Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Badman Alley

Beautiful, airy Celestine swung down the lane, the willows supple and bowing, September chill still and waiting. The trees, the students, even the buildings with their open-door mouths and glass window eyes watched and admired; her slim, bare legs moved brightly, bouncing with her stride, her long blonde hair picking up the sunlight to shine. They watched her, this aloof, mysterious girl, and wondered: where was she from? What was she like? Why always the faint faraway smile?
Her studies were varied: mathematics, folklore, poetry, rhymes. Never the real, dreary world, and what courses she took that dirtied their feet in the ashy remains of history left her cool and dreaming, gazing out the window and wagging her fingers to a lively inner tune. One slippered foot waved quietly from a crossed leg, skirt flaring, and beneath her lashes pale freckles lay silent like stars. 
She had summered in town as a child, a local boy said, stayed with a maiden aunt in a broken-down place over the hill, her mother back in the city. On sunny days she came to play at the college, pretend adventures, just a skinny thing, and she worked into her games the librarians and scholars and the gruff, unshaven men who cleaned up the trash. She ran wild, he said, same blue eyes, blonde hair tangled, and now here she was back again, enrolled like any other girl, all grown up. Gone were the dirty white socks, scuffs on the elbows; now everything was soft, clean and smooth. But no one knew her. Not really. 
Had anyone bothered to watch—they did, of course, but really watch—they might have seen her eyes sparkle with secretive glee whenever she passed the Badman alley, that gray space between the Jonas Badman bookstore and the all-night study center. There was nothing there, really, just broken pallets, tires, slats, jumbled bits of nothing. It had been an alley since time immemorial, perhaps since before the pilgrims, a shadow between wigwams, and in the middle of it was a large, flat, square, ugly metal grate. She glanced down the alley, down at the grate, and smiled to herself, as if that gray, lowly place had once been the scene of fond adventures. It was strange, the gaze of this golden-haired girl, but looks can be deceiving. 
Her roommates, Ida and Claire, knew as much as anybody. They said she spoke little, was content with her own company, and spent her time dreaming. She was polite, to be sure, they said, but her eyes had a way of glassing over coolly when the girls talked of films, fads and music. Celestine seemed to know nothing of new things—the people, the fashions; her own clothes were fine and beautiful, but she seemed to pair them together by chance, creating ensembles that were odd or ingenious. It was noticed that she had a slightly strange odor. 
Being wicked and ordinary, the curious girls filched the letters from Celestine’s mother out of the trash and read them in secret. The words were sober, careful, and sere, though underneath lurked an odd anxiety. Was she eating? Was she well? Would she call? Would she please call? Darling, please, you know you must call. It seemed out of place with the cool, confident girl, her bright eyes and smiles. 
She disappeared at times; that was known. Hours, even a day, returning only when no one was about, sometimes at night. Her clothes, dumped in a closet, looked dirtied and damp, as though she had been adventuring, as though she had rambled to faraway places of windstorms and rain. 
Windstorms and rain.…
Behind the alley’s magic portal, the land of Bella-Donna was indeed the scene of windstorm and rain, but also one of sunlight and song. The trees wept blossoms on the pathways, white with purple veins, falling to splash into petals and scent. They dropped at the feet, especially, of Queen Celestine, the traveler, the girl from another world. She visited when she could, those glens, those stones, the fairies. The little magic ones kept her company as she roamed to places strange and alarming. Terrible mumpf-ducks rolled on the horizon, and they all hid together, pressed down into the moss, hugging each other and trembling. When the kite-lizards soared in the sky, they pretended to be trees, standing still and breathless with their arms outstretched, for the vision of those beasts is poor, their eyes not orbs but a constant flowing jelly. Sometimes a sprite would weaken and droop, and in a soul-tearing, horrifying crash it would be gobbled, leaf slippers and all, and great, glittering tears would roll from Queen Celestine’s eyes like rain. 
Not all was danger in Bella-Donna, however; there were games, and fêtes, and journeys of adventure and romance. They danced the tarantella in secret flower valleys, the girl-nymphs wearing charcoal mustaches and breeches, an enchanted he-boar hammering the chimes. They cloud-gathered at the daunting peaks, scooping handfuls of mist to weave in lace, dropping stones on the rockhawks that harried the lambs. Once she had bathed in a mountain pool, diamond-drops rolling down her skin, and a horseman princeling saw her nakedness from head to toe. Ashamed, chivalrous, knowing his crime, he made redress by plucking out his eyes and tossing them in a fire; he settled in a homely shack, alone in his blindness, and every spring kindly Celestine would leave at his doorstep baskets of fruit, honey, and nectar. 
All these wonders—the jade gardens, the fairy chants, the white mountain shrines—they all waited for her, hidden and gay, just through her magic gate. In time her ordinary world grew paler and paler still, and then one day she realized that she could only hardly remember it at all.

It was a besotted boy who found her, finally, by accident, in Badman alley. He had come to urinate into the grim, metal grate, looked down, and to his surprise saw a girl, emaciated and filthy. She sat crouched in the drain, eyes wide from hunger, lips drawn back like a corpse. She rocked back and forth on bare feet, grinding her teeth, dirty claw hands cutting her knees, chuckling and gibbering. Quiet! she warned the fairies. Be still, my friends, the kite lizards are flying!

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Monday, May 12, 2014

The Dinosaur Zoo

Fun fact: the Belgians have a secret dinosaur zoo in the Old City, out beyond the gasworks and the slums, hidden by warehouses and junkyards. It is a zoo proper, with a wide colorful sign and a ticket booth, with balloon vendors and a clarinet band, but it is on no map or guide, and one only finds it by accident, when lost or in flight. Despite the excitement—dinosaurs! for real!—there is a strangely soporific quality to the place, as though the air were not quite right and the sunlight strangely filtered. The zooworkers attend to their tasks, twirling cotton candy and guarding the turnstiles, and yet their eyes seem distant and empty, their clothes rumpled and slept in.

You walk past the exhibits and walls, breathless, staring down into the pits at the mighty leaf-eaters with their spiked backs and duck bills, getting not too close to the cage of the towering chartreuse-and-violet monster with the knife teeth, entering the great dome that houses the fliers with their huge shadowy wings. Because of the strange sleepiness of the day it strikes you only dimly that the dinosaurs do not restlessly paw and pace like trapped animals; they do not eat or growl or stir at all, in fact, but instead they simply watch, perhaps watching you in particular, their eyes swiveling soundlessly while you pass beneath. Some of the bipeds hold strange instruments, scratched metal boxes with large rubber knobs and glowing lights, ancient and welded shut. They never touch the buttons, however, or at least not when you are watching.

When you are finally invited inside the gleaming chrome door to the underground educational chamber by the eight-foot doctor in his white lab coat, "for science," your drugged mind realizes only too late that the hands that clutch the clipboard are green and leathery, and that the human face is only a pink rubber mask….

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Sunday, February 02, 2014

The Coens’ First Sequel, and Its Cockeyed Genius

First, a quick folk song:

Be wary, yon traveler
From far and from near
There’s secrets and there's spoilers
Revealed all up in here

When I first saw the trailer to the Coens’ Inside Llewyn Davis, I was struck by certain similarities to their 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou; just like the earlier picture, it looked to be another picaresque semi-musical, and no doubt there would be another excellent soundtrack album following on its heels. Well, this was all a good thing as far as I was concerned; O Brother is one of my favorite Coen brothers movies—heck, one of my favorite movies period—and I was happy to see them go back and pull the same trick again. After some delay I got to see the film, and sure enough I enjoyed it a great deal; I found it engrossing and haunting, like a window into another world. Towards the end there was a particular little moment that made me chuckle, a quick nudge in the ribs, but what it was exactly I couldn’t quite examine, as the story was hurrying towards its conclusion. It got my attention, but then it flew by and was gone.

That night at 2 AM I woke up and suddenly it all dawned on me: what had made me laugh was that it was revealed that the cat in the film was named “Ulysses.” Not very interesting in and of itself, until you remember that O Brother, Where Art Thou is supposedly based on Homer’s “Odyssey,” and in fact the main character’s name is Ulysses Everett McGill. In other words, the Coens made a direct reference to their earlier film.

That got me thinking, there in my bed, and the more I thought the more I realized that Inside Llewyn Davis is also based on the Odyssey, except in a sort of broken, negative way. For example, we do have a Penelope, or perhaps better to say an anti-Penelope, for she is no wife but instead an angry ex-lover. One could argue that she also has suitors like Homer’s Penelope in the form of the men who harmonize with her, as well as the enticing Peter-Paul-and-Mary-type commercial success that will come with that sweetness of harmony. As in Homer, the story ends with an accord of sorts when she does Llewyn a kindness and he confesses he loves her, but in a cruel twist we discover that she has not been faithful like Penelope—or at least she does not have the integrity that Llewyn imagined she had.

There are more upended Homeric familial relations. Just as in the Odyssey, wandering Llewyn returns to visit his father; Homer’s Laertes does not recognize his son at first, and, tragically, Llewyn’s father does not recognize his son at all. There is a Telemachus as well—a pair, actually—but no reunions; Llewyn has the opportunity to search out one lost child but he turns his back on the chance out of fear, selfishness, or general hardness of heart. The other child is unborn and is to be aborted. Interestingly, two of the songs he sings in the film feature or mention children in utero.

The fantastical journeys and adventures are there as well. It turns out that Llewyn is a sailor who has been “all around the world” like Odysseus, though in the present of the story our hero tries and fails to reach the actual sea. A cyclops is met in the form of a larger-than-life jazz musician who sneers at folk music (played by John Goodman, who of course also played the cyclops in O Brother), and in a strange twist Llewyn becomes one of the sirens himself when he joins two fellow folkies in the recording studio to cut “Please Mr. Kennedy,” a novelty pop song which is also an unintentional mockery of protest songs. One could argue that he meets Circe when he is turned into a “trained poodle” at the Gorfeins’ apartment, and there is even a suggestion of a trip to Hades and back in the apparent resurrection of Ulysses the cat.

What does it mean, however, this strange and pointedly willful perversion of Homer and O Brother? The colorful and hopeful world of the first film—a golden age, perhaps—has changed to one that is washed-out, unfriendly and cold. Odysseus gets nowhere; not only does he fail to find any kind of financial success, but he even seems to have been blinded to the very spirit of folk music by his own egotism. He cruelly berates an Upper East Side intellectual when she becomes so moved by his music that she joins in, and when he is presented with the song of a simple country woman he shouts obscenities at her.

By the end of film we realize that Llewyn Davis is in a circular, Third-Policeman-type Hell, and here too there is another correspondence to O Brother, Where Art Thou. In the previous film the hero is pursued by a character who is obviously, if not explicitly, the Devil, a deep-voiced higher power whose face is partially hidden. In Inside Llewyn Davis, the anti-hero has been caught, and the film is bookended by scenes of an intimidating, deep-voiced stranger beating Llewyn in an alley beneath street level, telling him, almost regretfully, that he deserves to be there.

Perhaps it is not just Llewyn Davis that was trapped in Hell but folk music itself? In the film's version of 1961 we see folk music commercialized, parodied, idealized, and gawked at like a freak show. Even Llewyn, its most loyal and ardent prophet, seems to have lost sight of what it really is—a joyful noise that can be sung by anyone, wonderful stories that are handed down from one performer to the next like Homer’s epics themselves. As a final cruel joke, trapped Llewyn catches a glimpse of the great man who will bury him in inconsequence, the true savior, the man who will stride like a giant across the landscape of American music and become immortal.

Maybe someday Llewyn will be free. Or, better yet, maybe someday he will find a home. There is always hope in the Coens' films, despite their black humor. And if there cannot be hope, then at least there will be music.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

On Writing: Five Things I Learned from the Bridegroom

"The unexamined life is not worth living," said Socrates, and I don't want anyone accusing me of disregarding respected Attic philosophers, so here is a short list of lessons I learned while writing my first novel. Possibly these nubbins of hard-earned wisdom will be useful to others embarking on the same journey, though I acknowledge beforehand that each writer is going to have his or her own process which may be slightly (or drastically) different from mine. The meta-lesson, perhaps, is to be thoughtful and open-minded about finding that process.

1. Planning is good. S.B. was not my first attempt at writing a novel, but it was my first successful one. What was the difference? Planning. In my previous attempts I had only a couple of pages of notes down before I started writing in earnest; the rest, I figured, I would just work out along the way. Certainly I had the broad strokes all figured out in my head; I could see the scope and shape of it—everything that would happen, how all the characters would be, the tone, the prose—it was only a matter of sitting down and banging it out.

None of these imaginary opuses made it past one or two chapters, of course. Sooner or later I began to question whether I had started with the right tone, whether the characters were quite right, and whether I might just be writing myself into a corner. Mostly my sense of direction had simply faded away; as beautiful as it was, I couldn't keep the vision held in my head indefinitely.

Satanic Bridegroom was different. I decided to approach the project in a workmanlike manner, as though I were a carpenter building a house. I figured everything out in advance—choosing the material, taking measurements, studying the fixtures, et cetera. After getting down several pages of notes, I prepared a list of chapters, and then for each chapter I wrote a page on what would happen in that chapter. This ended up making all the difference; if anything, I should have planned even more at the start, maybe sketching out ideas on prose, tone and thematic elements for each section.

Now, of course this approach is not going to work for everyone; perhaps some people need to discover everything on the fly to feed their inspiration and momentum, and that's fine. It's worth mentioning, though, as it could be a useful technique for those whose projects end up wandering off into the mists of where-was-I-going-with-this?

2. Mornings are good. I learned, rather late into it, that I am a much better writer first thing in the morning than I am last thing at night. Why? Don't know. Doesn't matter. What's important is that I shouldn't have been beating myself up about not jumping on the computer to write after a long day at the office, but I should have been beating myself up about not carving out time for myself on weekend mornings.

Again, your most productive time may be different from mine, but it's a good idea to figure this stuff out sooner rather than later.

3. Be careful about forcing things. There where times when I made myself bang some words out even though I was feeling tired, crabby or uninspired. "I just need to be disciplined, get through it, and move forward," I thought, and, for sure, this is not a bad impulse for a writer to have. The problem was that even though I did indeed move forward, the result was often dead, predictable, and uninteresting prose. Even worse, it was writing that was difficult to revise, because I didn't like it and I didn't enjoy spending time on it. Trying to fix it after the fact was simply tiresome and demoralizing.

So, what to do? I think the lesson here is to be disciplined, but to be disciplined about not just writing but about setting up the conditions for good writing. It's not enough to block off a couple of hours, because if you're scattered, distracted or disinterested when those hours come around, it won't be worth the effort. "Mental hygiene," I think is the term.

4. Fix it or mark it. Often when I was writing, I found myself unsure about some historical fact or the exact meaning of a word I wanted to use. In these cases, I would put something down on the page and think "well, I'll just fix it later." Now, this in itself is not a bad thing, but the problem was that I assumed that I would afterward remember that I had put something provisional in that needed correcting, and this was not always the case. In fact, I later found myself in the embarrassing position of having my first readers pointing out dumb mistakes and only then remembering that I had just thrown something in there temporarily and had never fixed it.

For the future: if I'm not sure about something (for example, in the first paragraph here, whether "learned" or "learnt" was more correct), I shouldn't put off looking it up, and if I absolutely must, I need to highlight that word or section so two-months-from-now me won't mistake it as something I thought was street legal.

5. The blurb, the one-pager, the ten-pager. A bit of book marketing advice I've gotten is that if I'm going to try to get a literary agent to look at my work, I'll need to have ready a blurb, a one-page description, and a ten-page description of the piece. The problem I'm finding is that S.B. is a bit hard to describe; it's not exactly a horror novel and not exactly an adventure novel. Personally, I think of it as "weird fiction," but this is a niche term which not everyone is familiar with. Meanwhile, even though it's sort of a genre piece (even if the genre is a bit murky), the writing has a much more literary feel to it than is typically found in that sort of thing.

In other words, the book might be a hard sell.

Now, I think the reality was that for this first novel I had to write what I wanted to write and just make that mistake; I needed to take advantage of the momentum of inspiration and not second-guess where I was headed. Going forward, however, I can see that if I can't come up with a punchy blurb or one-page description of the piece I intend to write, that may be a signal that I'm writing something that will be difficult to talk people into reading.

For my next blog post, we will discuss yet another Socratic quote, namely Each pleasure and pain is a sort of nail which nails and rivets the soul to the body, and engrosses her and makes her believe that to be true which the body affirms to be true; and from agreeing with the body and having the same delights she is obliged to have the same habits and ways, and is not likely ever to be pure at her departure to the world below, but is always saturated with the body; so that she soon sinks into another body and there germinates and grows, and has therefore no part in the communion of the divine and pure and simple." I'm not exactly sure what that means, so it may be a while.

Friday, November 01, 2013

The Satanic Bridegroom is Here!

As you may have already heard via Facebook, Twitter, private e-mail or sky writing, my novel, The Satanic Bridegroom, is now available for Kindle on Amazon. Link here. I'll work on getting it up on Barnes & Noble and iTunes ASAP. The neat thing is, it automatically got added to Goodreads; now I just need to create an author page and see if I can get the cover photo on there.

It's funny to post about the novel here on this blog, because Sniff the Light Fantastic was actually one of the early steps in the journey. I created Sniff in late 2004 after the dust had settled from a transitional period in my life and I realized I needed to start doing something creative again. What I came up with (or what just sort of happened on its own) was a goofy ongoing story about my fictional attempts to get my fictional screenplay, "Night of the Lobster," made into a fictional movie. I enjoyed writing it, but as time went on I realized that I was putting more and more effort into each new post, and the thought occurred to me: shouldn't I be channeling this energy into writing something more substantial?

It was an important moment, because I realized that I enjoyed working hard at writing when there was an element of fun to it. If I were able to maintain that sense of play, all I really needed to achieve my lifelong dream of completing a novel was a direction in which to move and a little bit of discipline. In time I was able to find both, and The Satanic Bridegroom is the weird-ass result.

I do hope that people enjoy the book. I very much wanted to write something entertaining, and even if it came out strange and misguided, I think there are enough shivers and chuckles to keep people turning to the last page. Let me know what you think.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Satanic Bridegroom

Things have been quiet here at Sniff The Light Fantastic, but for a good reason: the novel that I have been working on for the last four years, The Satanic Bridegroom, is finally complete. Early chapters are posted online here, and an e-book will be made available in October. The genre might be called weird fiction or "literary horror," and the story involves lust, madness and submarines.

The project began four years ago. It had always been my ambition to write a novel, but I never seemed to be able to get beyond ideas and first chapters. I would start a project full of enthusiasm, but the momentum would eventually dissipate, leaving me with nothing. Finally, in 2009, I decided to take a different approach: instead of starting with a vague plan and hoping that inspiration found in the moment of writing would carry me the rest of the way, I carefully outlined every chapter, making myself a blueprint that I only needed to follow.

It was all very workmanlike, but this method turned out to be the key to unlocking my productivity. Previously I had imagined that this sort of process would be a tedious chore with no sense of discovery, but this turned out not to be the case; even if I knew the destination, there was still a feeling of excitement and exploration in getting there. Meanwhile, rather than waiting for inspiration to begin writing, inspiration came when I was already at the keyboard, and I would often find new, unexpected ideas flying to me out of nowhere. Additionally, having my path mapped out ahead of time helped me get through the difficult times—even if I wasn't feeling inspired about a section, I could still move forward and hopefully return to it later to revise it into something better.

The hard part now is letting go. There are still sections which I think could be better, and the urge is there to continue second-guessing and revising, but the time has come to end this project and begin a new one. Overall I'm very pleased with the results; the novel may be dark and strange, but it stands on its own. I find myself chuckling or shivering when rereading it, and that seems to be a very good sign.

Anyway, yet me know what you think! Hopefully you'll enjoy it, but, if it's really terrible, well, the next one will be better.

Fiat lux!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

2012 Film Challenge #14: The Shining

There is something frightening about an abandoned house—after all, what terrible thing could have happened there to cause people to abandon shelter? Hatred? Madness? Murder? A derelict house is almost like a corpse—a still, cold remainder of something that used to be alive. We see the outward signs of humanity, but the spark within is gone, like a ghost. When the wind shifts and it creaks, it is almost as if some grey, clammy dead thing in the weeds has shuddered and twitched.

This creepiness of the simultaneous presence and absence of humanity we've given the name haunted, and the vagueness of that fear has been codified into the idea of the ghost. You see, it is not some intangible thing that bothers us—not our own death, certainly—but rather a discombobulated failure of death; the trace of some specific person remains, unloved and invisible, and perhaps if we solve its riddle we can send it on its way like a lost passenger at a railway station.Why, if we only return the jewelry box to Aunt Martha's crypt this whole spook problem will be solved! What is there really to be afraid of at all, when you get right down to it?

It's true, we humans are adept at dressing up our fears, giving them charm and familiarity and some sort of logical place in our world. We assign rules and codes of conduct to them: vampires only come out at night; a werewolf can be killed with a silver bullet; the devil fears the sign of the cross. So too does the haunted house have its own jolly charm; it is baroque and cobwebby and creaky, and there are black cats and hidden staircases, and somewhere in a back closet when you least expect it and really need to find a can opener there is a grinning white skeleton all propped up and ready to topple.

When he was in the process of planning his own haunted house movie, director Stanley Kubrick even went so far as to tell author Stephen King that the ghost story is essentially an optimistic story, since to believe in ghosts is to believe in the afterlife. And surely we can trust Stanley Kubrick when he tells us that his story is going to be cozy and warm and uplifting, right? So, why not snuggle into a blanket, turn down the lights, and have a little shiver with the biggest, grandest haunted house of them all? Why not check in to the Overlook Hotel—and The Shining.

However, I should mention that from this point on things are going to get very spoiler-y, so if you haven't seen the movie you should probably stop reading now and go track it down. Come on back when you're done. We'll wait.

Okay. All set? Good. So, yeah, sorry, I was kinda jerking you around, and Stanley was too. There's nothing optimistic about The Shining. Oh my, no. There is only the same terrible things we feared all along—hatred, madness, and murder. And death. In spades.

But maybe there's a bit more, and that's where it gets interesting.

What fascinates and frightens me about The Shining is that it is more than just a story about a group of people being menaced by an unseen presence in a strange place. The titillating chill of the ghosts is what brings us to the theater and drives the plot, but perhaps what the film is really about the evil that resides within us, and how a seemingly ordinary man could go bonkers and try to murder his wife and child.

The tension is there all along, if you know where to look for it. Jack Torrance is, of course, played by Jack Nicholson, an actor who exudes an iconoclastic charisma that it is hard not to like. With a too-straight face he informs his employer-to-be that he is a writer, one who is "outlining a new writing project." Of course we believe him; we like successful, creative people, and that's the sort of person we like to see as the hero in our movies. What if we're wrong, though? What if Jack isn't really a writer? What if Jack is actually just a failure?

Maybe Jack's not really even all that charming. Hints of disaffection with his family life can be glimpsed in the Torrances' first scene together as a unit; his responses to banalities of his mousy wife, Wendy—played to cruel perfection by Shelley Duvall—have a hint of curtness and condescension, a tone which spirals downward as the movie goes on. His conversation with Danny has an even more loaded, equivocal tone to it; he speaks to the boy with an attitude that falls somewhere in between parental care, cool snark, and wariness; it is almost as if he were speaking to a much older child, one who he fears might be growing up to be a bit smarter than he is.

There is in this something of real life; our children do get stronger as we decline, and sometimes our children show themselves to be smarter, stronger or more talented than we ever were in our youth. A good man might look on this with pride; an average man might look on this with regret; a weak man might look on this with hatred.

Danny's precociousness and unusual self-possession is, like much else in the movie, intensified by a supernatural element. Danny "shines" with extra-sensory perception, and moreover he has within himself another whole person, the eerie personality known only as "Tony." It is chilling to imagine that this equivocal, crackly-voiced presence is yet another ghost, but we could also interpret this as being another version of Danny—perhaps the Danny that is to come?—and a version of Danny that seems to be much more knowledgeable and intuitive than his unhappy father.

Once in the hotel Jack struggles to live up to his assertion that he is a writer. Perhaps out in the world he blamed his lack of productivity on distraction and the cares of the day; perhaps he was happy to put off his ambitions  just so long as he had a glass of bourbon in front of him. However, isolated in the Overlook, he has to confront a possibility that he has perhaps been avoiding all his life: he might not really be a writer after all. He might really just be a caretaker. Even worse, he might simply be a drunk.

Kubrick takes these everyday demons and family tensions and uses the supernatural to explode them to the scale of a bloody Greek myth, like Kronos devouring his children. The malevolent forces in the Overlook close in and take hold of the weakest of the three; disaffection becomes hatred, and resentment becomes murderousness. Everything goes haywire, and suddenly we learn that it is not just the hotel we need to be afraid of.

Many critics panned the film on its release, perhaps not understanding why the great Stanley Kubrick would be slumming it with a horror movie. Or perhaps they just failed to see the point. "There's something inherently wrong with the human personality," said Kubrick in an interview. "There's an evil side to it. One of the things that horror stories can do is to show us the archetypes of the unconscious: we can see the dark side without having to confront it directly." Personally I think he also wanted to remind everyone that he was one of the greatest directors of all time by making one of the scariest movies of all time. As far as I can tell he hit pretty close to the mark.

Like most of Kubrick's movies, The Shining also has a weird, mesmerizing quality that gets under our skin and makes us feel like we're seeing the world in a way that we've never quite experience before. Many of the conventions of the haunted house movie are turned on their head; there are no dark, cobwebby corridors or creaky crypts. The Overlook is grand, spacious, and even magnificent. Everything is clean and bright. It is, however, a maze, and there are some passages that it is not wise to travel down alone.

It was also the first film to make extensive use of the Steadicam, and so the camera's-eye-view has an eerie fluidity to it, where we seem to glide through rooms and ooze around corners. Perhaps the most stunning example is Danny Torrance's headlong Big Wheel ride through the endless hallways; the camera races just behind like a wolf about to devour its prey. Another more subtle but terrifyingly effective use of the camera is in the scene when Jack is chopping down the bathroom door; the camera is centered not on Jack, and not on the door, but on the head of the axe, and with each swing it snaps from left to right so that the audience feels the force of every blow.

Over the years the reputation of the film has grown, and now it is viewed as a something of a classic, maybe even as one of the greatest horror movies ever made. If nothing else, it is has stuck in the mind of ordinary moviegoers, lodging within the top fifty of IMDB's popular rankings, and the almost bizarre extent of its adoration is the subject of a new documentary, Room 237.

I tickles me to know that there are crazy-ass fans of The Shining just like me, and that the movie has worked its way into other people's consciousnesses in the same way it did mine. To me it's more than just a ghost story; it is a brilliantly executed piece of film art, an invention of the mind captured with precision on celluloid. It has its surface level, but something lurks beneath as well. Like all the best horror stories, it takes our worst fears and with a magician's flip turns them into a toy that we can hold in our hands. We can look at it and giggle…and shudder….