Sewing Cards and the Twice-Folded Shining

Have you ever heard of a “sewing card” before? I hadn’t, but Danny Torrance had, because he has two boxes of them on his shelves in Boulder, one of which survives the trip to the Overlook.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is the-roaming-sewing-cards.png

What these have to do with a 1975 documentary about Formula 1 racing will have to wait a minute, because I’m mindful of the fact that this might be your first stop on my website. If that’s the case, there’s a few things you need to know. First, there’s a theory that if you look at the film forwards and backwards simultaneously, you should be able to extract meanings that you can’t get by watching the film only forwards. Here, for instance, is the first and last shots of the film overlaying one another.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2019-03-13-at-5.36.02-pm.png

The simplest way to think of it is like folding a paper in half. The beginning and the end start at the same time and run toward the middle, where they meet, flip, and do the same backwards. But if you know the script and soundtrack like the back of your hand, as I do, you can experience the entire 141 minutes of the film, in 70.5 minutes this way, either by stopping at the middle, or starting from the middle.

Origami Valley and Mountain Folds - How to make Origami Valley and ...

John Fell Ryan made a version that you can watch online by going here, although I should say that that he made a slight adjustment in the timing of the overlay, to enhance the synchronicity of shot changes (it’s only about 1 second off from the version I consider proper). As a result, if you use that version to simulate your own way of experiencing what I’m about to unfold for you, you might notice some slight discrepancies.

A big part of my Shining analysis has to do with the hundreds of art objects seen throughout the film, and one of the last thirty or so I had left to ID was ID’d by the helpful folks at who helped me see that it’s by Stomu Yamash’ta’s East Wind (that’s the full name of the band) and it’s the album that was composed to be the soundtrack for a documentary called One By One, released again in 1978 as The Quick and the Dead, after the deaths of several more of the featured drivers. I quickly realized that track one off the album, One By One/Hey Man/One By One (Reprise), is 10:45 long, which means that it ends exactly as the album is appearing in the film, as seen here.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2020-05-21-at-6.35.07-pm.png

And if you didn’t know about the mirrorform, you definitely don’t know about my now-relatively-ancient theory that you can play Abbey Road by the Beatles overtop the mirrorform Shining to gain a deeper insight into Kubrick’s construction of the film. I won’t waste breath justifying that claim, which you can read all about here, but suffice to say, I’d been living for a long time in a world where Kubrick intended us to make a Dark Side of the Rainbow, out of his horror epic. But if that sounds like I’m saying “If Abbey Road worked, why not The Quick and the Dead too?!” …no. Hard no. I mean, that is what I’ve discovered–both albums do pair brilliantly with the mirrorform film–but that was not the conclusion I was anxious to jump to.

Actually this is probably a great time to mention (for the first time on this site, I think) that certain of the complexities I’ve unearthed through my research have the initial (and sometimes long-lasting) effect of freaking me the hell out. Like, Kubrick’s genius does thrill me, for sure. But the first wave of that thrill is frequently experienced as a kind of terror.

Could anyone be that brilliant?

Could he actually have engineered it so that two albums–with two sets of songs, all different lengths from each other–generate this movie-wide synchrony?

And it’s not until I find the strong evidence that seems to point to the truth of my suspicion, my terror, that I can finally relax a little, and realize I’m not losing my mind. I’m just really good at pattern recognition, and Kubrick was peerless in setting out breadcrumb trails. And how that relief came to me this time was thanks to those sewing cards from before, but we’ve got a little more ground to cover before we get to that.

So, it hardly took any effort to find the album on YouTube, and play it while the film unspooled.

What did I find?

Long story short: there’s two big differences between how Abbey Road and the The Quick and the Dead soundtrack interact with The Shining to create what I call Redrum Road and The Rum and the Red. With Redrum Road, the lyrics of the album often speak to or flat out describe what’s happening on screen, and the musical phases within the Beatles’ songs frequently pair brilliantly with shots or short scenes within the film. With The Rum and the Red, Yamashta’s album features almost no lyrics (only two short tracks worth), so the synchrony comes almost totally through how the songs pair with the accompanying sections of the film. And while there are some cool mid-song flourishes that seem to let you know you’re on the right track, like at this point, when the first dramatic strike of violins occurs on Black Flame (track 2), the shot zooms out on blowjob bear in a way that slides perfectly along with length and emotional nature of the music…

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2020-05-18-at-4.14.16-pm.png

…what Yamashta’s tracks do is draw our attention to how well segmented the major phases of the film are, which is what we’ll study throughout the bulk of this analysis.

But there’s a layer to this we haven’t quite punched through to yet. Yamashta’s album is too short to play three times perfectly, like you can do with Abbey Road, so I knew it wouldn’t be like that. But it’s also 38:43 long, so it’s too long (by 3:27) to fit perfectly within one half of the mirrorform, and way too short to fill a whole half. When the last track ends, Danny and Wendy are moving forward through the maze, and they’ve hit a dead end, laugh nervously, and Danny says, “Dead end.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2019-03-08-at-4.35.13-am.png

Dead end, like, The Quick and the Dead end?

That made me wonder if there was a “quick end,” and turns out there’s only two moments in the film where someone says “quick”. Wendy says it at 18:06 of the mirrorform (“Run, quick!”), and Ullman says it at 20:06 (“…I suggest we go have a quick look at your apartment and then get started straight away…”). The album is made up of a Side A and a Side B. Side A ends with track four, Tangerine Beach, which fades out at 19:06, at which point we flip to Side B and start the rest of the music. I suppose it’s possible that it’s only by purest coincidence that someone says “quick” exactly 1 minute to either side of the record flip, and someone says “dead” right at the end. But perhaps it’s more likely this was meant to be seen as the “Quick” end (19:06), and the “Dead” end (38:43).

Then there’s the little issue of the documentary’s original name, One By One. Jack says “One by one” to Lloyd in the line, “You set ’em up, and I’ll knock ’em back, Lloyd, one buh one!”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2019-03-04-at-7.58.14-pm.png

This is only a slight edit of the line from the novel, as I’ll reproduce here:

“So here’s what,” Jack said. “You set me up an even twenty martinis. An even twenty, just like that, kazang. One for every month I’ve been on the wagon and one to grow on. You can do that, can’t you? You aren’t too busy?”

Lloyd said he wasn’t busy at all.

“Good man. You line those martians up right along the bar and I’m going to take them down, one by one. White man’s burden, Lloyd my man.”

I’m a slow reader, and I haven’t annotated the novel, so possibly there’s other references one could point at to explain how Kubrick made this connection between this obscure documentary and King’s novel, but check this out:

F1 teams agree to standing starts after safety car periods for ...

Formula 1 racing is between ten teams of two cars. Twenty cars. Jack even softly alludes to the fact that he’s inflating the number by using his 19 months of sobriety as (a seemingly arbitrary) reason for the number twenty. The fact is, he wanted to “take them down” one by one. The novel was published in 1977, after being inspired by a visit the family made to the Stanley Hotel in late October of 1974. The documentary came out in early January of 1975, and the first draft of the novel apparently took 4 months to write. I’m not saying King was definitely inspired by the documentary, but perhaps that’s what Kubrick felt was the subtext of this passage. Enough to go to all this trouble.

And speaking of all this trouble, I think we’re ready to burrow down to that final complexity. Because why would Kubrick put the phrase “one by one” in the film, and not have it featured during what I call The Rum and the Red? Wouldn’t it be a perfect tool for drawing the scholar’s attention to this phenomenon? Why leave it dangling out there in the un-Yamashta’d half, alone and unloved?

Long story short, it occurred to me that, since Jack’s “one buh one” occurs 5:20 past the midpoint of the mirrorform, and since track one is called One By One, what if we started the album again from the middle of the mirrorform, and played it all the way through? And once I’d witnessed how well this seemed to pair with those 38 minutes and 43 seconds, there was only one conclusion left to draw: you can fold The Shining a second time, like so:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is unnamed.png

Thus creating what I’m calling the “Twice-Folded Shining“. Now, you may recall that The Quick and the Dead runs 3:27 past the midpoint of a mirrorform half (or the 1/4-3/4 marks of the film proper, for clarity’s sake), and yeah, it’s true, that you end up retreading those seconds…but now check this out:

Naturally I had to make a version of that film for myself so I could watch all four quarters of the film (two forward-moving, two backward-moving) unspool simultaneously. And if you’d like a preview of what that looks like, behold this chaos.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2020-05-20-at-11.46.53-pm.png

This is the final moment of The Rum and the Red, and four things are happing: 1) Danny is saying, “Dead end”; 2) backwards Wendy is just starting to find the All work and no play papers (a kind of mental dead end); 3) kitchen Danny has just asked Hallorann if he’s afraid of anything in the Overlook; and 4) lounge fight Jack has just been clubbed to the bottom of the stairs, almost dying at this “dead end”. So there’s three obvious “dead ends” there, but the one between Hallorann and Danny is worth explaining, since, right up until this moment, Hallorann’s been pressing Danny to reveal more and more about this “Tony”, and the “Mr. Hallorann, are you scared of this place?” cuts off this line of questions seemingly abruptly, at which point the whole rest of their conversation becomes dominated by Danny’s line of questions about the fearfulness of the Overlook, and finally Room 237. It would seem that Danny, like Stanley Kubrick, was a masterful question dodger.

But yeah, going 3:27 past the midpoint brings us to these four dead ends.

Now, how do the sewing cards come into it?

For starters, let’s remember the two places they’re seen: in Danny’s Boulder bedroom, and behind zombie Jack on MONDAY. There’s two boxes in Danny’s bedroom, the one below flipped upside-down, in a kind of yin-yang pattern. The upright one is even visible in the close-up shots of the doctor asking Danny her Tony questions. And then there’s the one box behind zombie Jack.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is the-roaming-sewing-cards.png

What this means in the Twice-Folded Shining is that the sewing cards are first in the same room as the camera, right as track one is ending, as we’re zooming in on Danny washing up while talking to Tony, from 10:17-10:35.

Then they appear to our eyes for the first time 70 seconds into track 2, Black Flame, where they appear frequently right until the doctor walks out the door, which is exactly when Black Flame ends (11:58-14:11). But as you can see in the below Twice-Folded image, Jack and Danny are having their fateful MONDAY conversation already, though this action is backwards at this point, and started at 13:43. Which means…

…that sewing cards are offscreen, but technically in the scene the entire time track 3, Rain Race, is playing. Track 4, Tangerine Beach, starts at 15:45, and by 17:21, the shot of the sewing cards behind Jack appears, whipping away again at 17:29. Tangerine Beach ends, as discussed, at 19:06, meaning that the final appearance of the sewing cards comes 96 seconds from the start of the song, and 97 seconds from the end (though the actual music is faded out by 19:05, which would give us another 96). In any event, that’s pretty close to the perfect middle of the song.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2020-05-19-at-9.11.03-pm.png

Now, what are sewing cards?

For some reason, my site keeps blocking my attempts to post a picture of one, so I’ll have to describe them, and you can Google them for yourself. Imagine a card of paper with a famous cartoon character on them, with holes punched through the image at semi-regular intervals around their silhouette. A child would then pass thread through these holes to learn rudimentary sewing technique.

With that in mind, consider again the appearances (and offscreen appearances) of the boxes. They’re first offscreen just before the end of track one. They appear in the middle of track two, and remain until the end. They’re offscreen but still in the scene all through track three, and the first half of track four, until they appear one final time, perfectly mid-song. Doesn’t that feel a bit like the sewing cards are making a sewing card out of the Twice-Folded Shining? And what if that’s not the only way he did applied this logic? What if there’s something that occurs at every single gap between all nine tracks on the album…?

Click here to continue on to The Jack’s Son Phenomenon