I Look At The Shining And It Shows Me Things: John Fell Ryan Gets Lost Inside The Overlook Hotel

I Look At The Shining And It Shows Me Things: John Fell Ryan Gets Lost Inside The Overlook Hotel

My name is John Fell Ryan and I'm obsessed with Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.

You may have known me as that guy from Excepter or The No-Neck Blues Band, but any remnants of my former identity have been completely subsumed by an overwhelming and unflinching fixation on the rooms and hallways of The Overlook Hotel-- and I'm only half kidding.

I write and edit a blog devoted to visual analyses and image cataloging of The Shining called KDK12, after the radio call number for the Overlook Hotel. Together with Akiva Saunders of Brooklyn's The Spectacle Theater, I produced screenings of The Shining Forwards and Backwards, Simultaneously, Superimposeda digital re-edit of the film. This pop culture stunt that landed me in a documentary about Shining obsessives, Room 237, which premiered at Sundance 2012, screened at Cannes, got picked up by IFC, and is due in theaters this Fall. So from one perspective, you could say things are blowing up for me in Shining land. But from another perspective, I'm just like Jack in the film, driven insane by the spectral Hotel and trapped in its walls for all eternity.

I knew things were bad when I met a fellow Shining enthusiast in real life, and he and I were dressed similarly in flannel, jeans, boots-- dressed like Jack, stubble growing on our faces and hair unkempt. We were becoming characters in the movie. As we incorporated The Shining into our psyches, it began to shape and mould our lives.

The above image is from the The Shining Forwards And Backwards experiment. With the mirror being such a central concept to The Shining, we made a mirror of the film by overlaying two copies running against each other-- a simple way to see what kinds of symmetries The Shining could offer. We see Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrence, sitting in the Overlook Hotel bar, an alcoholic having his first drink since going sober months before. In the overlay, from a point equidistant from the film's center, is an image of Jack embracing the mysterious nude woman he finds in the taboo Room 237. Two images of ecstasy before the fall, standing across from each other in the mirror. The nightmare of surrendering to self-destruction.

Above is the exact center image of The Shining, about one hour and eleven minutes into the film. We see Scatman Crothers as Dick Hallorann, the head chef at The Overlook Hotel, lying in a hypnagogic state watching television, about to receive a "shining" vision of Jack entering Room 237. The center point of The Shining shows something just about to happen. The symmetry is just a little off, just as the symmetry of the above image is just a little off. The green bed points to the right, propelling the narrative force forward. Similarly, the incredible amount of different analyses of The Shining proliferating across the Internet and beyond reach no crystal conclusion: they only produce more analysis. In all my years of studying not only The Shining, but also other studies of The Shining, there seems to be no end to it; just when you've think you've seen it all, someone finds something new hidden in the labyrinth of the Hotel walls.  

Above is a short film I made, slowly zooming in on a mysterious detail pointed out to me by fellow Shining analyst and correspondent Juli Kearns. What initially appears to be a simple fire sprinkler upon closer inspection reveals itself to be a double doorknob, floating independently between the two lotus-like light fixtures. If it's just a reflection off the glossy ceiling, why don't we see a similar effect on the two lamps? A carefully placed subliminal special effect there for no other reason than to delight the kind of people who look for such things in the background of Kubrick films--people like myself, Juli, and a growing number of others. A poppy in a land of lotus eaters...  


I discovered Juli's work on a research trajectory extending from what I thought would be a simple, fun weekend project: making a map of the Overlook Hotel.  While sketching things out, I discovered that others online were way ahead of me already. After immersing myself in the mstrmnd's megalithic analysis, I found the blog of Rob Ager, whose lengthy analysis of The Shining included maps of most of the sets, cataloging their numerous spatial anomalies, impossible windows, hallways that lead nowhere, false doors, and other subliminal haunted house spookies: chairs that moved in between shots, disappearing furniture, and sets that had no logical connection with one another. It was on Ager's moderated forum that I met another blogger by the handle of the Wrong Way Wizard, whose analysis of The Shining ran towards wordplay, symbolism, synchronicity, and of course, magick. We had a torrent of exchanges on the forum, exploring the esoteric nature of even the most trivial scenes and characters in the film, like the manager's near-silent assistant Bill Watson, or the auto supply proprietor Larry Durkin. But all was erased when Ager decided the Wizard had gone too far on some point or another and permanently banned him, deleting not only his posts, but the entire forum.

So I moved on, continuing work on my own maps of the Hotel, establishing compass directions for each set and noticing a pattern of objects pointing north-east, magic wands, escape hatches... which I related to have something to do with the Christian mystery of INRI, the sign on the cross. Cycling around The Hotel in my head accelerated a kind of personal vision. I was dreaming about the The Hotel at night, flying around on Danny's Big Wheel. However naive, my biblical reading of The Shining found validation when I happened on Juli Kearns' massive analysis, which relates Kubrick's work to Jewish mysticism with subliminal Hebrew allusions, discursions into Gematria, and the best maps of the Hotel anywhere. She even figured out the secret location of the red hallway. If you read her analysis, you can see where we began trading notes in the vain attempt to create logical connections between the sets. Still, Juli was always one step ahead, uncovering hidden treasures in the film no one has ever seen before.

For example, Juli discovered a hidden open door across from Room 237, seen above to the right. If you're familiar with Shining lore, this kind of information is an absolute bombshell, it's like spotting Bigfoot.  

Secret doorknobs and doorways are like escape hatches from the Hotel, little details by which Kubrick is letting you know: there is a way out. I began studying the exit signs, focusing on Danny's visions for hints of deliverance. By intently studying the Games Room scene in The Shining, I noticed a pattern of shifting primacy from left hand to right hand, or translated to brain hemispheres, a shift from the "creative, primitive" right brain to the "logical, verbal" left brain. This pattern continued in studies of the appearance of Danny's magical friend Tony, who shifts from left handedness to right handedness over the course of the film. Even in Danny's bloody visions of the Twins in the hallway, there is a subliminal shift of Danny from the left side of the screen to the right; early visions see the Twins joining hands with the left hand on top, later visions with the right on top. In Wendy's series of visions, her knife switches hands from left to right, to left to right. Following right to left, I began to see red turn to blue, a Kubrick color code, a rainbox order, with the green Room 23 7 in the center. Following right to left, I began to see red turn to blue, a Kubrick color code, a rainbow order, with the green Room 237 in the center.

While I was in my Shining rainbow reverie, I was contacted by William Klaus, a multi-aliased correspondant of the Wrong Way Wizard, who informed me of a project they were working on in tandem, synching 2001: A Space OdysseyThe Shining, and Eyes Wide Shut with the Pink Floyd LPs MeddleDark Side of the Moon, and The Wall. A DVD arrived in my downtown LA PO Box, wrapped in Joycean mind maps. After the screening, my viewing compatriot and I were scratching our third mind at the lack of sync for "my favorite ax,"  but something struck us about the juxtaposition of the The Shining box beneath the panorama of 2001, especially when the blackness of space would invite a more universal illusion. Our agent provocateur followed up by syncing The Shining to Pac Man, which coincidently were introduced to the world one day apart.

Once the sync-sphere is activated, it tends to keep syncing as long as the power's on ... and with super-consciously designed sync-engines such as The Shining, even when the power's off.

I began making my own sync videos, first by comparing the color green in Disney's Sleeping Beauty, Hitchcock's Vertigo and of course, The Shining:

In syncing one thing to another, one creates a gravitational pull around the points of coincidence. Cutting into The Shining was awaking the extra-sensitive. Paranoia lies like a web across the world of dark souls, and once a struggle pulls the strings, all jaws extend.

I found myself on the online forum for a certain footballer turned prophet of the lizard-skinned Illuminati shape shifters; it was a certifiable snake pit of fantastical paranoia. I was only drawn there to explore a bandwidth draw from my Vimeo account, but there discovered a user by the handle Size of Light, who had superimposed 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining with startling results. He created the image above fusing the final hallway scene of The Shining with the mystical hotel room from 2001. Size of Light disappeared from the troll-heavy forum and set all of his videos to private, but not before I had a chance to watch a few scenes from his overlay, with the climactic image of Jack wearing the moon mask of the Starchild...

Or "Moonchild", as a newly resurrected Wrong Way Wizard corrected, reminding me of the reason why he got kicked off forums with an essay he published about how Stanley Kubrick not only faked the Moon landings, but also staged the events of September 11th. We're all dead, living in a decomposing corpse reality, about to enter the stargate to a new universe... 

Why all this interest in The Shining? Why now?

On a material level, the technology is just now readily available to conduct frame-by-frame of analysis of film. My research really took off when The Shining was on Netflix streaming a year or so ago and I was able to take screenshots, put everything on a Tumblr scroll, and make close shot comparisons. Now, the easy availability of video editing software is doing the same to the moving image and sync videos are on the rise.

On a sociopolitical level, The Shining mirrors current economic struggles. The book and film came out of the 1970s, with its twin recessions, the energy crisis, etc.-- a time we are reliving now. In the story, Jack and family are under financial stress and forced into the further stress of social isolation in order to survive. 

On a psychological level, The Shining is an Oedipal story of generational conflict: father abuses then tries to kill son. As I point out in on KDK12, Danny is now, in 2012, about the same age as his father was when The Shining took place in 1980. The abused grow up to be abusers ... now is the time the archetypical spirit of Danny is on trial. Will he break out of the cycle of abuse, or succumb to the past and join his father in time-loop damnation? 

Here are two videos I made synching related scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining:

People get the wrong idea when they ask if Pink Floyd meant for Dark Side of the Moon to be synced with The Wizard of Oz. The mysterious thing is that they do sync-- they sync inside your head. I have heard complaints about The Shining Forwards and Backwards experiment-- for example, that it isn't conclusive, because it doesn't take into account the deleted hospital scene or the shorter cut shown internationally. But the most important aspect of superimposition isn't author's intention;it's watching something familiar in a new way-- or ways, seeing two points of view simultaneously and continuously. It's a dance, beautiful and social.


I could go on and on (and do, on other channels) but I'll leave with one last gift from the Shining-sphere: a video deconstruction of the entire film sent to me by artist Tommy Bobo. He took the pixels along the four edges of the screen and stretched it across to fill the screen. So here we have at the top left corner, the top of the screen stretched down; at the top right corner, the right of the screen stretched across; at the bottom right corner, the bottom of the screen stretched up; and at the bottom left corner, the left of the screen stretched across. This reduces the narrative to color impressions, but leaves the rhythm of the edit in tact, turning The Shining into visual music ... another path up the mountain to the stars above.

Room 237 screened at Cannes just yesterday, and Excepter's STREAMS 2 is coming out this Summer on BLAST First (petite)

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