DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: The Shining

Sunday 12 December 2010

The Shining

The Shining (1980) dir. Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crother, Danny Lloyd, Barry Nelson, Phillip Stone, Joe Turkel


By Alan Bacchus

Despite it’s stirling reputation as one of the greatest horror movies ever made, it’s a difficult film to penetrate, admittedly a difficult film to enjoy on first viewing. For mepersonally, it took a couple of viewings to appreciate it, maybe one more to enjoy it, and definitely one theatrical screening on a 35mm print to truly get the full experience of the film.

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to host a big screen presentation of the film on a rather faded 30 year old print. But it was the theatrical aspect ratio of 1:85:1 rather than the 4x3 full screen home video format we can only see today, and so from that perspective it was like watching a brand new version of the film. In addition, despite the age of the print, the sound was in pristine shape, and in the darkened theatre with the big soundscapes booming into our ears, it was more intense than I had ever experienced.

Some people may have forgetten, or, for those who weren’t even born then, may not even know, that The Shining was critically drubbed upon it’s release. Here's the Variety one-liner, "With everything to work with, director Stanley Kubrick has teamed with jumpy Jack Nicholson to destroy all that was so terrifying about Stephen King's bestseller." It was even nominated for 2 Razzies – Worst Actress (Shelley Duvall) and Worst Director (Kubrick) – What?? It’s true.

The opening is especially displeasing from a mainstream audience point of view. The celebrated helicopter shot during the opening credits is accompanied by a rather morose and disturbing musical synthesized musical piece by Wendy Carlos. And most of the introductory scenes are paced and performed with an oft-putting robotic detachment even more extreme than the most inpenetrable parts of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Barry Lyndon.

But it's all part of Kubrick's grand plan to put the audience in the psychologically damaged shoes of his characters - Jack Torrence, the alcoholic father with severe writer's block, the meek Wendy Torrence, Jack's feeble wife who quivers with fear when confronted by Jack's inner demons, and Danny, the tormented son whose only friend is Tony, the man who lives in his mouth.

Variety is right about Nicholson's jumpiness and his transformation into his deranged psychopathic childkiller. It's too quick, in fact, he's never even established as someone remotely grounded or human. But Wendy's arc is tremendous, and specifically Shelley Duvall's grand portrayal. Despite her meeks characterization of Wendy, her transformation into the heroic saviour of her son in the end is awe-inspiring. We all know how tormented Duvall was by Kubrick during the making of the film, and it's all on screen. Specifically the finale starting with her baseball bat confrontation with Jack and the battle in the bathroom wherein, the film's famous line is uttered, 'Here's Johnny.'

At the screening we also received the kind participation of Steadicam operator and inventor Garrett Brown who took part in an hour long Q&A about the film via Skype. His affable nature and great sense of humour warmed up that cold Toronto day. He confirmed many of the legendary stories of the production. The long arduous shoot, Kubrick’s reputation as a surly, bitter old man, and his notorious perfectionism. Brown recounted his frustration at trying to keep Shelley Duvall’s head in the exact centre of the crosshairs of his frame as he was following behind her for many of those lengthy meandering shots. Brown did admit that the dramatic sound effect of Danny's big wheel rolling on the floor contrasted by the quiet carpeting was a 'happy accident' and the result of Brown's camera and microphone placed mere inches away from the ground during the scenes. Brown did confirm that most of the crew were agonized by Kubrick's methodology, but that he strangely continued to hold a good relationship with the director. Brown was even asked to shoot both Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut, but due to other commitments couldn’t take part.

Despite those critiques from years past, history has been good to Kubrick. The film was a financial success and the man just seemed to be a creative step ahead of everybody else that even those surly critics warmed up to it. Though the film is quite not a masterpiece, but it’s a wholly unique auteur horror flick, terrifying and hypnotic.


Andrew D. Wells said...

About the aspect ratio. I've read the reason Warner Bros. only offers the flat screen versions of Kubrick's films from "The Shining" on is because that is how Kubrick shot them. Knowing that they would be pan and scanned and edited for television and video formats, Kubrick didn't want the process to destroy his vision as it had so many other director's.

Of course, this doesn't let WB off the hook, since one of the reasons Kubrick was so meticulous over his final three movies is because he simultaneously framed each shot for theatrical presentation in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio and the 4x3 ratio for standard televisions. Every frame of these movies are composed for both aspect ratios. It seems both aspect ratios reflect the director's intended vision and WB should offer these films in both formats.

Alan Bacchus said...

Oddly though, the opening shot of The Shining, in full 4x3 you can see the helicopter blades on the top of the screen and the shadow of the copter on the ground at the bottom. Strange that Kubrick allowed this to pass, when the video version was released (while he was still alive).
I still think the 1:85 presentation of The Shining is a more pleasing to the eye. If he knew people would have 16x9 TVs in the future, who knows how his BluRay versions of his films would have looked.

Saying that, Eyes Wide Shut, in particular looks great in full screen.

BTW: Garrett Brown suspects Kubrick would have altered his cut of Eyes Wide Shut, as he often did just prior to the wide release of his films.

Sean Grey Hanson said...

The Shining was probably the scariest movie I've seen. Hotel hallways always creep me out, so, having watched this movie makes me want to think twice. :D