Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Shining (Kubrick, 1980)

I just came out of a screening of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining last night. It was nowhere near the first time I'd seen the movie, I own a DVD of it and always have it ready, but I had never had a chance before to see it on the big screen and I have been taking opportunities to see more classic films I'm fond of in a theatrical screen whenever I get a chance, the particulars I've caught have all been horror films.

Even when I go alone, it's always a good time to see these movies like I've never been able to see them before.

With a synthesizer 'Dies Irae' to date the movie unfortunately,
but this is an incredible opening movie moment.
Anyway, The Shining is hardly a movie that I would credit to Stanley Kubrick. I love the man to death and I think a portion of the effect belongs to him but the majority of the movie is owned by Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall as Jack and Wendy Torrance, two characters forever attached to their actors, stripped-down in the intent of exhibition of terror. This is an actor's movie... You can shoot it pretty as well as you want, but this horror film relies on the control of the atmosphere in the hands of people like Nicholson, DuVall, Philip Stone, Joe Turkel, Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers. If any one of them fall flat on their face in acting, and Lloyd almost seems melodramatic in his performance but he's a child and it's hardly his fault, the movie fails as a horror film.
This is a small scope to concentrate the terror. No frequent gore, no in-your-face scares... just the purest experience in horror, a haunting atmosphere provided by Kubrick and his crew as a backdrop for Nicholson to give out his descension into madness surrounded by a cast of ghouls.

So, the tale of the Torrance family moving in to look over the Overlook Hotel in Colorado starts out somewhat unsettling as we are introduced to young son Danny (Lloyd) who showcases some disturbing behavior in his talking to Tony, a character who may or may not be imaginary. As the family moves into their new job at the large and empty hotel, the hotel's head cook Dick Hallorann (Crothers, an actor I take great pleasure in seeing on the screen everytime - he seems incredibly jolly), we are introduced to the concept of Shining, a psychic sort of ability that reveals too many unfortunate facts about the Hotel. Solely, the phantoms are revealing themselves to the already subconsciously angry father Jack (Nicholson) and the pushover matriach Wendy (Duvall), influencing the turn of the film's events to possibly mirror a previous murder suicide performed by the previous Winter caretaker of the Overlook, Delbert Grady (Stone), with the pleasant company of a bartender appearing to him as an apparition, Lloyd (Turkel in a chillingly slick performance).

This may or may not be a spoiler, so feel free to move along, but I really want to talk about the one scene that chills me most. Torrance has become dangerous to Wendy and Wendy knocks him out in a confrontation and locks him in the pantry. As Wendy finds Danny and herself trapped in the Overlook, Jack is approached from behind the door (or perhaps, even more scary, inside the pantry, we never find out) by Grady, who berates Jack for not yet killing his wife. After a brief talk, Grady unlocks the pantry door to unleash Jack on his family.
This scene is only one shot of Jack talking to Grady. We only hear the locks get removed, never witness it ourselves, but we know it happened. That sound scares the fuck out of me. The ghosts and demons of the Overlook Hotel have now involved themselves, they take this task of murder that seriously. Within that moment, I am scared watching the rest of the movie, waiting for the next point where the ghosts prove they are in total control of Jack and Wendy... the final act of Wendy running through the hotel hysterically is somewhat overly dramatic, but it works, save for one really laughable point where the lobby ends up covered in spiderwebs and skeletons. Come the fuck on, Kubrick, I thought you better than that!

Like a pleasant enough family trip.
All in all, its a near perfect horror film and original to boot with its concept and execution. Like I said, Kubrick has a habit of stripping his films down to the emotion and the picture, like Terrence Malick after him, which is really what makes him more emotional than many film critics say. Anyone who says Kubrick's pictures are cold and non-involving really need to watch his movies again. There's a reason Kubrick's methods have worked. You'll see it soon.

Like I said before, this is an actor's movie - owned by Nicholson and Duvall. Jack Nicholson really devolves himself more than we've ever seen before and since, and if you see Vivian Kubrick's documentary on the film, you'll see him powerup his energy for very climactic scenes. King was disappointed that Nicholson, who already looked crazy, was performing the role, but Torrance already has a temper in the story and clearly holds some resentment towards his own sobriety. If that doesn't make you a little bit on edge, you must be a great being of some otherworldly benevolence. I prefer the Jack Torrance of Kubrick's movie to the one of King's book and that's my opinion.

EDIT: First off, I just realized 'absent-minded' was one of the wrong words to use to describe Kubrick, more so focus-driven.
Second, I also remembered Kubrick did add his intellectual effect to the film and the more ambiguous portions of the haunting of the hotel, with the Room 237 aspect and the idea that Jack has always been part of the hotel, very small hints towards it from beginning to the very huge ending shot of the July 4th photo, so I  think he deserves more credit than I gave him. But it's hardly why this movie is scary...

Shelley Duvall, I think, keeps getting wrongly reamed for her performance. That wasn't acting, that was torture she was going through, and everybody knows the history behind this movie knows it. And it works, Kubrick really made her give a no holds barred, scared for her life moment in cinema. She starts off sort of gullible, is crushed by Jack and ends the movie never being the same again. If she did not provide a brave enough performance in her horror, in her terror, this movie would have been shit and everybody knows it. Duvall carried this movie when Nicholson could not as he was chasing Danny. She provided a polar opposite reaction to the presence of the ghosts to Nicholson's reaction. A duality in the family that tears them apart all throughout the film.

The only very small flaws? The afore-mentioned skeletons and Danny Lloyd's perfomance faltering at points. I take that as Kubrick's attempt to protect him from the fact that this movie is a horror film. It's a nicely show of humanity from Kubrick in public (From what I've read, he is nowhere near as cold as people think him to be - possibly absent-minded instead), but it costs the film a bit, but it doesn't make Lloyd's performance fall flat at all.

Also, I cannot for the life of me, figure out what the fuck is this about...

The best I can think was a pre-emptive Eyes Wide Shut before
somebody told Kubrick, "Yes, Stanley, you can make Eyes Wide Shut."
One of these days I'm going to get to watching Mick Garris' mini-series produced in 1997, as I am already a huge fan of the Masters of Horror series. I have not heard good things about it and it relatively annoys me when adaptations feel required to just do a page-by-page adaptation of the source material, but it would be interesting to see the end product when Stephen King had creative control over the film. The book was kind of good anyway, and I would understand if I put my heart into a work to talk about a hardship I endured (as the book was a catharsis for King's alcoholism at the time).

I do recommend the book to anybody interested in reading it. I prefer King's more connected works like The Stand, Salem's Lot and The Dark Tower series, but the Shining is a very well-written standalone story of his.

On a final note: I remember seeing an IMDb trivia bit that said Kubrick loved Woody Woodpecker and tried to have him included in every one of his movies, but did not get the okay from the creator, who had a mixed feeling to his own decision upon seeing Kubrick's films.
I think I can pinpoint where we would have seen Woody in this movie. There's a bunch of stickers on Danny's wall in the opening shot to his blackout moment in the bathroom. I'm certain Woody would have been one of those stickers.
Just me musing to myself.

Now, how's about I bitch about the fact that somebody thought making a TV show out of Under the Dome was good idea?

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