The Shining (1980)

“The Shining” could be the quintessential Stanley Kubrick film. The shot selection is exacting and brilliant, the performances brilliant, and the performers themselves traumatised.

My last summer at FSU, I took German and three film courses. One of those was the hardest class I took, a class innocuously titled “Film Music.” In this class we focused on what else? Catering.

No, it was a grad-level seminar on film music and sound. It was tough, and my term paper was about Stanley Kubrick, and his use of music in films.

I immersed myself in Kubrick, focusing on “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “A Clockwork Orange,” and “The Shining.” I read book after book, took pages of notes, and wrote a brilliant paper, the best thing I wrote in college.

I got a B-minus. The professor wrote, “Tom, this is a brilliant paper, wonderfully written. A pleasure to read. It just didn’t conform to the assignment.”

I’d focused too much on the madness, not enough on the music.

“The Shining” is the Kubrickiest of Kubrick films, a decent into madness and perfection.

We start with some of the most beautiful mountain scenery imaginable, with fall colors, deep blue skies, and still waters. We see a tiny yellow Volkswagen from above, the classic “eye of the gods” fate shot. The music is electronic and dissonant, disconcerting against nature’s beauty.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a former schoolteacher turned self-styled writer. His wife, Wendy (Shelly Duvall), and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) will join him as winter caretaker of the palatial Overlook Hotel. Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers) is the head chef, who bonds with young Danny–by sensing and exploiting their mutual psychic skills (“the shine”)–and ultimately with Jack, by allowing Jack to murder him with an axe.

Most people are familiar with the story, either from Stephen King’s bestselling novel or from the film. Tony (Danny Lloyd’s index finger) warns him about all matter of crazy shit that has happened or will happen.

They get to the hotel, Jack goes cray-cray, ghosts appear, and murderous mayhem ensues.

“The Shining” was divisive when it came out. Roger Ebert was less than kind in his initial review. In 2006, he named it to his Great Movies series.

The shoot was longer than some wars. Shelly Duvall’s hair was falling out in clumps, and she was forced to cry so much, she ran out of tears some days. Jack Nicholson stopped even trying to keep up with the constant script changes: he learned his lines at the last possible moment.

The Stanley Kubrick Collection dvd, “The Shining” has a documentary called “The Making of The Shining”. It’s priceless. A lot of “making of” documentaries are überlame, just people in soft focus, talking about how wonderful everyone was. This one is a revelation. You see how they accomplished some of the amazing Steadicam shots, like the low shot following Danny around on his Big Wheel. More importantly, you see Kubrick yelling at Shelly Duvall, her hair falling out, and just how brilliant and professional Jack Nicholson is, even amidst the madness. (Also, you see that Danny Lloyd was a really well-adjusted, nice, normal kid)

You can see the method to that madness, and do so without losing clumps of hair, getting chopped in half by an axe, or having to write a paper.

Oh, and as a bonus, “The Shining”, a damn good movie, is also included.

Grade: A


About tom

B.A. in Literature, Minor in Film Theory and Criticism, thus meaning all I’m trained is to write blog posts here. Neptune is my favorite planet–it vents methane into the solar system like my brother does. I think Chicken McNuggets look like Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Indiana. There are times when I’m medicated, which is why I wrote about McNuggets. Buy some today and tell me I’m wrong! Anyway, Beyond that: mammal, Floridian, biped.Good Night, and Good Luck. Besos, tom
This entry was posted in Academy Award Nominees, Films, Films 2012, Horror and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Shining (1980)

  1. Lauri says:

    The Shining was the scariest movie I ever saw. I was in college and staying in a friend’s basement. I had to sleep upstairs on the guest bedroom floor (no bed in there) because I was too scared to sleep in the basement bedroom alone.
    I am still traumatized to this day.


    • tom says:

      I don’t think you can blame The Shining for everything. *snerk*
      If it’s any consolation, according to IMDB, the film also gave Robert DeNiro nightmares for a month.


    • tom says:

      Ohh. I didn’t do my Blazing Saddles connection.
      1) Nicholson was living with Anjelica Huston while filming The Shining.
      2) Her dad was John Huston, who directed Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
      3) That film had the famous line, “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges,” which was spoofed in Blazing Saddles.
      4) Okay, that’s a helluva stretch. 😀


  2. Christina says:

    I’m afraid to watch the Shining. I had it on my Netflix Queue, but it’s still at the bottom (and I changed my plan to streaming only for February).

    Anyway, I just can’t bring myself to watch it, lol. Jack Nicholson does cray cray *far* too well. I’ll have horrifying dreams for a week!


    • Christina says:

      (I just realized that, for some reason unknown to myself, I used my personal email instead of the email associated with my blog. Now you need to moderate me. I’m a pain in the ass, eh?)


      • tomzone says:

        I’ve moderated worse. 😉 I was wondering, though. “What gives? Ms Heart is family. She doesn’t need moderation.”

        The Shining…yeah, best you don’t watch it, especially alone. It would freak you out worse than it did Wind. 😦


  3. Lurkertype says:

    It is a very scary movie. I’d read the book (IN DAYLIGHT ON THE SCHOOL BUS, THANK YOU) and still, very scary.

    Do you still have that paper handy, Tom?

    What else did you learn/talk about in that class? Sounds fascinating.

    Last month, I watched a show wherein Mssrs. Spielberg and Williams discussed both their many collaborations, and neato scenes from earlier movies that they liked. It was on TCM, I think you’d have loved it.


    • tomzone says:

      I wish I still had it. My college daze (sic) predated computers. It was typed, and Lord only knows where it went.
      The class was very interesting. We analyzed the role of music in films, how different instruments stirred different emotional responses, etc.
      As hard as this class was–and much of that is because it was a 6.5 week concentrated summer term–it had the greatest final ever. We were all terrified. We walked into the exam room, and he showed us Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. “Analyze the music in this.” It was sweet. 🙂


  4. I saw “The Shining” when I was in grad school in Berkeley, right before I decided I wasn’t ready to get my doctorate then. Three of my classmates, all guys, came with me, and they gave me a hard time about screaming when Jack Nicholson’s face suddenly appears through the hole he’s busted through the door with the fire ax. I finally got mad and walked out of our late-night discussion session in a huff. When I got back to the dorm I was living in, I took the elevator up. When the doors opened, I found the hallway was completely dark. I cursed and searched for the light switch but couldn’t find it, so I groped my way down the hall to my room. Then all of a sudden, one of the doors flew open and someone screamed, “HEEERE’S JOHNNY!”

    I shrieked so loud I woke everyone in the building up. Of course, it was my male classmates pulling a prank on me. I never got a chance to pay them back, because I moved out at the end of the month. I wanted a place with more windows, and no elevators.


    • tomzone says:

      Yikes. You can only hope those guys are all haunted now.

      Jack had to chop through quite a few doors–nine, I think. They made a fake prop door, but Jack had once been a volunteer fire marshall, and hacked it to pieces too easily. Thus, the real ones. (I saw this in Wikipedia, but it sounds about right)

      One thing I noticed this last time: Heath Ledger may not have borrowed much from Nicholson’s portrayal of The Joker, but he appropriated a lot from Jack in The Shining.


  5. stevebetz says:

    Absolutely fantastic movie, though I sort of wish it could have been Shelly Duvalless. It’s always good to go back to it once in a while, because it’s been so copied and parodied you almost forget the original.

    I don’t know if I’m in the minority, but I also liked the ABC miniseries with that guy from Wings and more importantly, Rebecca DeMornay.


    • tom says:

      Wasn’t that the one Stephen King worked with? He never liked what Kubrick did with The Shining. Admittedly, the Kubrick film differed from the book on many points. I’d like to see the Rebecca DeMornay remake.
      Of anything. 😉


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