Film director Stanley Kubrick was not into power lunches. He didn’t use focus groups for ideas, nor did he chase box office bucks with mindless pandering.
Reclusive, eccentric, and removed from the Hollywood ethos, Kubrick was a visionary whose work is fresh today because it was created with complete artistic authenticity.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of his landmark production, The Shining.
Panned initially by the critics and ignored at the Academy Awards, the film is now recognized as a bona fide gothic classic.
The Shining is no Nightmare on Elm Street. Its themes are subtle and elusive — not one gimmicky jump scare after another.
Kubrick, in his usual, meticulous fashion, explores the timelessness of evil: the Torrance family’s descent into madness is an enigmatic journey marked by hallucinations, telepathy, and unreliable recollections.
Nothing can be taken at face value when all three lead characters have experiences which may be apocryphal.
Kubrick, when asked to explain some element in his films, was fond of quoting H. P. Lovecraft: “In all things that are mysterious — never explain.” That could be The Shining‘s epitaph.
Although the film was released in May, 1980, the technological foundation was established in 1974 when Cinema Products Corporation sent Kubrick a reel of film shot by a new camera device.
Invented by Garrett Brown, the device produced a smooth, bump-free image, even when it tracked over irregular surfaces. Kubrick fell head over heels for what was ultimately named the Steadicam — it was used extensively in Shining, always operated by Brown himself. The Steadicam’s long, continuous shots made a serious contribution to the ominous mood in the film.
It was about that time Kubrick read Stephen King’s chilling novel. “I thought it was one of the most ingenious and exciting stories of the genre I had read,” Kubrick declared to author Michel Ciment. “It seemed to strike an extraordinary balance between the psychological and the supernatural in such a way as to lead you to think that the supernatural would eventually be explained by the psychological…this allowed you to suspend your doubt of the supernatural until you were so thoroughly into the story that you could accept it without noticing.”
Armed with a shooting script Kubrick had written with Diane Johnson, Shining‘s filming schedule ran from May 1978 until April 1979. Incidentally, “shooting script” is a misnomer with Kubrick: he re-wrote incessantly, even up to the moment scenes were shot. And, on this film, he encouraged Jack Nicholson to improvise — the infamous line, “Here’s Johnny,” was Nicholson’s brilliant ad lib.
Except for exteriors filmed in Glacier National Park in Montana and Timberline Lodge in Oregon, the world of The Shining was laboriously created at the EMI- Elstree Studios in England.
“Laboriously” is the correct description: Kubrick was obsessed with accuracy even down to props. For example, products in the pantry of the Overlook Hotel could be found on Colorado supermarket shelves; the pivotal restroom scene in shockingly bright red colors was an exact re-creation of a restroom in a Frank Lloyd Wright hotel in the United States; and the radio voices describing the Colorado blizzard were those of Hal Moore and Charlie Martin, long-time popular broadcasters on KHOW Denver.
The director employed the same rigorous standards on the performers: Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Anne Jackson and Scatman Crothers slogged through repeated takes on the simplest of scenes. At times, those takes numbered over 100.
Kubrick encouraged Nicholson to push his performance to the edge, saying, “it’s real, but it isn’t interesting.”
This perfectionism extended to the post-release period. After the premier showings, the director deleted a two-minute epilogue that he deemed unnecessary.
The final cut of The Shining differs greatly from the King novel. “To be honest, the end of the book seemed a bit hackneyed,” Kubrick asserted. “I wanted an ending which the audience could not anticipate.”
The final shot in the film was certainly beyond expectation. (For any reader who has not seen the movie, there will be no spoiler here.)
King was not impressed by the movie. He said, “It looks terrific…it’s like a big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside…I didn’t care for it much.”
The last four decades have been kind to The Shining. It has been treated to favorable critical re-appraisal and the American Film Institute ranks it 29th on its thriller list.
Stanley Kubrick: “If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed.”