Monday, October 8, 2012

The Shining at midnight: am I Blu?

Posted By on 10.08.12 at 06:00 PM

Did a Chicagoan pick out that carpet?
  • Did a Chicagoan pick out that carpet?
It was nice to see owner Mark Fishman introduce The Shining at the Logan Theater on Friday night, even if his speech was little more than a reminder not to text during the movie. Taking pride in your theater (as Fishman did in interviews around the time of the Logan's reopening) is one thing; it's another to show up for a midnight screening just to wish your patrons well. Between Fishman's greeting and the short round of preshow trivia questions hosted by one of the staff, the screening felt like a genuine gathering—the sort of thing that's been all the rage in Logan Square for the past year or two. Open-mic comedy at Cole's Bar, come-as-you-are arts events at Comfort Station (where I was surprised to find about 50 people at a free outdoor screening of Murmur of the Heart last month), the impromptu game night I encountered at Cafe Mustache on a recent weeknight: the neighborhood, occupied still more or less benignly by 20-something refugees of the suburban middle class, seems eager to celebrate community for its own sake. The sentiment may seem at times naive or overly earnest; but considering this generation spends so much time in isolation online, I find it easy to appreciate the impulse behind it.

Do good intentions make up for lackluster presentation? The Logan screened The Shining from BluRay, and, to paraphrase Roger Ebert, the screen looked just like a giant television. The images were clear but lacked depth; there's a shrink-wrapped look to movies projected from DVDs for which no quality sound system can compensate. (Another distraction: the theater didn't mask the image, so one had to look at several feet of dead screen space on either side of the frame, not to mention the hard, ugly, and very digital-looking edges of the frame itself.) I'd seen The Shining at least a half-dozen times before, so it didn't bother me too much to watch the movie in such a compromised version. And since the Logan lets you drink beer inside the theater, I was far less discerning about matters of projection by the end of the movie than I was at the beginning.

I just hope that no one in the audience was seeing The Shining for the first time. If I could only discover a movie on DVD, I'd rather watch it at home than in a theater, where the enlargement of the digital image has the effect of keeping the movie itself at arm's length. But based on a show-of-hands conducted before the show, it seemed like everyone in the room had seen it before. Such is the current nature of midnight movie audiences, apparently. Where an earlier generation would stay up for, say, The Holy Mountain or Eraserhead in hopes of seeing something weird and new, today's (or, rather, tonight's) audiences seem more interested to share a familiar experience with a group. How else to explain the frequent midnight revivals of The Goonies and The Big Lebowski?

Barry Nelsons deadpan performance as Overlook manager Stuart Ullman still hasnt gotten its due.
  • Barry Nelson's deadpan performance as Overlook manager Stuart Ullman still hasn't gotten its due.
I've never been curious to check out these nostalgia-driven midnight shows. I'm just not possessed by that mood at that hour, and I fear that everyone else in the theater will go just to talk back to the movie, something I find distracting. I was able to set aside my misgivings and go to Friday's show because Stanley Kubrick's art resists nostalgia—or any form of easy assimilation, for that matter; The Shining in particular is one of those inexhaustible masterpieces, like Vertigo or Metropolis, that operates on multiple levels simultaneously and yields new meanings every time I see it. This time around, I thought I'd consider the argument that the film is an allegory about the Europeans' genocide of Native Americans. I found it made for a provocative experience, and it certainly framed the movie better than the projectionist did. Consider the basic set-up: a white family, headed by a domineering patriarch, discovers a world of plenty; the patriarch begins a campaign of terror to assert his attachment to the environment. The film makes it ambiguous as to whether his homicidal rage is something innate or something triggered by the place itself; this poses the question whether imperial domination is simply a fact of civilization, an aspect of mankind doomed to perpetuate itself as long as humans exist.

The audience on Friday night was relatively quiet (and no one texted!), allowing the movie to cast its spell. There was some laughter and catcalling during the opening scenes, but they felt less derisive than convivial, as if to recast the movie in the aura of the neighborhood. My favorite moment? When Barry Nelson's hotel manager told Jack Nicholson that the Overlook Hotel recently hired a decorator from Chicago to handle some refurnishing, some guy in the front row cheered.

Ben Sachs writes about moviegoing every Monday.

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