Stanley Kubrick

Stairway to heaven

Jerôme Crijns
Jerôme Crijns has finished his Bachelor in EBE is now combining an internship with the Young Advisory Group. His field of interest varies from economy to psychology, with a particular focus on behavioral pricing. As soon as cars are involved in the news, he is there to report.

“Heeeere’s Johnny!”. I have been watching the 1980 horror movie The Shining this week. Starring a father (Jack Nicholson), mother and child who take care of a hotel in winter-time, the scenes are hidden in the snowy Sierra Nevada when there are no guests around. “Tell us the story about the murder in the hotel again”, the wife asks on their way to this temple of doom. Her husband frowns, “it’s long gone”. The story begins.

Spoiler alert: everybody dies (same scriptwriter as Game of Thrones, probably). The father is haunted by voices in his head and murders his wife and child. Tragedy repeats, like history repeats, because “violent acts always leave their trace”. Some places embody and breath their history, you can taste it in the air. This goes for the stadium of Feyenoord just as much as it goes for a hotel where a murder has been committed.

The movie is an evergreen, but not an instant-classic. It wasn’t too popular when it was first released. The same goes for Fight Club, which was much later honored for its profound impact on cinematic history. Instead, The Titanic was granted all the Oscars that year. Some productions seem to need some time before they gain acknowledgement. How many writers have not been applauded only after death? Just like Copernicus never witnessed the landscape shift in astronomical science. Instead of embracing his studies as an enrichment to the incorrect geocentric vision, the observations he made were condemned as ‘profane’ and ‘ridiculous’. Darwin still hasn’t been accepted by all academic schools. The distinction between science and opinions is not always transparent, apparently. Where opinions persist, truth is hard to emerge as the victor in a discussion.

When we look at the domain of art, movies and other products which later became art we see the same phenomenon. It may take a while, or a life-long, but once an object or product is labeled ‘art’, the gateway to heaven is open. Art is sacred, art is a symbol and in economic terms, art is a quality label. The real art is to become art. To become art is to enter the realm of galleries and prestigious auctions and to be embraced in the heart of criticasters. That is when we hear a singer-songwriter say his career got ‘kick-started’. Carrying the ‘art’ label as a singer works the same as a ‘fairtrade’ label for coffee: whatever taste it has, at least it doesn’t leave an immoral bitterness.

Great. More career is more money is more potential for investments. But it almost feels like this stairway to heaven means to sacrifice the road of authenticity. From that point on, artists become ‘commercial’ and they are no longer ‘fresh and upcoming’. To gain commercial maturity also means to lose the very authentic autonomy. A difficult trade-off.

So what’s preferable? To stay small and authentic? To stay away from the commercial atmosphere in order to rescue one’s character? Nobody wants to sell his soul to the devil… unless the price is attractive enough. That’s when we enter the cynical realism of Frank Underwood: every principle has a price, whether you accept it or not. Or as Groucho Marx once famously stated: “I have my principles, of course… but if you don’t like them, I have some others as well.”

Luckily for The Shining, it happened to be a production of Stanley Kubrick. And Kubrick happened to have a reputation of making ‘artistic’ movies. That is probably the ultimate goal for any artist, whether it is a soccer player or a car designer or a singer-songwriter: to gain financial support and encouragement, and yet to keep control over your own decisions. Not to be led by the giants, not to exchange your character for some monetary reward. To prevent from total domination, or in finance terms, not to become the prey of a black knight that overtakes your company. Not to be possessed by those voices whispering you should sign the contract, or in the case of The Shining – worse. Goodbye Johnny.

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