AKIVA SAUNDERS & JOHN FELL RYAN
The Shining (Backwards and Forwards)
On ViewMonkey Town 3 at Eyebeam
August 3, 2013
By aiming four projectors at four sides of a cube made from screening fabric, a jerry-rigged tesseract is generated: a four-dimensional cube or a cube projected upon itself. This presents an amazing, if not bewildering medium through which to encounter an immersive filmic experience. On August 3rd, Akiva Saunders and John Fell Ryan screened their video project The Shining (Backwards and Forwards) at Monkey Town 3 at Eyebeam. The tesseract alone constitutes the visual experience of the Eyebeam series Monkey Town 3, and throughout the run of the diverse program curated by Montgomery Knott and Maggie Lee was generally used to project video art and animations. But the novel film theater didn’t reach the height of its disorienting potential until Saunders’s re-editing of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film, (converted to 3D by Jon Dieringer) with Ryan’s sound manipulation and auxiliary score.
Equipped with 3D glasses, viewers sat or lay down inside the cube for the 142 minute run of the film. This produced the illusion that much of the action was taking place several feet in front of the surface of the screen. The ghostly forms of the film and the warm-human bodies of the viewers interacted in an unsettling and visceral combination.
The simple conceit of the project is that it deftly collages The Shining onto itself; playing it from start to finish and vice versa. This lends the film the feel of a Medieval mystery play. As the opening credits roll and the small beetle weaves its way around twisty roads in the Rockies, images of Jack Nicholson’s frozen corpse appear and are discomfitingly laid over a backwards chase through the hedge maze. It is a film experience that is as much about grappling with the equality of past and future and indulging in the omniscient experience of all-knowingness, as it is about watching a temporally based narrative. Knowing the film allows the vehicle of surprise and suspense to be well-substituted by the more intense horror of knowing exactly what is about to happen and cringing at the delicious inevitability of it all.
The aesthetic moments of the film existed in associations and juxtapositions that arose randomly out of the basic calculus of “backwards and forwards”: phantom teeth and eyes that materialized on walls and in foreheads and cheeks, geysers of blood that appeared in the wrong place at the wrong time. At the moment of intersection between the two streams—when head cook Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), relaxing in Florida, receives a psychic S.O.S. from Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd); the crux of the film—the audience erupted in cheers and applause. The central node of meaning in the film (an insight into Kubrick’s sense of cinematic composition) and Saunders’s “meta” project combined in this moment. It was something of surge of relief of pent-up nerves from the intensity of the visual experience.
The Shining is in its own right a Faustian masterpiece centering on the hubris of the artist and an escape into the spirit realm. In this instance, it took on the added dimension of a situation of mass-catharsis in which the visual and sound experience completely enveloped and entranced the viewer. The film became less of a plot-driven escapade than a ballet of spirits and specters, innocent babes, and demons. It was like a bas-relief circumscribing an altar, where story and image exist simultaneously.