Monday Editor’s Pick: The Shining (1980)

by on February 27, 2012Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Mon March 5 at 3:40, 9:30 at Film Forum [Program & Tix]


While some surmised Film Forum might be the last 35mm hold out, title unavailability and other factors led to a recent digital projector upgrade. Never fear! As they point out, there are forty-five 35mm prints, ten of them new, on the current calendar – so celluloid ain’t going anywhere for now.


But they remind us of the potential advantages, “The best DCPs scan original negatives at such a high rate that all of the attributes of a photochemically-produced 35mm (or even 70mm) print — the detail, color density, film grain, etc. — are vividly re-created and even exceeded.” FF selects some of the best digital restorations out there for a one-week showcase that lets its audience be the judge – and let’s nostalgists start the adjustment process.

One of the most beloved trailer re-cuts of all time, of Kubrick’s only film to earn a Razzie nomination:


Glenn Heath Jr. For Match/Cuts:

Kubrick’s vision of isolation and madness remains remarkably potent, a horrific gaze at brooding guilt and hatred amidst a snow storm of ideas, memories, and nightmares. Because of this push pull between stirring creativity and relentless doubt, The Shining is an unquestioned masterpiece, a horror film consumed by harsh angles, deep spaces, and disintegrating minds. It unravels methodically, like all of Kubrick’s films, but there’s also a painful intimacy hiding underneath the quotable lines and grandiose stylistics, an ax of putrified resentment that potentially infects us all in some way or another.
Jack Torrance’s psychology grows more ambiguous as his actions become more violent, creating a monster both familiar and foreign, someone whose simmering outbursts resemble a collective deja-vu of rage too disturbing to acknowledge fully.

Keith Uhlich for Senses of Cinema:

The Shining (1980), is notable for its hypnotic use of Steadicam following the three inhabitants (Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and Danny Lloyd) through the snowed-in Overlook Hotel. It’s an adaptation of a Stephen King bestseller, but it shows how Kubrick was more than willing to change an author’s ideas around for adaptation to the screen. Here Jack Torrance, the tortured father and writer, has no metaphorical boiler bubbling beneath the hotel waiting to explode. He’s pretty much ready to go insane from the beginning, and the hotel is the stimulus. In a sense, because he’s experiencing writer’s block, the Overlook Hotel and its ghostly inhabitants act as his inspiration to murder. If you can’t create one way, create another. Perhaps this is Kubrick commenting on the pain inherent in the creative process, and how it can disconnect one from reality to the point of insanity. Overall, this is Kubrick doing a genre piece, but in a style wholly his own. It’s a far cry from the anonymity of Spartacus and manages to solidify, at this point, his career as an individual auteur.


Jeremiah Kipp for Culture Cartel:

Stanley Kubrick liked to take the ball and run with it. He had his own game plan worked out inside his head. His version of The Shining is decidedly not Stephen King’s interpretation, but his own. The result is a mysterious, haunting, visual experience.
Putting aside the details of the plot, folks remember how stark the experience was. Is there anything more terrifying than an empty room when no one else is around…or worse, that someone (or something) might be around…?
It’s a mood piece driven by emotions – not necessarily those of the characters but of that leery feeling we get as part of the audience. It’s scary because often we don’t know why The Shining is affecting us – like some diamond twisting deep in the pit of our stomachs. Where did Kubrick find the image of the teddy bear going down on the man? What made him consider a pursuit through a maze, or those reverberating prenatal sounds on the soundtrack?
That’s why people remember The Shining. As we walk through the Overlook, he has sent us back into the womb – a place which has somehow become alien to us. Somewhere, Kubrick has struck a nerve.



Eric Henderson for Slant:

The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s indelible take on both the horror genre and the popular fiction of Stephen King, is both a radical distillation of its source novel’s densely stuffed ghosts-and-gore imagery as well as a conflation of its hidden central theme of the true-life horrors of domestic abuse. The result is a film that, though it ignores almost every major spook-show episode in the novel (nope, no teeming wasp’s nest here), enhances everything that’s legitimately unnerving about King’s book: the sour grin of a desperate middle-aged man contemplating his overwhelming vocational failure, the inability for families to truly forgive even speculatively accidental physical violence, and the eerie juxtaposition of snowbound isolation within a vast architectural agora, a place where you can hide but you can’t run.
The carefully organized, seamlessly edited tracking shots and the complex musical textures of György Ligeti and Krzysztof Penderecki don’t even offer room to breathe, and the disorientation causes the mind to grasp for gravity. It’s the experience more so than the actual content of The Shining that radiates cold, anti-humanly indifferent terror. Having conflated the sadistic struggle between a man and his family into a horrific epic tragedy, Kubrick ultimately slaps the film back into a reversal of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s coda, swapping accelerated evolution in favor of a regression so primordially violent it disrupts the fabric of time. In that sense, the film’s chronological Mobius warp places it outside of the context of something like The Haunting and more in line with Last Year in Marienbad (itself a pretty terrifying film, at least on the surface). Like Resnais’s gothic nightmare, Kubrick’s The Shining dwells at the outer limits of what can be thought of as a genre film, stretching the definition, filling it out, leaving it richer in its wake.


Henderson also links to his favorite revisionist analysis of the film as a meditation on the Native American genocide. Meanwhile, Michael Dare points out “Five Things You Probably Didn’t Notice in The Shining.”


Richard Combs reports on a documentary made by Kubrick’s daughter about the production, for Film Comment (Sept/Oct 1996):

The production report in Making “The Shining” is unique and revelatory, a kind of home movie about a filmmaker who has resolutely given the impression that he has no home except in his work, or in the spaces of his free-floating consciousness. There is a relaxed, absolutely mundane scene where Kubrick and Nicholson are sitting at a table with Kubrick’s mother, GertHAL-9000 has a mother?-talking about why the script has multicolored pages for the different rewrites.
And the true revelation here may lie in the way it affects our reading of Kubrick’s films. These are domestic scenes recorded during the making of a film that is itself a domestic drama on the grandest scale, a tale of one man, his family, and their home that comes to seem limitlessly expansive in time and space. “The Shining” may not be Kubrick’s greatest film, but it is somehow the most crucial, the closest to the creative core of his work. In the domestic, the mundane, in the most private spaces of characters’ lives is the beginning of those repetitions, patterns, and cycles that deterministically shape their lives and the destiny of the race.


You can watch the whole documentary online: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Martin Scorsese on the film in 2008:

When Stanley Kubrick set out to make a horror film, we were already terrified. Kubrick’s films are terrifying enough as it is. What would he come up with? We saw the trailer, a single image of an elevator from which a torrent of blood slowly spilled and blanketed the screen…and the terror mounted. And, of course, as always with Kubrick, when the film finally came out, it was like no horror film ever made. Really, it almost didn’t belong to the horror genre; it was like nothing we’d ever seen. But of course, that was Kubrick’s genius: He created movies that were essentially unclassifiable, endlessly provocative and profoundly disturbing. And no matter how many times you see them, they remain disturbing.

Of course, many horror fans were put off by The Shining, and I don’t believe that Stephen King, the author of the novel on which it was based, was ever very happy with the movie. Kubrick and his co-writer, the novelist Diane Johnson, kept many elements from King’s novel, but they wrote their own work, turning to Freud’s The Uncanny and Bruno Bettelheim’s book about fairy tales, The Uses of Enchantment, for inspiration. The halls and corridors seem to extend to infinity, like the shots of interstellar travel in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the sense of space itself is terrifying, particularly in those justifiably famous Steadicam shots following Danny as he careens down the corridors on his Big Wheel.


In The Shining, Kubrick made potent use of ambiguity. You never really know what’s happening: Is the father hallucinating or is he the reincarnation of a murderer from an earlier era? Are there real ghosts in the hotel or are they imagined by the traumatized son? Is the son sensing the horrors that will be committed by his father or just projecting them onto him? Few movies create such a powerful feeling of unease. I love the visions—the maze, the elevator, Nicholson bouncing a rubber ball across the vast expanses of the hotel lobby to kill time, the enormous golden ballroom, the red Formica bathroom in which Nicholson “meets” the butler. And, perhaps most frightening of all, the vision of an ordinary American family, beautifully acted, who’ve wandered into deep psychic waters. Kubrick was a giant and I keep going back to most of his pictures, The Shining included.


Jonathan Romney in his excellent appreciation for Sight & Sound:

It all seems simple enough – the Big Bad Wolf storms around with an axe, the Little Pigs (his snarling sobriquet for Wendy and Danny) escape. At the time of the film’s release many critics were unim­pressed by this schema – Kubrick had put so much effort into his film, building vast sets at Elstree, mak­ing a 17-week shoot stretch to 46, and what was the result? A silly scare story – something that, it was remarked at the time, Roger Corman could have turned around in a fortnight.
But look beyond the simplicity and the Overlook reveals itself as a palace of paradox. There’s an unset­tling tension about the film’s austerity on the one hand (there’s something positively Racinian about the unities of this grand-scale chamber piece) and dizzying excess on the other. Kubrick’s apparent dis­dainful detachment from the horror genre shows itself in the systematic flouting of a key convention: instead of an old dark house, a modern brightly lit one. But when Kubrick does lay on ghoulie business it’s almost farcically extreme: a festering bogey­woman in the bathroom, a courteous blood-soaked reveller, and instead of the time-honoured scarlet drips, tidal waves of gore burst from lifts and flood corridors (and what rich, dark claret it is). Then there’s the acting – perfectly naturalistic and restrained at the start, building towards animal eye­rolling, as Duvall becomes the shrieking incarnation of panic, and Nicholson, in a performance that has defined him for life, snarls, grinds his jaw and occa­sionally tempers his Neanderthal psychosis with tics that look like Oliver Hardy impersonations (check out his first scene at the haunted bar).
Even if the drama appears straightforward, there’s the matter of the unearthly stage it’s enacted on – the hotel itself, with its extraordinary atmospherics. Hotel manager Ullman (Barry Nelson) welcomes Jack by telling him how a former caretaker, Charles Grady, went crazy and chopped up his family: the problem was cabin fever, the result of confinement in isola­tion. Not only do the Torrances suffer cabin fever but Kubrick wants us to as well. The Shining makes us inhabit every comer of the painstakingly con­structed hotel sets, and the way the film guides us along corridors, around corners, up staircases – thanks to Garrett Brown’s revolutionary new gizmo the Steadicam – makes us feel we know every inch of the place, even (especially) the sound of its silences. Then there’s the eerie sense of things closing in, reducing, paring themselves to the essential. We feel it in the film’s time scheme, which seems elastic and amorphous but is mapped out more and more pre­cisely in a succession of intertitles: “A Month Later”, “Tuesday”, “Sunday”, “4pm” and finally the last shot, which brings us to a specific but eternal moment out­side time. The film’s subtexts resonate in the vastness as in a sound box.



Michael Ciment interviews Kubrick:

It is strange that you emphasize the supernatural aspect since one could say that in the film you give a lot of weight to an apparently rational explanation of Jack’s behaviour: altitude, claustrophobia, solitude, lack of booze.

Stephen Crane wrote a story called “The Blue Hotel.” In it you quickly learn that the central character is a paranoid. He gets involved in a poker game, decides someone is cheating him, makes an accusation, starts a fight and gets killed. You think the point of the story is that his death was inevitable because a paranoid poker player would ultimately get involved in a fatal gunfight. But, in the end, you find out that the man he accused was actually cheating him. I think The Shining uses a similar kind of psychological misdirection to forestall the realization that the supernatural events are actually happening.
How did you conceive the hotel with your art director, Roy Walker?

The first step was for Roy to go around America photographing hotels which might be suitable for the story. Then we spent weeks going through his photographs making selections for the different rooms. Using the details in the photographs, our draughtsmen did proper working drawings. From these, small models of all the sets were built. We wanted the hotel to look authentic rather than like a traditionally spooky movie hotel. The hotel’s labyrinthine layout and huge rooms, I believed, would alone provide an eerie enough atmosphere. This realistic approach was also followed in the lighting, and in every aspect of the decor it seemed to me that the perfect guide for this approach could be found in Kafka’s writing style. His stories are fantastic and allegorical, but his writing is simple and straightforward, almost journalistic. On the other hand, all the films that have been made of his work seem to have ignored this completely, making everything look as weird and dreamlike as possible. The final details for the different rooms of the hotel came from a number of different hotels. The red men’s room, for example, where Jack meets Grady, the ghost of the former caretaker, was inspired by a Frank Lloyd Wright men’s room in an hotel in Arizona. The models of the different sets were lit, photographed, tinkered with and revised. This process continued, altering and adding elements to each room, until we were all happy with what we had.
Some people criticized you a few years ago because you were making films that did not deal with the private problems of characters. With Barry Lyndon and now with The Shining, you seem to be dealing more with personal relationships.

If this is true it is certainly not as a result of any deliberate effort on my part. There is no useful way to explain how you decide what film to make. In addition to the initial problem of finding an exciting story which fulfills the elusively intangible requirements for a film, you have the added problem of its being sufficiently different from the films you have already done. Obviously the more films you make, the more this choice is narrowed down. If you read a story which someone else has written you have the irreplacable experience of reading it for the first time. This is something which you obviously cannot have if you write an original story. Reading someone else’s story for the first time allows you a more accurate judgement of the narrative and helps you to be more objective than you might otherwise be with an original story. Another important thing is that while you’re making a film, and you get deeper and deeper into it, you find that in a certain sense you know less and less about it. You get too close to it. When you reach that point, it’s essential to rely on your original feelings about the story. Of course, at the same time, because you know so much more about it, you can also make a great many other judgements far better than you could have after the first reading. But, not to put too fine a point on it, you can never again have that first, virginal experience with the plot.



Jenny Jediny for Not Coming to a Theater Near You:

Following the terrifying scene with the Grady sisters, the moment between Jack and Danny seems flat and warped, and not frightening in the way one is used to in a horror film. However, upon repeat viewings the scene between father and son is far more frightening than what Danny accurately calls “pictures in a book.” Kubrick’s comparison between the ghosts of the hotel and the monstrous horror enveloping Jack is intricately made; while the Grady sisters are in fact harmless spirits, Jack poses the true threat.
Or does he? There is the woman in Room 237, although it seems evident the Overlook uses her to harm Danny in order to further disconnect the family. Kubrick commented in a 1980 interview on his approach to horror, “About the only law that I think relates to the genre is that you should try not to explain, to find neat explanations for what happens, and that the object of the thing is to produce a sense of the uncanny. Freud in his essay on the uncanny wrote that the sense of the uncanny is the only emotion which is more powerfully expressed in art than in life, which I found very illuminating; it didn’t help writing the screenplay, but I think it’s an interesting insight into the genre.”
While even Jack mentions families “eating each other up” (in answer to Danny’s question about the Donner party), it’s detrimental to explain away everything in The Shining. One of the enduring aspects of the film is that it does in fact scare the bejesus out of nearly everyone who sees it, and a large part of that is due to its fantastic imagery and sound design: the Grady twins, the reflection of REDRUM in the mirror, the rush of blood from the elevator; the ballroom party; to the way the big wheel moving from carpet to wood reflects a pounding heartbeat, both Danny’s and the viewer’s. As much as the ghosts of the Overlook push Jack’s buttons, Kubrick successfully pushes ours—the result is a film that still frightens, no matter how may layers you may peel away from it.



Leo Goldsmith, also for Not Coming:

If Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is not the best haunted house movie ever made, it is certainly among the most intricately constructed. Renowned mostly for Jack Nicholson’s cartoonish outbursts and for its often traumatizing imagery, the film is yet another of Kubrick’s analyses of the effects of a system on the mind and humanity of the individual. In The Shining, the system is an architectural one, and the individual a weak and pliant figure, emasculated by his failures as a husband, father, and writer.
This pervasive deliberation and sense of control in the film’s narration and acting is the aspect of Kubrick’s style that many viewers find hardest to tolerate. The maddeningly rigorous adherence to shot-reverse shot editing of dialogue, the dispassionate performances, and the unconcealed exposition in the early part of the film (the maze, the Indian burial ground) make the film appear to be one large deus ex machina. As Jack Torrance says to his wife, “It was as if I knew what was around every corner.” (He then imitates spooky horror-movie music.)
In fact, these characteristic Kubrick elements would seem to better suit horror than another genre. Horror film audiences are accustomed to thinking of film characters as idiots who brashly ignore countless warnings of impending doom. And while the characters of this film are not arrogant teens entering an old haunted house, there is an air of determinism that structures the film and makes its truly macabre tableaux—creepy twins, elderly full frontal, oceans of blood, Nicholson’s eyebrows—that much more shocking.


Roger Ebert for The Chicago Sun-Times:

Stanley Kubrick’s cold and frightening “The Shining” challenges us to decide: Who is the reliable observer? Whose idea of events can we trust? In the opening scene at a job interview, the characters seem reliable enough, although the dialogue has a formality that echoes the small talk on the space station in “2001.”
The movie is not about ghosts but about madness and the energies it sets loose in an isolated situation primed to magnify them. Jack is an alcoholic and child abuser who has reportedly not had a drink for five months but is anything but a “recovering alcoholic.” When he imagines he drinks with the imaginary bartender, he is as drunk as if he were really drinking, and the imaginary booze triggers all his alcoholic demons, including an erotic vision that turns into a nightmare. We believe Hallorann when he senses Danny has psychic powers, but it’s clear Danny is not their master; as he picks up his father’s madness and the story of the murdered girls, he conflates it into his fears of another attack by Jack. Wendy, who is terrified by her enraged husband, perhaps also receives versions of this psychic output. They all lose reality together. Yes, there are events we believe: Jack’s manuscript, Jack locked in the food storage room, Jack escaping, and the famous “Here’s Johnny!” as he hatchets his way through the door. But there is no way, within the film, to be sure with any confidence exactly what happens, or precisely how, or really why.


The one observer who seems trustworthy at all times is Dick Hallorann, but his usefulness ends soon after his midwinter return to the hotel. That leaves us with a closed-room mystery: In a snowbound hotel, three people descend into versions of madness or psychic terror, and we cannot depend on any of them for an objective view of what happens. It is this elusive open-endedness that makes Kubrick’s film so strangely disturbing.


Richard Jameson asks “Has there ever been a more perverse feature film than The Shining in general release?”, also for Film Comment (July/August 1980):

Now it can be told: The Shining is a horror movie only in the sense that all Kubrick’s mature work has been horror movies-films that constitute a Swiftian vision of inscrutable cosmic order, and of “the most pernicious race of little vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.” The Stephen King origins and hauntedhouse conventions notwithstanding, the director is so little interested in the genre for its own sake that he hasn’t even systematically subverted it so much as displaced it with a genre all his own. The Shining is “A Stanley Kubrick Film,” and as such it makes impeccable-if also horrific-sense.

Both director and star have been widely criticized for showcasing a mugging, transparently implausible geek performance. Transparent is the operative word. The devastating subtlety of Nicholson’s Torrance lies in its obviousness. We watch Jack Nicholson – and we will watch Jack Nicholson, note every raised eyebrow, every mongrel twitch of limh) – from the fatuous, blatantly phony man-of-the-worldliness and patronizing deference in the opening interview scene (Barry Nelson-a Kubrick casting coup)-as the Overlook manager), through the smarmy tolerance of Wendy’s naïveté, to the raging, aggressively self-defensive rationalizations of his contractual eminence in the Overlook establishment. Scarcely a reviewer has failed to sneer that Nicholson has regressed to playing AIP mad scenes-but that’s it, that’s what works: Nicholson the Roger Gorman flake become Nicholson the easy-riding superstar, Bad-Ass Buddusky, J.J. Gittes, R. P. McMurphy, super-hip, so sardonically self-aware that he cuts through the garden variety of cynical Hollywood corruption like a laser, and lays back bored.

Jack Nicholson plays Jack Nicholson playing Jack Torrance playing Jack Torrance as King of the Mountain. Everything Jack Torrance says in the extremity of his derangement is pixillated in the viciousness of its banality (“Heeeeeere’s Johnny!”); his loathsome bum jokes are gauntlets of contempt flung in the face of his significant others, his family, his audience-and they are loathsome most of all because they rebound on him, because he tells them badly as he played the furtive madman badly. But not Jack Nicholson. Nicholson plays the badman badly brilliantly. And Kubrick, the king of his own cinematic mountain, the lone, hush-hush contriver of Skinner boxes for the contemplation of his fellow creatures, or his idea of them? Kubrick flings the stingingest gauntlet of them all. He makes a horror movie that isn’t a horror movie, that the audience has to get into and finish for him.

The Maze: shivers of goose-pimplish expectation from the audience. But no: the Maze is quite benign. Indeed, Danny Torrance knows it like his own hand. Danny the Kubrick Child gets free of bathrooms, slides magically down a personal snow-hill, leads the Daddy Monster a merry chase through that Maze. And the Maze, hole after hole opening before us as the Steadycam rushes down tunnel after tunnel, is not a trap but an escape hatch. Child’s play: Danny backs up in his own footsteps in the snow, nobody else’s; but Stanley Kubrick will not permit the viewer to share in the reversing of relentless tracks.We stay behind with the monster of banality. We track into the frozen moment of time in a film where time, finally, is as abstract and terrible as space. Once a Kubrick monster threw a bone in the air and became man; now the man regresses to monster, grunting, incapable finally of even pronouncing its own bad jokes. Illumination is poisonous: we cannot learn: “we have always been here.” The hole-the photograph that the last track penetrates-is the screen. The face grinning imbecilically out at us is our own.


– Compiled by Brynn White

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