EXCLUSIVE: the lost Stephen King interview (part 2)

In the concluding part of our lost Stephen King interview from 1983, King talks about film adaptations of his books, and about that famed feud with Stanley Kubrick...

If you missed it, the first part of this interview is here. If you didn’t – read on!

Brown’s Hotel, London – Friday 13th May 1983

Lorimar productions were producing The Dead Zone a while back…?

It’s done. It went through a number of hands and ended up with Dino De Laurentis, and directed by David Cronenberg. I’m gonna see a rough cut on Monday when I’m back in New York. But I saw twenty minutes of it cut together and I thought it was gorgeous; it looks great when the sky – have you read the novel?

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You know Frank Dodd, the renegade cop who’s actually done it goes into his bathroom, cuts his throat with a razor – but in the movie…I could barely watch this, I watched it sorta like this [through his fingers]. He gets into the tub, he’s wearing his raincoat and he has a pair of these barber’s shears, very long, pointed ones, and he fixes them to one of the taps of the tub so that they’re pointing up at an angle, like this [demonstrates 45 degree angle], and he looks almost Japanese; he begins to nod his head, and suddenly he just drives his head down on the shears and one of them goes up his nose and the other one down his throat and he’s just fixed that way on the shears. Otherwise you’d never know it was a Cronenberg picture, because it looks like a series of Norman Rockwell paintings, very pastoral.

How about John Carpenter’s Firestarter?

Oh no, it’s ironic, he’s doing Christine; Christine’s in production now. Universal Pictures junked Firestarter and there’s no real explanation for what they did, or why they junked it. The nominal explanation is that the budget was too much, and the budget was very high, it was about eighteen million dollars, something like that.

They may have been leery of Carpenter because Carpenter’s last movie The Thing had cost a lot of money and it was a box-office failure, but otherwise the industry in general has always seemed very high on Carpenter, and I’m surprised in a way that they didn’t go ahead with it.

But Carpenter was tapped to direct Christine and they’re in their second week of production now. For a while, Firestarter was dead. The reason that I can’t understand the budgetary problems is because Universal made so much money on E.T. that they could bankroll at this point probably sixty eighteen-million-dollar films and never feel the pinch. The movie has made just undreamed-of amounts of money for them, in terms of what it cost.

So yeah, it’s gonna be another Dino De Laurentis picture, I guess; he’s picked it up and he’s had a pretty nice screenplay done by somebody whose name I should be able to think of, but I can’t; Sidney Furie, I think, did the screenplay. Cujo’s done, that’ll be out in the summer, directed by Lewis Teague. He didn’t start the picture, the guy who started the picture, I don’t remember his name, but I wanted Teague from the beginning, because he did Alligator, and I thought that Alligator was a really classy, low-budget movie, so they went ahead and got him and they fired this other guy; I’ve seen some of that [footage] and it looks extremely intense. The dogs are great – they got a number of different dogs that, y’know, work in tandem and all look exactly the same. Scary.

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Is there any news on the production of The Stand?

That’s George Romero. I don’t think it’ll be bad at all. The problem is entirely mine; I’ve done two drafts of the screenplay, and George has been very patient with me. It’s a very long novel, and I’m…the first draft was half as long as the novel, which means that it was about four hundred pages long. Well they say the rule-of-thumb for screenplays is one page of the screenplay equals a minute on the screen, so you figure, a four-hundred page screenplay it’s longer than that Bertolucci…so I did another draft and got it down to three hundred pages, and I’m gonna go back this summer and do a third draft, and I think if I can get it down to about a hundred and eighty pages, at that point we can maybe go on and sell it on a negative pick-up basis; there’s a lot of interest in doing the film, but it’s gotta be our way because somebody else …this is sorta unique and somebody else’d fuck it up.What was your final view regarding Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining?

I get asked that question a lot, you wouldn’t believe; and my feelings about it are fairly complex; suffice it to say that on the whole my feeling for the film has grown as time has gone by. I think that every viewing rewards a little bit more, which is a sign in any book of film that there’s something more going on than simple film-making, putting the camera here…that somebody was thinking. That’s one of the things that I appreciate.

It’s obvious that even from the conversations that I had with him in pre-production, that Stanley Kubrick was thinking very deeply about what he was doing. From a plotting level, I don’t think the film works very well, and in terms of execution I think some of the choices that he made about where to set his cameras and how to shoot certain scenes were amazingly bad. And I know that it must sound…not just pretentious but downright…almost arrogant for me to say that because he’s a great film-maker and I’ve never even…you know, yelled ‘cut’ at the end of a scene or anything. And it is pretentious, it is arrogant, and yet from the standpoint of film-goer…any film-goer who’s seen enough films turns into a film critic, even if it’s only in their own mind. Some of the choices that he makes…for instance, when Wendy is reading the manuscript finally, and it just says ‘All work and no play make Jack a dull boy’ over and over again…

Was that your input? It’s not in the novel.

No no no, that was his, and it’s great. It’s a wonderful wonderful wonderful scene; her growing horror as she turns page after page and realises they’re all the same, it may be written in different forms or something…and then we’re cutting back and forth between her and the book and her and the book and we have a situation that’s as old as bluebeard, as old as Pandora’s box – we have someone who’s looking at something they have no business looking at; it’s not gonna cause her anything but grief to be looking at that, and we know it, and the one thing we’re afraid of above all else is that he will catch her at it. It’s the childhood fear, ‘I’ll be caught, Mommy will come home and I’ll be caught’.

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The most popular book that Dr. Seuss ever wrote is called The Cat In The Hat, and it’s about a cat who comes to these two little kids while their mother’s out and persuades them to mess up the entire house. Finally mother’s coming back, and the story’s very funny for an adult, but when you read it to the little ones, you see their eyes are getting very big and you know what they’re thinking: They’ll be caught. And it’s the worse thing you can think of, to be caught like a rabbit in a trap. And Kubrick does that all very well. And then for some reason, some perverse reason that I don’t even understand, he draws away and we see Nicholson coming up behind her. And his line is great; he just looks at her and he says [as Nicholson] ‘How do ya like it?’. And you know at that point, if you didn’t know before, that the man is utterly out of his gourd. But why in the world he wanted to draw away and show us that, to allow us to see him before she saw him, I don’t know. It’s a mistake that a freshman director wouldn’t make; it’s certainly not the way Kubrick would have shot the scene twenty years ago.

I’m sorry, I go on about that, because there are other things…the atmosphere of the film, and the angles, the steadicam work, the hotel itself…using the hedge maze instead of the hedge animals in the book was probably a mistake, but though I also think the hedge maze was an interesting idea, I don’t think it was used very well.

Kubrick almost made the supernatural angle ambivalent enough as to suggest group hysteria rather than ghosts.

That didn’t bother me, but then we zero in and we understand that something supernatural has happened here because there’s a picture of him in the twenties, and yet at the same time even that ending shows a remarkable misunderstanding of the genre, or ignorance of the genre, because that conclusion is presented as a sort of fait accomplis, the kind of Oh Henry twist. But everybody’s done it; Kirsh has done it; Jack Finney has done that; Bradbury’s done that ending. It’s the whole déjà vu thing about ‘I’ve been here before’

Stephen King’s official website is at www.stephenking.com

Interviews at Den Of Geek

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