Dick Hallorann: “Well, you know, Doc, when something happens, you can leave a trace of itself behind. Say like, if someone burns toast. Well, maybe things that happen leave other kinds of traces behind. Not things that anyone can notice, but things that people who “shine” can see; just like they can see things that haven’t happened yet. Well, sometimes they can see things that happened a long time ago. I think a lot of things happened right here in this particular hotel over the years. And not all of them was good.”
I’ve probably seen “The Shining” (1980) the most of any film – by far over 20 times. And every single time I notice something new. It’s one of the densest films when it comes to visual information. I should point out that Kubrick didn’t believe in the supernatural aspects of the Stephen King novel – so with that in mind – there is so much to analyze and decipher in this film.
You’re seeing the film from three unreliable points of view: young Danny, who we learn early on has been physically abused by his father; Wendy, Danny’s mother – who covers up for her husband’s transgressions; and Jack – Danny’s father and Wendy’s husband – the alcoholic part-time professor and aspiring writer. Danny lives in a world of cartoons and protects himself from the abuse by creating a fictional best friend who lives in his stomach. The doctor who comes to see him near the beginning of the film explains that Danny goes into self-induced trances. A clue into how Danny sees the world is in that doctor visit. Next time you watch the film, and the physician is examining the boy pause the film real quickly. Watch for a figurine of Goofy below the curtains on the right side of the screen and then take a look at his mom on the left side and absorb the comparison. Tortured Jack sees his own different kinds of visions – and has nightmares – which all have to do with his alcoholism. The exchanges with the ghostly creatures in the Overlook Hotel are all manifestations of his psyche. Wendy is caught in between the two men – as a wife and mother. In the final reel, she sees her own strange apparitions in the halls of the hotel but those are caused by the alarming state into which she has been pushed.
Kubrick relies heavily on figurative comparisons (motifs, symbols, metaphors) – to help him tell his complicated – highly interpretative tale. There are mirrors and reflective surfaces throughout the feature. The opening shot of the Saint Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island in Montana show us the reflection on the water followed by the camera turning obliquely. Mirrors are present every time that Jack has a close encounter with a ghost. When we first see Danny talk with his friend – “Tony” – he’s in front of a mirror. The characters’ realities – what they actually see – what they actually imagine – is at play. There’s a duality happening – which befuddles the protagonists and confounds our own perception as well. When Danny writes the word Murder he does it as a mirror image. There’s an overwhelming amount of symmetry in the way things are arranged. Plus there are those creepy daughters that are almost identical, but not quite.
The usage of a maze outside the hotel– a journey of self-discovery where one travels to the center and back again – is mirrored in the meandering hallways of the main building. There is an intentional lack of logic to the way passageways lead to one another, how you enter into the lobby of the hotel and go inside the manager’s office and there’s a window where structurally there couldn’t be one. The Steadicam that is used to trail Danny’s tricycle is disorienting. Kubrick uses wide angle lenses to create a landscape that’s oppressive to the characters. Exit signs are configured in this composition.
The motif of having the characters wear red, white and blue – doesn’t draw attention to itself, but once you do notice – it will open a whole new way of seeing the film. It is tied to the 4th of July celebration taking place in “The Gold Room,” the discussion of the Donner Party, the fact that the hotel was built on Native American sacred ground, that there aren’t any Native American characters but we see prints and rugs that remind us. Prominently displayed is a box of Calumet and a Native American symbol. The only African American character is killed with an ax. Jack complains to the bartender about the “White Man’s Burden.” What is this all about?
Danny: “Remember what Mr. Halloran said. It’s just like pictures in a book. It isn’t real.”
Available to stream on fuboTV, AMC, AMC Premiere and Sling. Available to rent on iTunes, Microsoft, FandangoNOW, Vudu, Google Play, Redbox, Apple TV, Amazon, YouTube and AMC Theatres on Demand.
Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson
Based on the novel by Stephen King
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers and Danny Lloyd
The Use of Steadicam
“The Shining” was a huge endeavour. Assistant director Brian Cook told the BBC there were “300 construction people on the pay roll” before the film had even started. Quite apart from its status as one of the great horror films of the past 50 years, “The Shining” marked a pivotal moment in the evolution of Steadicam shooting (that’s to say, a stabilising system which allows handheld camerawork to avoid jerkiness). It begins with an astonishing helicopter shot. Then the Steadicam work begins in earnest. The camera is rarely still for an instant. The energy here comes not just from Nicholson’s performance but from the astonishingly fluid shooting style. Carrying the Steadicam was its inventor, Garrett Brown, a pioneering and near-legendary figure in cinematography who had filmed Sylvester Stallone running up the stairs in “Rocky” (1976) and has worked with directors from Spielberg to Scorsese…he describes his work on the film as being like “moving a piano and playing it”. It involved both very heavy grunt work and extremely delicate artistry. Some may have complained about Kubrick’s tendency to shoot multiple takes but Brown relished it. He was refining how the Steadicam worked. “I realised on day one it was a priceless opportunity for me to perfect what I was doing, really to learn the physical act of doing it,” Brown recalls. “I could have literally done 100 takes or 1,000 takes.”
By take 14 on any given sequence of “The Shining,” Brown says he was reaching “a level of Zen-like perfection, like what happens, I imagine, when you did a Broadway show every night and you realised on day 239 that you could be six inches closer to the edge of the stage. It was therefore really fun for me.” Just occasionally, Kubrick would admit that there was no real reason for the huge number of takes but Brown was happy for them to keep on coming. His experiences with Kubrick gave him the basis for his later work on films such as “Reds,” “One From the Heart,” “Casino” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” “The way that lens moves, the way the audiences’ eyeballs are handled and directed, is, I think, a seminal aspect of moviemaking and underappreciated.” In Kubrick, Brown found a kindred spirit and a mentor. “Kubrick is, let’s face it, The Man. He is the one director working who commands absolute authority over his project from conception to release print. The ultimate technologist but, more, his technology serves a larger vision which is uniquely his own,” Brown later wrote. The technical demands were daunting. He would be gliding around the corridors of the Overlook on a specially converted wheelchair, following Danny on his bike, or tracking Duvall as she flees Nicholson. The crew loved Nicholson. He was open and friendly with everybody. Sometimes, Kubrick wanted to work on Saturdays. Before this was allowed, union rules required the crew members to vote by Friday afternoon at 4.30pm that they were prepared to come in the following morning. “Jack would say, ‘Champagne on set when we wrap tonight if you vote no!’” Vitali remembers. Often, the crew did exactly that, leaving Kubrick in a lather of fury. However, Nicholson and Kubrick had a strong rapport and generally brought out the best in each other. Nicholson was given license for some improvisation. He’s the one who came up with the idea of yelling out, “here’s Johnny!” when he axes down the door and sticks his face through the gap in the wood with a satanic smile on his face. (independent.co.uk)
Jack Nicholson on “The Shining”
The difficulty of writing left its mark on Nicholson. He would later play writers in four films (Antonioni’s ”The Passenger,” Kubrick’s ”The Shining,” Beatty’s ”Reds” and Nichols’s new movie, ”Heartburn”)…In that scene, Nicholson proceeds, in the space of a few lines, to move from a slow burn to a veritable meltdown of poisonous rage that captures for all time, with horrifying verisimilitude, the impotent fury of the blocked writer. ”That’s the one scene in the movie I wrote myself,” Nicholson confides. ”That scene at the typewriter – that’s what I was like when I got my divorce. I was under the pressure of being a family man with a daughter and one day I accepted a job to act in a movie in the daytime and I was writing a movie at night and I’m back in my little corner and my beloved wife, Sandra, walked in on what was, unbeknownst to her, this maniac – and I told Stanley [ Kubrick ] about it and we wrote it into the scene. I remember being at my desk and telling her -” he shifts into the hate-filled unctuous voice of that character -” ‘Even if you don’t hear me typing it doesn’t mean I’m not writing. This is writing. . . .’ I remember that total animus. Well, I got a divorce.” (nytimes.com)
Cinematographer John Alcott on “The Shining”
“Stanley gave me the book to read about 10 months before we were to start shooting and, although I had several other shooting assignments in between, this gave me time to be constantly in touch with him and check on the situation regarding the set that was going to be built — whether it should contain 10 windows or only 5 windows, whether the fireplace should be located in one part of the room or the staircase in another — which proved to be a great asset for me in developing a visual concept for the film. This kind of direct contact prevailed throughout pre-production and I would always make a point of visiting him whenever I was back in England in order to see how the set construction was progressing. What we did at the very beginning was to have all of the sets built in the form of cardboard models. They were painted in the same colors and had the same scenic decor as we intended to use in the film and I could actually light them. With this concept of using artfoam cardboard models I could light the set with ten windows and then with five windows and photograph it with my Nikon still camera, using the same angle we would use with our motion picture camera. That would give us some basic idea of how it was going to look on the screen. We went all the way through the film like that, even for the sets which were built perhaps two months after we started shooting. All of the major sets — the hotel lobby, the lounge, Jack’s apartment, the ballroom and the maze were built in model form first, so I was able to do some careful planning. By this time we were probably about four months from our starting date and I would make it a point to visit the sets at least once a week, even though I had other commitments. Meanwhile, my two gaffers, Lou Bogue and Larry Smith, were doing the enormous amount of wiring necessary for the sets.” (ascmag.com)
About Director and Co-Writer Stanley Kubrick
Born in New York City in 1928, Kubrick took up photography in high school and became a staff photographer for Look magazine at age 17. A photo assignment on boxing inspired him to make “The Day of the Fight,” a short documentary film about boxing, in 1951. The short was bought by a news service, and he made two more documentaries before making a short feature-length film, “Fear and Desire” (1953), which dealt with war. The movie, produced independently, received little attention outside New York, where critics praised Kubrick’s directorial talents. Kubrick’s next two feature films, “Killer’s Kiss” (1955) and “The Killing” (1956), brought him to the attention of Hollywood, and in 1957 he directed actor Kirk Douglas in “Paths of Glory,” a story of military injustice in the French army during World War I. Douglas later enlisted Kubrick to take over production of “Spartacus” (1960), a historical epic about the slave rebellion led by the Roman slave “Spartacus” in 73 B.C. The film was a box office smash and won four Academy Awards, including Best Cinematography, which was attributed to Russell Metty but was largely Kubrick’s work. Behind the scenes, the director’s characteristic obsession with detail created some tension with the cast and crew.
After “Spartacus,” he moved permanently to England, where he directed “Lolita” (1962), based on the controversial novel by Vladimir Nabokov. Two years later, Kubrick scored another major critical and commercial hit with “Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Starring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott, “Dr. Strangelove” was a dark comedy about the nuclear arms race that earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor (Peter Sellers). Kubrick spent four years working on his next film, “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), co-written with English writer Arthur C. Clarke. Now widely regarded as the greatest science fiction film ever made, “2001: A Space Odyssey” won Kubrick a well-deserved Best Visual Effects Academy Award. Kubrick followed up 2001 with “A Clockwork Orange” (1971), a controversial social commentary set in the near future. It was given an X rating in the United States for its extreme violence and banned in the United Kingdom, but nonetheless received four Oscar nominations including Best Picture. Barry Lyndon (1975) was a picturesque movie based on the 19th-century novel by William Thackeray. Kubrick, who had become famous for his perfectionist tendencies, took a record 300 days just to shoot the film. “The Shining” (1980), starring Jack Nicholson as the caretaker of a mountain resort who goes insane, was hailed as a masterpiece of the horror genre. “Full Metal Jacket” (1987) addressed the Vietnam War and was another critical and commercial success. In 1997, after a 10-year absence from filmmaking, Kubrick began work on “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999), an enigmatic thriller starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The director died soon after turning in his final cut of the film. (history.com)