3. The Shining (1980)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick & Diane Johnson, based on the novel by Stephen King
Director of Photography: John Alcott
Composer: Wendy Carlos & Rachel Elkind
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duval, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Philip Stone, Joe Turkel
Quotes: “My girls, sir, they didn’t care for the Overlook at first. One of them actually stole a pack of matches, and tried to burn it down. But I corrected them sir. And when my wife tried to prevent me from doing my duty, I corrected her.”
I don’t know what to do with a film like THE SHINING. I’ve been watching it regularly for the past fifteen years, soaking in the endless details, sometimes being genuinely frightened, sometimes not; I watched it last night and asked where the hell that tennis ball came from to an empty room. I’ve read the source novel, watched the obsessive documentary ROOM 237, and attempted to get through the Steven Weber-starring TV miniseries version (it’s unbelievably bad), and yet I could watch it again right now. All the poring over hasn’t dulled the experience in the slightest. There’s always something new to notice, or something that you hadn’t been paying attention to for long enough that it seems newly fresh. But I don’t need to sell anyone on THE SHINING. It’s a difficult film to write about because everything has already been said, so I can only mention the parts that resonate most with me.
(p.s. The file name listed for this picture on Google is “The-Shining-Black-Dude.” C’mon man, have some respect.)
I first saw this film when I was 15 years old, at the house of a friend who also held screenings of BLAZING SADDLES and FULL METAL JACKET. After the film ended, we had a prolonged discussion on just what it was that fell out of the elevator amongst that tidal wave of blood. A rolled up carpet? A body? If so, whose? Grady’s? Was it Wendy herself? Or was it just a pump used to fill the elevator prior to filming? It was rare to have disagreements over a film. I was in the (questionable) habit of viewing straightforward actioners at the time, where any ambiguity was seen as an impediment to an enjoyable experience. Strangely though, over time I came to realize that despite differing opinions and valid arguments made either way, I seem to agree with every single viewpoint on this film, no matter how contradictory they are. I believe in the greatness of THE SHINING unquestioningly, some might say religiously. So when I hear that the novel is better, I agree (it kind of is). When stories of improvisation come up against the famously meticulous style of the director’s, I bow to the Kubrick intelligence and expertise. When inconsistencies are pointed out (the pattern of the carpet suddenly changing, architectural anomalies), I fit those in to my overall view of the Overlook Hotel being the tricksiest of phantasmal structures. Be careful of the stairs, they like to change.
THE SHINING has always been a more intellectual experience than a visceral one for me, but that makes it no less overwhelming. I can know it took 50 takes to get the tennis ball to roll into exactly the right spot, and it’s utterly chilling when the camera reverses and there’s nothing there. The Overlook luring Danny in with the most sinister of methods turns the very walls into serial killers, and long corridors become exercises in terror as you never know what one benignly open door could lead to. DoP John Alcott’s pioneering of the Steadi Cam leads to uncounted numbers of elegant, precise shots. As the camera moves as smoothly as a floating spirit, Shelley Duvall’s mind is completely rent apart. It’s cruel how the character (and the actress) are preyed upon by the hotel (and the director), and I will defend Duvall’s performance to all comers. She’s been accused of overacting or extreme melodrama, but I can’t think of a more appropriate set of reactions to her (literally) unbelievable circumstances. Just look at the scene towards the end of the film in which Jack has made mincemeat of the bathroom door and is distracted away by the sound of Dick Halloran’s approaching Snow Cat. When Jack leaves to deal with the interloper, Wendy tries to unlock the door and make her escape. Unable to get a grip on the knob, she slashes at it in frustration, as though a knife could help her turn the lock. It’s so sad. Her nerves are frayed beyond the mending, so who cares if she holds her arms strangely while she runs?
It’s difficult to express where the hypnotic power of THE SHINING comes from, or why it continues to hold me in its sway over these fifteen years. The work of ten lifetimes has been poured into it by patient, masterful craftsmen. It a timeless piece of art, beggaring belief that it was released only 34 years ago. It’s a masterpiece, a work of utter genius, and I’m so grateful for it.
I recall a Halloween about eight years ago; I stopped for lunch in a café and floating just above the din of the customers was a hauntingly familiar sound. It was an eerie synthetic feedback, punctuated by sudden orchestral bursts and muttered curses. I looked around, trying to place the source of the electronic hum. A voice spoke.
“Hi Lloyd. Little slow tonight, isn’t it?”
An explosion of maniacal laughter.
THE SHINING has a way of finding me. You might say it’s always been there.