In 2012, the release of Room 237, a documentary by Rodney Ascher that chronicled the wild and sometimes ludicrous theories of The Shining, made one thing apparent: that more than 20 years later, Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece still had the power to move and inspire audiences. Despite the gallons of ink that have been spilled on account of the film, there is still so much to say, so much to learn. Like the film’s iconic hedge maze, you enter the film but you never really leave it. It stays with you, you become lost in its corridors.
At the time of this publication, a search for “The Shining” on Amazon Books will yield over 6,000 results. Among copies of the original novel, analyses, biographies, and more, there exists an impressive, new work. The work in question is Danel Olson’s exhaustive compilation The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film. An award-winning anthologist, professor, and editor, Olson has amassed a notable CV. The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film marks the second in a series of “interdisciplinary volumes on haunting movies,” a series which began with the 2011 The Exorcist: Studies in the Horror Film and will continue with the forthcoming Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth: Studies in the Horror Film.
What is most refreshing about Olson’s collection is that, while it informed by a clear admiration and passion, this is not fan fluff. Olson carefully assembles an array of essays and interviews in order to shed new light on the much-deliberated film. Interestingly, Olson is a somewhat removed and modest editor. After a short acknowledgements page, Olson’s words do not appear until over 300 pages into the book, with the inclusion of his essay “Shining through the Labyrinth: A Comparative Analysis of Guillermo Del Toro and Stanley Kubrick.” At first, his essay can seem like somewhat of a stretch. Knowing his future book will chronicle Del Toro’s film, it is a rather convenient cohesion of subjects. Olson doesn’t stop there, however. He is a powerful writer and observer, crafting a cohesive, credible comparative analysis of the two masters. One of the six newly commissioned essays featured, his essay is a high watermark for the book.
While often compilations tend towards including numerous brief works, Olson favors longer and more in-depth explorations of Kubrick’s form and style. This means that there is room for John Baxter’s 40-page biographical overview, “Kubrick in Hell;” Tony Magistrale’s 36-page historical piece, “Sutured Time;” and Christine Gengaro’s musical breakdown “Midnight, the Stars, and You.” As you can see, each essay approaches the film with a different methodology, including essays on phenomenology, literary and auteur theory, and indigenous studies. In a sense, it takes a similar framework as does the aforementioned documentary but grants the theories adequate space to build and develop. Therefore, while you may approach the film from a completely different perspective, the work, here, is not the result of crackpot hypotheses but well articulated arguments.
Following the 300-plus pages of essays, Olson’s work continues with the reproduction of 14 different posters. Standout works include the impressive Outlook Hotel design by Studio MUTI and Thomas Walker’s astral imagining; however, most of the work is indicative of the new trend in minimalist design, so mileage may vary.
Olson’s work concludes with roughly four hundred pages of cast and crew interviews, both newly commissioned as well as ported over from previous publications. While clearly there are limitations to what could be commissioned at this point in time, they do a fine job at choosing rather recent interviews from the archive. While Nev Pierce’s 2009 interview with Jack Nicholson offers a fantastic, retrospective look on the production, it would have helped to have it balanced with an interview closer to the time of production. Choosing just one Kubrick interview must have been quite the challenge. Not only was the director infamous for hating interviews, being quite uneasy to work with, and — as discussed in Baxter’s piece —tyrannical over how his words were to be printed, Olson also had to choose one, or a lengthy enough fragment of one, that was centered around The Shining. Michel Ciment’s interview, originally appearing in his work Kubrick, was perhaps one of the best choices. Ciment doesn’t always pry too hard but he gets a great deal out of Kubrick, who appears candid and open to discussion. In addition to the archived pieces, newly conducted interviews with a remarkable selection of cast and crew were handled by writer and blogger Justin Bozung and the British-born writer Catriona McAvoy.
At 750 pages, The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film is one of, if not the, most essential works on this beloved film. Just when you think all that could be said about The Shining has been said, Olson proves the adage wrong. Despite its oft-academic-leaning prose, The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film is both accessible and engaging. Centipede Press lovingly presents the paperback in full color, making the 32-dollar price tag a steal. Because of the in-depth analyses included, Olson’s work is fit for even the most well read of Kubrick-philes out there, while offering a smashing introduction for those eager to learn more. With this work, Olson gives readers the keys to the Outlook Hotel…but beware, you may find yourself lost within its pages for hours.