“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.