Picked apart and poured over by a confederacy of film-obsessed mavens with keen eyes and airtight attention spans, Stanley Kubrick’s opus The Shining (1980) has proven remarkably fecund over its 36-year lifetime — almost inexhaustible, like a runaway dream or a repressed memory, or perhaps more appropriately, the Winchester Mystery House. Accordingly to legend, the owner of the San Jose, California, house was constantly building and adding onto it so that, by dint of all the additions, he could remain one step ahead of a prophesied looming danger and/or live forever.
In much the same way that this peculiar house with an unusual backstory has become a notable tourist trap, The Shining has begotten its own cottage industry of conspiracies. If you are familiar with the fantastical, analytical hypothesizing that has flourished around the movie, it’s most likely thanks to Rodney Ascher’s Room 237, a documentary focused on some of the many far-out but rigorous theories that The Shining experts have dreamt up. (For example: throughout the movie, Kubrick leaves clues to his role in faking the Apollo 11 lunar landing.)
Among the handful of Kubrick connoisseurs featured in Room 237 is John Fell Ryan, a self-described Shining obsessive and not unlike the others in this way. Like them, he has an active blog and has made his share of video essays, among them The Shining Backwards and Forwards, a palindromic interpretation of the film that he created along with Akiva Saunders in 2011. Being exactly what you might imagine — The Shining, played backwards and forwards at the same time — the film was conceived with just a hint of knowing humor, taking a single line from an essay by fellow obsessive MSTRMND as its cue:
The Shining is a film meant to be watched both forwards and backwards.
In its heart of hearts, The Shining Backwards and Forwards is an earnest attempt to uncover more concealed secrets within the film, just one more vantage point from which to peer into the movie’s abyss. Think of it as going to the Dark Side of the Rainbow (or other movie-music syncs) with a really open mind. Even for a naysayer, the results are amusing and occasionally intriguing. But that’s not where the story ends.
Making one more trip through the looking glass, Jon Dieringer has stood on the shoulders of Ryan and Sanders and added 3D to the mix, resulting in The Shining Backwards and Forwards and Inwards and Outwards in High Definition Anaglyph 3D (Chaos Mix) (ITSBAFIHDA3D[CM]), currently enjoying a run at Spectacle Theatre through January 30.
Clearly, it is not to be taken seriously. And yet …
The experience is spectral and meta and good fun, as the film hovers over itself at self-conscious, critical remove while also engaging in a ghostly conversation with itself. Or, as Dieringer writes, 3D “[places] it in a sort of dialogue with itself as a ghost story that appears to drift over itself as a kind of apparition.” Like its previous incarnation, ITSBAFIHDA3D(CM) is a spirited lark of a movie self-mash-up. So when Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance declares, in response to a disclaimer that a past caretaker of the hotel he will soon oversee killed his entire family and then himself, “rest assured, it won’t happen to me,” and the image overlaying it shows his terrible deeds to come, there is a mixed sense of ah and hm — the hm felt more strongly. Another synchronicity finds the title shot of the words “Closing Day” overlaid with Jack’s famous axing down of one of the hotel’s door. One more offers a convergence of Jack’s wife (Shelley Duvall) and a bat and Jack’s head — which she and the bat might at some point strike.
By chance, in the same week that I saw ITSBAFIHDA3D(CM), I also viewed Annie Dorsen’s Yesterday Tomorrow, co-presented by La MaMa and PS122. Working with computer algorithms, or conducted by them, the performance’s three human singers moved through the Beatles’ “Yesterday” into Annie’s “Tomorrow.” This was achieved by repeatedly singing “Yesterday” — over and over, to the point of comedy — and as they did, those algorithms gradually morphed the song, slipping in bits and pieces of “Tomorrow” with each repetition, until that’s all it was. But who’s making the choices — the humans or the algorithms? In short, here was another self-conscious, tech-aided passage through pop culture’s inner workings, an intriguing offer to look inside. They’re not completely the same, though.Yesterday Tomorrow is ironically all about this time, the passing of the present. By contrast, TSBAFIHDA3D(CM) is Einsteinian, concerned with time itself and the uncanny interweaving of it with space.
In either case, the works seem to say a lot about ourselves. It’s fun to ponder the watchmaker, the creator and its/their intent, especially as their mechanisms are expanded and reconstructed — or deconstructed — like in the Chaos Mix and Yesterday Tomorrow. This seems to especially be the case for former, so tied to obsession. But by plunging still further down the rabbit hole, ITSBAFIHDA3D(CM) actually calls attention to this tendency to sink into our pop culture fascinations. As Dieringer writes:
Lastly, because this HD 3D re-remix further exploits and fetishizes the possibilities of home video technologies and nods to commercial exploitation of re-modeled/re-packaged legacy titles … it feels like a video game to me — so the full title was selected to evoke Super Street Figher II Turbo HD Remix.
More often than not it’s our responses (especially to randomness) that are really the interesting thing. Technology enables us to undertake all sorts of pop culture psychoanalysis. Are we in control of what of what we see and hear and know? Or do algorithms do that for us? How deep is too deep for our loves and obsessions? What do you see here? The powerful allure of pop culture can be perilous and illuminating, often at the same time. Or maybe I’m reading too much into all this.
The Shining Backwards and Forwards and Inwards and Outwards in High Definition Anaglyph 3D (Chaos Mix) screens at Spectacle Theatre through January 30. Yesterday Tomorrow ran January 13–16 at La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theater (66 E 4th Street, East Village, Manhattan) as part of COIL 2016.