The Shining - The July 4th 1921 Ball Photo

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The most important thing which must be kept in mind with Kubrick's films is there is the surface or principle story and then the internal or sub-story. In many of his films, if we're really paying attention, set elements pretty much immediately destroy the surface naturalism. One may not notice this destruction the first, second or third time one watches the film. Through constructive disorientation and disconnectedness, and sleight of hand as to where our eye focuses, Kubrick, the magician, intentionally obfuscates these elements that destroy the overt and naturalistic story line. The surface story lines are the principle ones, and this is maintained and supported by the intentional obfuscation of the deconstructive elements which keep them sub rosa. At the same time, these deconstructive elements are plainly there, alongside his tremendous effort to make things look real and believable, and once we bypass the disorientation and his purposeful refocusing they become a puzzle, annihilating the sense of reality. This destruction of the film's naturalistic story line is difficult enough to conceive of and accept that most people stop at this point and decide these puzzling aspects of Kubrick's films are errors when they are not. They are part of the art of a director cleverly designing the overt story line to be unimpeded by an internal story that tears it apart. Indeed, the sub rosa elements of the internal story may be discreet but they are enough in evidence to complicate the surface story with an aura of attractive, indefinable mystery, which is one of the reasons viewers return to Kubrick again and again. To work with the "reason" and "why of the internal story line is to try to settle into Kubrick's sensibility, examining how these internal stories form a dialogue in his oeuvre with repeating themes and ideas, elaborated upon from film to film. The internal stories haven't a "plot"; they aren't that kind of story. Instead, you have to be willing to deal with comprehending the themes and ideas represented in them as instead ultimately forming a different terrain for the setting of the surface story, guiding and interacting with the overt story and giving it a new form.


Kubrick is said to have become interested in "Traumnovelle", the inspiration for "Eyes Wide Shut", as early as at least 1971, and we perhaps see that nascent interest in the last shots of "The Shining" in the photo the camera zooms in upon that reveals Jack or his doppelganger at a July 4th 1921 ball at the Overlook. The woman on Jack's right (our left) seems the victorious belle of the ball with her Apollonian laurel or olive wreath crown, the badge with its feather decoration on her breast--and of all people in the photo it is this belle whose eyes are shut, seeming caught mid-blink, but for all intents and purposes a closing reference to "Eyes Wide Shut", however many years ahead of its time. Nearly all else gazing straight into the lens, the honored guest is the one looking inward, perhaps living the "dream". She appears almost drugged, her face lax, not lit with a smile though one side of her mouth is upturned.

I've read often enough that an old photo was used for the focus of the film's final shots because Kubrick thought a vintage photo better than an attempt at a realistic duplication, and that Jack's head was pasted in. What is the whole truth of this I wonder--because I find it difficult to believe that an old shot was found of a man holding his right hand just so, in the position Jack or his vintage body double has assumed. In Vivian Kubrick's documentary of "The Shining" there is a brief glimpse of Nicholson appearing to be dressed in the dress suit he's wearing in the photo, and I'm inclined to think Nicholson supplied both head and body and possibly the hand, and if not the hand then someone else's modern arm was pasted in, as was someone's arm pasted in grasping Jack's arm if it wasn't already there in the photo shot with Jack. And I imagine there was at least one other person pasted in as well. Probably many more than one, the photo perhaps being a collage of a number of vintage peoples. Where this seems to become apparent is on the right where perspective falls apart, giants lording their stature over small faces, and added intense shadows attempt to keep heads from blending into a no depth betrayal of pasty collage flatness.

Never mind that the location looks very little like the 1970s version of the Overlook. After all, we've been told the Gold Room was redecorated. Perhaps that excuses our inability to find any similarity between the room in the photo and what we've seen of the Overlook. I'm not confident we should never mind, too, that the women look little like the very fancily dolled up partiers in Jack's shining of the Gold Room, almost all of whom had headdresses and were loaded down with beads and sequins. Here, their necks and arms are largely unadorned, the norm seeming a simple string of pearls, not the elaborate necklaces and chokers in "The Shining". There are a few headbands but all are slender, not outstanding, and not a single skull cap or cloche. Whereas numerous feathers were on display in headbands in "The Shining", almost none of them have feathers here, one of the few being the woman to Jack's left (our right). A white feather limply dangles down as if added in, which I believe it was, if the woman is actually vintage. Another feather on display is on the woman's breast to Jack's right.

Have you tried to duplicate Jack's holding what seems to be a slip of paper against his palm in the manner shown in the photo (A)? It looks easy, doesn't it, and when one just thinks about it one imagines it is a natural position because of how easily and naturally one can cross the thumb across one's whole palm, but it's actually fairly uncomfortable and unnatural to hold one's thumb against the palm as we see in the photo.

Rather than perhaps a slip of paper, is Jack instead holding a cigarette? I don't believe so. The object looks flat, and, besides, who is going to hold a cigarette like that against their palm? A cigarette that short is one that is going to have been smoked and you're not going to want to dirty your palm with the ash, plus there's a reflexive association of the tip of the cigarette with heat and, again, one is highly unlikely to hold a cigarette in this uncomfortable position.

There is a sense of concealment with the little slip of paper. As if it is for no one else there but the photographer, for us.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 6

As for the object held by the woman to the left (our right), it isn't there in the furthest removed static view of the photo. The shoulder of Jack's jacket has been worked so that it is higher and obscures the object and her fingers.

So, we have difference between the further removed still and the close-up, which is curious.

And, of course, there's the mystery of whatever it could be that Jack is holding.

I've not exactly scoured the film looking for clues, but I've kept the mysterious slip of paper in mind. It's one thing for Kubrick to implant impossible windows in the film and move objects about, but this is different. The slip of paper displayed against Jack's palm can only be taken as an intentionally placed mystery, as well as the the revelation of the object which the woman is holding. Were the object she's holding evident in the furthest static photo, she would not be a mystery. But Kubrick has made her a mystery that pairs with Jack.

Looking at Figure 6, if you know the lighter field below whatever the woman is holding is the lower arm of the woman behind her, to my eye it almost would appear the woman is holding a rolling paper in her left hand and her right hand is depositing in it whatever she's intending to smoke.

I think the notion of the "ball" deserves some consideration here.

The Interview section at the films beginning has a couple passing, ostensibly to go out and play tennis, the woman carrying a bag of white balls but wearing high heels. Note that they pass before the doorway through which we travel at film's end and see the picture of the July 4th ball.

So, at the end of the film, when we see the photo of the ball, we have come full circle, that ball refers to the beginning, and the beginning to the end. (And I will pass on looking at other uses of the ball in the film for now, in relation to this.)

In "The Killing", toward the beginning, patrolman Randy Keenan, attending to some personal business, enters a bar. He addresses one of the men sitting at it, "Hey, Charlie, what's the good word?" (I've seen the person's name also given as Tiny, and it may be. Charlie is what I heard.) And the person replies, "Same as always, having a ball."

The scene reminds a little of "The Shining", does it not? A presage of Lloyd the bartender, and the person who says "having a ball" may remind us of Jack seated at the bar in "The Shining".

At the beginning of "Lolita", Humbert arriving at Quilty's first overlooks him, for Quilty is seated in a chair covered with a sheet, just as the furniture at the end of "The Shining" is covered with sheets as the camera zooms in to the picture of the ball. Quilty, appearing, makes reference to one of Kubrick's prior films. "Are you Spartacus, come to free the slaves?" Then invites Humbert to a game of pingpong. "OK, you serve." And from under the sheet Quilty now wears draped over him he produces a ball with a magician like quality. "Bet you didn't know I had that," he says. He refers to his serve as being tricky, then follows that with discussing how he holds his bat. "Did you ever notice how the champs, different champs, use their bats? You know, some of them hold them like this, and everything. I remember one guy didn't have a hand. He had a bat instead of a hand. He was really sort of wacky."

We could look at it this way. Humbert enters Quilty's house and with the sheet covering the chair, Humbert calling for Quilty, there is a kind of ghostly air to the place. The draping on the chair is carefully arranged so it gives no hint of a person's form beneath, so when Quilty appears it is as if he materializes out of nowhere. Kubrick has Quilty forge a direct connection with a prior film, "Spartacus", before he magically produces the ball from beneath the same sheet from under which he'd appeared ("Bet you didn't know I had that"), and begins the game of ping-pong which is not in the book "Lolita". He serves, discussing how he holds his bat. Then at the film's end, we cycle back around to this beginning, Humbert again entering Quilty's home and calling for him.

In "The Shining", at the end, we have the drapes covering the furniture in the lobby, which stands out to the viewer as the furniture had never been draped before, and is also notable as it follows the appearance of the ghosts and the skeletons in the lobby. The camera rolls past the drapery, focusing in on the photo, and there appears Jack at the Overlook Ball, his hand raised. And, as with "Lolita", we'd had a cycling around as the interview section had opened with the individuals with the balls passing before where we will later see this photo.

How Sellers holds his bat here very much resembles how Jack holds his hand up to the camera at the end of "The Shining."

For comparison, rather than show again an image of Jack's holding his hand up to the camera, I'll instead give a close-up of the cross-fade, the camera moving even closer into the image. Funnily enough, the watch on the man who presses down Jack's arm becomes, in a sense, Jack's thumb. And Jack's hand is layered with the heart medallion or shield the woman behind him wears on her breast.

Finally, in "Eyes Wide Shut", Bill and Alice attend a ball held by the mysterious Victor. After complementing Alice, Victor remarks on an osteopath to whom Bill referred him, and says that Bill ought to see his serve now, as he holds his arm up and flexes it then punches Bill's shoulder as a server passes behind with a tray. "The top man in New York," Bill says, and Victor says he knew that from the bill.

As for the woman to Jack's left (our right) who may be rolling a cigarette or a joint in "The Shining", in "Eyes Wide Shut" we have Alice and Bill partaking before Bill begins his long night out on the town. What immediately precedes it? Bill and Alice are in the living room, Bill watching a football game. "And now the hand off!" Then cut to Alice taking the bandaid box out of the medicine cabinet.

No thoughts. Only wanted to note the above.

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Note: Had this sitting in my drafts since November, and am publishing it for November 2011 but the date today is Jan 20 2012.


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