THE SHINING (1980 UK/USA)

28FCA14400000578-3093033-image-m-70_1432739012325Stanley Kubrick’s cinema is, usually, a sight to behold. The cold detachment his films are famous for works really well for this particular story. Who needs much fancy dialogue anyway? We get the adventurous camera that prowls through the lavish corridors of the Overlook Hotel like it is some kind of mystic labyrinth rife for exploration.

What is most interesting is that this film has gone from bad to good. When it first came out, the reviews were not so positive, and there were even a few ‘turkey’ verdicts. Today, this is not only considered a top horror film but one of the top 100 films of any genre… what a turnaround. Then we have King’s disappointment, and I think he raises serious concerns: he did not like the casting of Jack Nicholson, and he did not think Kubrick made the film as horror-focused as it could have been. On the first point, it is true that the lead character should have had a greater transition from normal to mad. As for the Kubrick criticism, it is true… he bent over backwards to make an artsy, stylish film, but is it a horror film? Yes, its a great horror film. Most of the horror is provided by the soundtrack.

It has to be the most terrifying arrangement of music ever put in a film.  Yet (besides the electronic music composed by Wendy Carlos based on Berlioz’s Dies Irae) none of it was ever written for the cinema.  Used in the film are works by Bartok, Penderecki and Ligeti.  These composers are more what one would define as modern (some of Ligeti’s music was already used in 2001).  To that end they serve the frantic, mostly psychological horror of the plot.  What I’ve found after listening to this music is that it seems a majority of horror movies afterwards have emulated this music.  From the most mediocre to the higher end productions imitate the style of music used in The Shining.  The shrieking strings and discordant bellows of Krzyzstof Penderecki and Gyorgy Ligeti’s music are now very common sounds in film.

IlluminatiWatcherDotCom-The-Shining-30The Hotel was an impressive piece of architecture and staging. The furnishings and furniture was all period (late 70’s – early 80’s), and the filmography of the landscape approaching the hotel in the opening scene is brilliant. It not only lets you enjoy the approach to the Overlook, it also fixes in your mind how deserted and isolated the Hotel is from the rest of the world. Pity about the overhead shadow from the helicopter though. Eagle eyed viewers may suspend their disbelief! Moving on….

Instead of clichéd old haunted house themes like dark corners, basements and cobwebs, Kubrick brings things right up-to-date with brightly lit corridors, massive open expansive spaces plus a modern decor (just check out that red toilet!). The maze was a magnificent touch, reminiscent of the Labyrinth in which the Minotaur of Crete was Guardian. When Jack Nicholson stands at the scaled model of the maze and stares into the center, seeing Wendy and Danny entering, it’s a magical moment. One that tells you right away there are heavy energies in that building; there’s something seriously wrong, already starting.

Certain images stand out in this.The first shot of Jack’s typewriter, ominously accompanied by the off-screen thumps of a ball, drums of doom that seem to emanate from the very walls or the typewriter itself, an instrument of doom in itself as is later shown. A red river flowing through the hotel’s elevators in a poetry of slow motion. Jack hitting the door with the axe, the camera moving along with him, tracking the action as it happens, as though it’s the camera piercing through the door and not the axe. The ultra fast zoom into the boy’s face, violently thrusting us inside his head before we see the two dead girls from his point of view. And of course, the disgusting bathroom sequence.

The Shining is at once bold and innovative, yet also nostalgic and old-fashioned. In a way this mimics the story’s theme of history repeating itself and the overlapping of past and present events – a typically Kubrick-like mixing of style and content.This film makes me feel like going through that maze in the cold, and being lost. But to be fair, had the plot been more clear-cut and had definitive answers, it wouldn’t have the same effect as it does now. The whole film makes me feel like I’m descending into madness.

Much has been said of Jack Nicholson’s overacting. His madness is not entirely successful, because, well, he’s Jack Nicholson. The guy looks half-mad anyway, an exaggerated caricature of himself. Shelley Duvall on the other hand is one of the most inspired casting choices Kubrick ever made. She brings to her character the right amounts of swanlike fragility and emotional distress. A delicate, detached thing thrown into a mud pond of lunacy.

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