Simon Roy - At once obsessive, dark, philosophical, academic, and touching, Kubrick Red is a bizarre memoir that manages to deconstruct and celebrate Kubrick’s 'The Shining' while laying out the hardest moments of Roy’s life as well as the continuing impact the film has had in his life

Simon Roy, Kubrick Red, Trans. by Jacob Homel, Anvil Press, 2016.

Winner of a silver IPPY.
Stanley Kubrick's film The Shining was released in 1980 and has been fascinating viewers ever since. It is a psychological thriller about a writer with writer's block (along with his wife and their young son) who takes a job as caretaker of an isolated hotel in the Colorado mountains during the winter off-season. The boy, Danny, is gifted with a "sixth sense" and soon begins receiving disturbing messages about the hotel's mysterious past, and thus begins a cinematic descent into madness and terror.
Simon Roy first saw The Shining when he was ten years old and was mesmerized by a particular line in the movie spoken by Dick Hallorann, the chef of the Overlook Hotel, while he is giving the family an orientation tour of the facilities. Hallorann seems to speak directly to Danny (and Simon Roy) while in the middle of enumerating the stock of the hotel's pantry to Danny's mother. He glances at Danny and the words cross telepathically into the boy's mind: "How'd you like some ice cream, Doc?"
Roy has since seen the movie over forty-two times, and the painstaking bond he has knitted with this story of evil has enabled him to absorb the disquieting traits of his own family's "macabre lineage." Analysis of the film, and the many parallels to his own family's troubled history, have allowed him to gain insight into the nature of domestic violence and brought him face to face with the "banality of evil."

"On first viewing, The Shining barely coheres: It's hard to say why exactly events in the film happen as they do. Yet long after, it remains deeply unsettling. Mother and child survive, but the axe-wielding father's death offers no finality. When Simon Roy was a boy, he caught The Shining on television. The deluge of blood made no impression, but when Dick Hollorann asked in slow-mo voice-over 'How'd you like some ice cream, Doc?' young Simon was sure the hotel chef spoke directly to him. Since that moment of being scared witless, Roy has watched Kubrick's film obsessively, finding new meaning in it and dark parallels with his own story. Just as Kubrick used Stephen King's novel to talk about the horrors of genocide revisited on the present, in Kubrick Red, Roy analyses the film to exorcise a crime in his family's past. An atypical memoir tracing genealogies of violence -- as startling as the film that inspired it."--Jade Colbert, The Globe and Mail


“… it’s hard to find parallels elsewhere in literature. … both Les Éditions du Boréal, the book’s original publisher, and Vancouver’s Anvil Press deserve credit for taking on a book which resists categorisation … [a] strange and occasionally brilliant book, which mashes up elements of film theory, genre thrillers and a lament for his dead mother with reflections on his troubled childhood.”
VANCOUVER SUN

Kubrick Red: A Memoir does a deep dive into Kubrick’s methods and aims (he and co-screenwriter Diane Johnson wanted to craft a filmic embodiment of Freud’s ‘Das Unheimliche’ essay, apparently) even as it explores questions of how we use art in our lives. The latter is an especially charged question for Roy, whose family background is marked by dysfunction and tragedy: ‘To make suffering aesthetic is to avoid looking horror directly in the eye … to repel its deadly impact by placing between real horror and my tormented mind a 140-minute movie. Make it absorb the hardest blows.’ Roy has seen The Shining at least 42 times. That might strike some as unhealthy, but it has worked for him in at least one way: with Kubrick Red, he has made something compelling of his fixation.” — MONTREAL GAZETTE

“On first viewing, The Shining barely coheres: It’s hard to say why exactly events in the film happen as they do. Yet long after, it remains deeply unsettling. Mother and child survive, but the axe-wielding father’s death offers no finality. When Simon Roy was a boy, he caught The Shining on television. The deluge of blood made no impression, but when Dick Hollorann asked in slow-mo voice-over “How’d you like some ice cream, Doc?” young Simon was sure the hotel chef spoke directly to him. Since that moment of being scared witless, Roy has watched Kubrick’s film obsessively, finding new meaning in it and dark parallels with his own story. Just as Kubrick used Stephen King’s novel to talk about the horrors of genocide revisited on the present, in Kubrick Red Roy analyses the film to exorcise a crime in his family’s past. An atypical memoir tracing genealogies of violence – as startling as the film that inspired it.”  —Jade Colbert  GLOBE & MAIL


Few books walk the space inhabited by Simon Roy’s Kubrick Red. At once obsessive, dark, philosophical, academic, and touching, Kubrick Red is a bizarre memoir that manages to deconstruct and celebrate Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining while laying out the hardest moments of Roy’s life as well as the continuing impact the film has had in his life. The result is a book that jumps from childhood memories to scene analyses to hybrid/experimental literary territory to coping with the loss of a loved one, and it does so with an ease and grace rarely seen in a debut.
Simon Roy’s relationship to the film The Shining is a perfect example of how people can develop meaningful, strange, lifelong connections to cultural products. Roy first saw the movie when he was ten years old. At the time, a particular line delivered by Dick Hallorann, the chef of the Overlook Hotel, while he is giving the Torrance family a tour of the hotel, stuck with him. “How’d you like some ice cream, Doc?” asks Hallorann telepathically. The impression left by that line/scene was so strong that Roy eventually came back to the movie. Then he watched it again. Now, the author and professor has seen the movie over 42 times (42 being a crucial number for Kubrick and in the book) and has taught it in many occasions. However, the bond between Roy and The Shining is deeper than that; he sees a correlation between the evilness presented in the film and his family’s “macabre lineage,” which includes murder and suicide. As he analyzes the film and Kubrick’s vision, Roy highlights the parallels between the narrative and his family’s troubled, bloody history and how finding those parallels has allowed him to better understand human nature, domestic violence, evil, and fate.
Roy’s writing is both elegant and succinct (kudos to Jacob Homel for the translation). He coveys information effectively but also constantly leaves the door open to interpretation. Much like Kubrick’s work, there is an in-your-face weirdness that hides multiple layers of meaning and almost begs for a deep, careful reading. That the writing will resemble the film’s nature, as well as the fact that there is more to it than a memoir that’s tied to a film, becomes clear early on:
I must have watched the shining at least forty times. I was ten years old at my first contact with The Shining. “How would you like some ice cream, Doc?” I watched it a few more times: simple curiosity. Then more regularly as a teacher. A little bit OCD myself, I like to pretend I’ve seen the movie forty-two times, even if I know it has to be more than that by now. Like a certainty that slowly takes shape, I realize that the interest shared by my students and myself for this excellent movie can’t be the only reason I systematically put Stanley Kubrick’s film in my syllabus. By now, weariness for his work would have overwhelmed me, was it not for the fact that The Shining contains the tragic signs of the flaw within me.
In the pages that follow that chapter, as well as in the rest of the book, Roy talks about his life, the film, and oftentimes about the correlation between the themes that can be found in both. When talking about his personal life, the author is candid. A dark, bloody family history that would be stashed away by most is brought out to center stage and exposed, analyzed, and explained. Awful actions leave awful marks that last generations, and Roy decided to deal with his family’s past in a very public way but with the same introspective, honest approach one would use while processing/coping with something alone. Then there’s The Shining, the film that is much more than celluloid or an adaptation of a novel by Stephen King. If Kubrick is a meticulous, hyperobservant, somewhat neurotic director, Roy is the same in terms of analysis and interpretation; an intelligent, perceptive observer ready to look beyond the veil. The way the film is written about here brings together academia and poetry in ways that make this memoir a must-read for fans of both:
Twelve hard knocks two through silence as deep as the grave. Twelve hard knocks ringing off a Navajo tapestry suspended in one of the Colorado Lounge’s walls. A determined-looking Jack Torrance stands before it. We can guess symmetric patterns of slender silhouettes, standing straight. Among them, two spindly azure figures. As the shot progresses—a shot where words are unnecessary—references to the Native American genocide are mixed in with allusions to the Holocaust under the empty gaze of a bison whose stuffed head observes the scene of symbolic destruction from on high.
That Roy has thought about the way The Shining and his personal history correlate is not that strange. However, that most reader will wholeheartedly agree with his views and understand why he became as obsessed as he did with the movie by the end of the book is a testament to his storytelling skills and writing chops. Furthermore, there is something else that merits mention here: for a debut that happens to be a memoir, Kubrick Red fits nicely in both genres while also having touches of true crime, history, drama, philosophy, and film studies. On top of that, of course, is the writing, which is as smart as it is poignant:
Solitude is dangerous. Over a prolonged period, it forces a person to face himself, to meditate and his destiny, on his feet. If the individual in question has nihilistic tendencies, solitude can lead him into the abyss of desperate thoughts.
Anvil Press, an independent publisher from Vancouver, landed on my radar recently, and if the two books I’ve checked out (this one and Peter Babiak’s outstanding Garage Criticism: Cultural Missives in an Age of Distraction) are any indication, you will be seeing many more reviews of their new titles from me. In the meantime, do yourself a favor and check out Kubrick Red and let the elevator doors of your mind open. - — Gabino Iglesias, Vol. 1 Brooklyn


To begin, a terrible confession: despite studying and teaching film for about thirty years, I’ve never been a huge fan of the cinema of Stanley Kubrick. Heretical though it may sound, I often find his films, with their reliance on low-angle distance and one-point perspective, to be too coldly stylized, too detached for my tastes. Obviously, there’s much to admire in Kubrick’s work, but I have to admit I find it a very difficult corpus of films to warm to—especially those portentous, agonizingly airless late films featuring austerely lush settings populated by beings who seem less like characters than like faceless (though magnificently sculpted) ciphers moving from one centrally composed shot to another. Eyes Wide Shut, the last film Kubrick completed before his death in 1999, is probably the best example of this tendency, but it is an aesthetic that Kubrick embraced from A Clockwork Orange onward.
This isn’t to say I don’t like all of Kubrick’s films—even a heretic has to (however grudgingly) acknowledge some elements of orthodoxy. Dr. Strangelove is a brilliant and still relevant satire, and 2001: A Space Odyssey remains one of the greatest, most influential science-fiction films of all time; Barry Lyndon is a fascinating experiment in visual style disguised as a period piece. What remains especially compelling about Kubrick’s work is his ability to transform genre—the costume drama, the war film, the erotic thriller—into a decidedly personal statement of a world view. Perhaps surprisingly, no film in the director’s oeuvre reflects this auteurist quality than Kubrick’s 1980 foray into the horror genre, The Shining.
Montreal literature professor Simon Roy’s first book, Kubrick Red: A Memoir, is an often-harrowing account of the author’s family history as projected through the filter of Kubrick’s treatment of the source novel by Stephen King. The various, labyrinthine iterations of the narrative are important here: this is a book that attempts to translate the psychic impact of a film that attempts to translate a book’s translation of psychic disorder into prose (and it’s worth mentioning that King was outraged by Kubrick’s handling of the story). Roy’s connection to the film is singular and striking: stumbling upon the film (in its French version) on TV one Saturday night, the young Roy is shaken by a scene in which Scatman Crothers’s Dick Hallorann, chef at the Overlook Hotel, telepathically offers young Danny Torrance a bowl of ice cream. The seemingly innocuous scene terrifies Roy: “For some unknown reason, even though I couldn’t possibly be that naïve at that age, I felt like Hallorann had for a moment drawn back from his role as the guide to the Overlook Hotel to establish a direct relationship with me and reveal something hidden. A revelation that went far beyond a cordial invitation to savour a bowl of chocolate ice cream.”
Roy claims that, “Through The Shining, horror entered my life. A life which had, until then, been safeguarded by a mother always ready to overprotect me from the threats of the outside world.” From this imagined conversation with Hallorann emerges a sense of connection to the film—an obsessive fascination that at first is inexplicable (why thisfilm instead of another?). As the memoir progresses, however, we come to realize that The Shining’s visual narrative of blood-soaked horror has a deep, even traumatic personal significance for Roy and awakens memories of real-life family tragedies involving derangement, brutal murder, and suicide. Ultimately, the book takes on the form of a fifty-two-chapter maze, at the centre of which resides Danielle, the author’s mother, and her struggles against demons inner and outer, present and past.
Translating the written word into film is a notoriously complex task, how much more difficult, then, to translate the filmic image into text—and in the form of memoir, rather than as a novelistic re-telling. In many ways, though, Roy has chosen the perfect film for such an act: The Shining has a reputation for ambiguity, the kind of film that encourages multiple interpretations, including the extreme conspiracy theories outlined in the documentary Room 237 (Rodney Ascher, 2013). To his credit, Roy never indulges the compelling absurdities of that film, but still manages to let the book explore the many parallels and coincidences he finds between his family history and the narrative of The Shining—an endeavour Kubrick, who apparently loved coincidences, would surely admire.
Kubrick Red’s greatest strength lies in its structure, a series of very short chapters detailing the author’s relationship to The Shining, the production history of this and other Kubrick films, some of the bizarre theories about the film that have circulated over the years. Throughout, however, Roy returns to his mother, providing a loosely chronological narrative to hold the whole thing together. This allows the reader to experience the book as the textual embodiment of the Overlook Hotel; we weave through its chapters the way the film’s ghostly, unsettling Steadicam shots rush along the hotel’s corridors, drawn toward the shocking violence of Danielle’s childhood as inexorably as Jack Torrance and Kubrick’s camera are drawn to the horrors contained in room 237.
The book’s original French title—Ma vie rouge Kubrick (Les Éditions du Boréal, 2015)—offers a clearer sense of its subject than does the English translation, and this points to a relatively minor quibble: there are times when the translation, by Jacob Homel, seems to slip a bit. We learn, for example, that when Jack kills Hallorann “the old man crumbles [sic] to the floor.” More problematic (for me, at least) is the nagging sense that the book’s numbers don’t completely add up. Roy, born in 1968, claims he first saw the film when he was “ten or twelve, no more than that,” which means he either saw The Shining two years before it was released in theatres in 1980, or that it was first televised in Quebec the same year as its release. Otherwise, Kubrick Red is a fascinating and deeply moving account of one man’s attempt to make sense of his life, his family, and the film that has haunted both. —Mitchell Parry
http://www.malahatreview.ca/reviews/199reviews_parry.html


review by Ian McGillis

Comments