Maxwell’s Silver Hammer – Round 1




  • “Joan was quizzical/studied pataphysical science in the home/Late nights all alone with a test tube, oh, oh, oh, oh” — First of all, you might want to skip this one if you want to avoid a (somewhat) unnecessary headache — This song was inspired by the works of Alfred Jarry, a dadaist, who apparently wrote crazy plays that moved McCartney to pen a kind of tribute. Pataphysics is Jarry’s term for what he called the “science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality (essence), to their lineaments (prominent features).” Brackets mine, to help clarify the idea. Pataphysics, it seems, is notoriously difficult to understand, or to paraphrase, if Wikipedia is anything to go by. I think Jarry was being cheeky with this definition, and in much of his writing about it, but I also think he was applying the pataphysics of pataphysics to his definition of pataphysics (in other words, he was being deliberately confusing to make a point about the deliberately confusing nature of his theory–sounds like something a dadaist would be, eh?). My understanding is that Jarry was basically suggesting that you could make subjectivity into a science. Much like how Freud and Jung tried to pin down the essential nature of symbols, no matter whose dream they appeared in, but fell short when Freud proclaimed “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” (whether Freud actually said this is disputed, but the earliest record of this phrase is of someone quoting Freud saying it). I think Jarry was trying to suggest (I could be way off) that there can be a science to the subjective, but that it’s far more complicated than simply saying “a cigar always means one of these select things”. Dadaism is practically the science of this idea. Dadaists are trying to see if their wackiness can expose something that self-serious, purist, science-minded academic-type people are missing. It’s almost the science of saying “That’s what you see in this poem? Well, I see something completely different.” But then actually trying to justify how that could be. Well, Kubrick said in an interview about The Shining that people would see in it whatever they wanted, and would probably miss what it is at its core. Whether that was his way of dropping another bread crumb to lure people like myself in, to make these connections, we’ll never know. But it’s interesting that he invoked the nature of subjectivity, there. My work on this site is majorly concerned with trying to pin down the most objective truths about The Shining‘s buried messages and techniques. But it’s almost like I use pataphysics to plug in the gaps in my understanding. Case in point, the images below. I believe that the four portals Wendy passes through at the end of the film (the blowjob bear, the GREAT PARTY ghost, the skeleton ball, and the bloodfall) correlate to the four horsemen of the apocalypse: respectively, conquest, war, famine, and death. It took me a while to find the clues to support this, and in the mean time, I treated it as an ideal daydream, potentially untrue. But it felt true. Why? Yes, there are obvious connections–conquest is a way of describing a sexual pursuit, the violence against Hallorann and the ghost is loosely like the violence that results from war, the skeletons are like people who wasted away from famine, and the blood in the bloodfall being disconnected from any living thing suggests the absence of animate life and thus suggests death. But, with the exception of the GREAT PARTY ghost, who stands next to a painting with “War” in the title, none of the other three moments (that I know of) come with the name of the horseman baked into the sequence. So, for someone as skeptical and science-minded as my partner, there will never be a way to prove that that is what was intended by these sequences. Perhaps Jarry, and his compatriots, were driven to Dadaism in part because of their frustrations with this crowds not understanding that symbolism is both intentional and meaningful on the part of the artist, and perhaps Jarry created Pataphysics as a way to sneak the whimsy of art into the seriousness of science. If that was a serious effort on his part…he failed. But McCartney saw something in it, and maybe Kubrick did too. Also, the book in which Jarry describes pataphysics is called Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician. Doctor Faustus is a major influence on the Deal with the Devil narrative, and therefore, on The Shining. Perhaps this was Jarry’s way of linking the idea of Faust to the idea of the artist, generally.
  • If you skipped my last point, you should still read this:
  • All the other Beatles hate this song, and hated the recording of it. They describe it as the worst experience in Beatles history. Biographer Ian McDonald describes it as the “single recording [that] shows why the Beatles broke up”. McCartney apparently drove everyone to their limit trying to get the song exactly perfect, doing an insane number of takes to get it exactly, perfectly right, and none of them could understand why he did this. Who does that sound like? Patrick Magee, who worked with Stanley, said that his favourite phrases were, “Do it faster, do it slower, do it again”. I believe this is because Stanley had to be obsessed with the notion of timing to get exactly what he wanted. I don’t know what secrets may lie at the heart of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, but if a similar thing was going on, maybe Kubrick knew about it. Maybe he just admired a fellow perfectionist.
  • “Maxwell Edison, majoring in medicine, calls her on the phone” – In front of backward Wendy here is the spot where forward Jack’s about to call her on the phone to tell her about getting the job.
  • “‘Can I take you out to the pictures, Joan?'” – This is hilarious. On the right (to Wendy’s left as she runs up the hall) are the pictures that the movie will zoom in on in the last shot, taking us out, so to speak.
  • Right before the first “Bang! Bang! Maxwell’s Silver Hammer came down/on her head!” – We see Jack’s axe handle flash across the bottom right of the screen here. But more importantly, in Ullman’s silver mug, sitting on the desk to the right of him, there’s a little axe-or-golf-club-shaped pen sticking out. A regular old silver hammer, as one tends to keep in their pen mug.
  • Also, Ullman is right here building up to the Grady story.
  • “Back in school again, Maxwell plays the fool again, teacher gets annoyed” – I’ve collected a lot of evidence that the GREAT PARTY ghost is in fact the original Charles Grady. Jack Torrance is a failed writer, and a failed schoolteacher. And while Maxwell is the silver hammer dropper, I wonder if there’s a suggestion here that Charles Grady was symbolically a teacher as well.
  • In any case, everyone in this scene is playing the fool but Wendy. Watson is pretending to like Jack, Ullman is pretending he doesn’t want Jack to kill Hallorann (or anyone), Jack is pretending he’s not the violent type, and Grady ghost is pretending that violence and murder is a “Great party!”
  • Also, it was teacher Jack “getting annoyed” with his student George Hatfield that lost him his job.
  • “Wishing to avoid an unpleasant scene” – Right after “scene” we see dead Hallorann.
  • “She tells Max to stay, when the class has gone away, so he waits behind” – The shot of dead Hallorann cuts (to Wendy) on the word “waits”, but this is a sick, darkly humourous way of interpreting this line. Even the jaunty way the zoom out on Hallorann happens gives me a demented laugh.
  • There’s also a curious connection between the idea of the “class” going “away” pairing with the backward drama, in which Wendy was just in this lobby, where it was full of skeletons. Hallorann has been asked to stay, while the skeletons have gone away. In fact, at the skeleton ball, Hallorann’s body was missing, absorbed.
  • “Writing 50 times, ‘I must no be so’ oh oh oh” – Pretty hard to deny what this brings to mind. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Jack refers to his writing as his “work”, and here is dead Hallorann, the work the hotel really wanted from him. So it’s apt to have a lyric here describing the repetition of a phrase, but also a phrase referring to the way that people are punished by having them write out a single line over and over. And how that line boils down to the same sort of thing: I shouldn’t be how I am. Jack’s line, “All work, etc.”, is an abstract way of wishing he could feel another way. Not dull.
  • Also, harkening back to the idea of McCartney torturing the band with the recording of this song: it’s interesting that he snickers to himself on this line. I’m no Beatles expert; does McCartney flub a lot of his lines? I would suspect not, in which case, this little snort might be part of his grand design. Like, seriously, think about that. He did so many takes of this song that it might be singly responsible for destroying the band irrevocably. Why does it contain a flubbed line, possibly the easiest thing to remove?
  • Also, it’s said that Scatman Crothers performed the death fall so many times that he broke down crying, and that Nicholson swore off ever working with Kubrick again after that. But there are multiple accounts on this story, making it hard to feel certain about. In any event, this is considered the sequence with the most retakes, and to have the aftermath appear on this line feels pointed.
  • “But when she turns her back on the boy, he creeps up from behind” – On “the boy” Wendy checks behind herself, looking away from the spot where Grady ghost is about to appear. And on “creeps” forward Jack’s listening face reappears. And a moment later, we see the wreckage from Jack’s earlier tantrum behind Wendy. All the spilled bowls and disks.
  • Forward Jack is hearing about Grady’s grisly murders all throughout this passage, I should note. Since the theme of axe violence is so strong in all instances.
  • “PC 31 says, ‘We got a dirty one’, Maxwell stands alone, painting testimonial pictures, oh oh oh oh” – Jack is saying he can imagine why Ullman’s people in Denver left it for Ullman to tell the Grady story, making a joke of an uncomfortable tragedy. And he’s about to assure Ullman in a few different ways why he’s not the Grady type. Testimonials of a sort.
  • “The judge does not agree, and he tells them so, oh oh oh” (in reference to women pleading for Maxwell’s release) – Jack nodding his head knowingly and slightly smugly, about the idea of people not wanting to stay in a murder house. Not a huge connection, but it’s a funny inversion. In fact, on “tells” Jack starts assuring “Mr. Ullman, that’s not gonna happen with me.”
  • “But as the words are leaving his lips, a noise come from behind” – Again, just as forward Jack is finishing that last sentence, this new line comes from Paul. So, as the words of Jack’s assurance leave his lips, we see the backward proof of the opposite.
  • On the final refrain of “Bang! Bang! etc.” Jack is just finishing up his line about Wendy’s future fascination with the Grady story, while backward Jack’s axe is looming like a large silver hammer (sorry to beat this point to death) behind his head. So the bang-bangs perfectly bookend the telling of the Grady story, and Jack’s reaction.
  • During the final, big, choral “Silver hammer!” we see that Wendy’s got a newspaper/linen, or something, somehow hung on a dish rung attached near the side of the fridge, featuring the line GOLF LIKE THE GREATS, and mentions Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller by name. Golf is played with a kind of silver hammer.
  • Also, for the weird coincidence file: Jack Nicholson would, in 1994, smash in the back of another driver’s windshield with a 2-iron golf club in a fit of road rage, after a guy named Robert Blank cut him off in North Hollywood. So he literally crept up from behind and brought a silver hammer down on something’s head, as it were.
  • This shot also contains the dish soap, Ivory, which is like silver.
  • Also, on the same shelf as the Ivory and the Joy is a ball of thread, also known as a clew. This is what Ariadne gave to Theseus when he went to go fight the minotaur. As you can see, the ball is a kind of silvery blue. I can’t find any evidence online what colour Theseus’ clew was supposed to be, but if anyone can confirm that it’s silver, that would be cool.

Click here to continue on to Redrum Road: Oh! Darling – Round 1