t. It’s not helping me right now, is it?”

I looked at the paper emerging from his typewriter. One sentence, over and over: “All work and no play makes Stan a dull boy.”

“Are you blocked, sir?”

“Yes, but it will pass. It always passes.”

“Sometimes, when I get stuck, it helps to talk it out with someone.” I couldn’t believe I was saying something so inane, but this was Stanley Kubrick, and I was babbling. “Maybe you’d like to run your screenplay by me?”

Mr. Kubrick finally looked up from his typewriter. “It’s about this doctor who’s having marital problems—I think maybe he goes to an orgy—”

Mr. Trevor’s bony fingers tightened around his key ring. “Mr. Kubrick is not permitted to chat. Mr. Kubrick is here to work on his screenplay. We must leave him.” And he grabbed my arm and yanked me out of the cage, slamming it shut.

“But if I could only ask him about The Shining—“

Mr. Trevor pulled me aside, whispering urgently in my ear. “Mr. Kubrick is fed three square meals a day. He is permitted to sleep between the hours of midnight and six a.m. He does not need some pipsqueak fan bothering him about her silly little thesis.”

“You mean—”

“If we let him out, there's no telling what might happen. He hasn't made a film since 1987—someone has to crack the whip. How would you like it if you never had a new Kubrick film to look forward to ever again?”

“That would be terrible.”

“So you see why we must keep him here, Miss Lewinson. Trust the Library of Congress. We know what we're doing.”

I had come to the end, the final, speechless end. As I stepped into the sunshine of that November afternoon, wrapping my jacket tightly across my chest, I felt the first snap of winter.

* * *

Editor’s Note:

In an earlier version of this story, the Library of Congress was keeping not Stanley Kubrick but Stephen King in a cage, forcing him to churn out one novel after another, and the shelves around the cage were illuminated to reveal that King is not just the prolific author of Salem’s Lot and Children of the Corn but, indeed, the author of every novel published in the last century, writing under such clever pseudonyms as “Thomas Pynchon” and “J. D. Salinger.” This version of the story was shredded. In a later version, but still previous to the version you are reading now, both Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King had been locked up in the aforementioned cage by the Library of Congress, in a collaboration forced on them after their falling out over The Shining, which so disappointed King with its cavalier attitude towards his novel that he had bought back the screen rights to make his own film. When Ms. Lewinson happened on Messrs. Kubrick and King in the cage, both hunting-and-pecking at manual Remington-Rand typewriters, the two had not yet decided what their film would be about, only that everyone involved in the film, from pre-production to critical appraisal, would be required to have the initials “SK.” Thus the film would star foul-mouthed comedian Sam Kinison and be reviewed exclusively by The New Republic’s doddering octogenarian Stanley Kauffmann. Although it may have had amusing potential, this version was inadvertently deleted from the author’s hard drive.

In a very early version of this story, Mr. Trevor locked Ms. Lewinson herself in the cage, because, as he said ominously, she was “getting too close to the truth.” In the cage a man in a bear suit fellated the bartender from The Shining. It was a very depressing ending.

 

Ann Lewinson’s fiction and poetry have appeared in Glass Tesseract, Out of Line, Pangolin Papers and P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center's Special Projects Writers’ Series and are forthcoming in Eclipse and Karamu. She is working on a novel. (2003)


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