The Shining

the shining

The Shining is a 1980 psychological horror film directed by Stanley Kubrick, co-written with novelist Diane Johnson, and starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. The film is based on the novel of the same name, by Stephen King, about a writer with a wife and young son who accepts the job of an off-season caretaker at an isolated hotel.

The son, who possesses psychic abilities, is able to see things in the future and past, such as the ghosts in the hotel. Soon after moving in, and after a paralyzing winter storm that leaves the family snowed in, the father becomes influenced by the supernatural presence in the haunted hotel; he descends into madness and attempts to murder his wife and son.

The entire film was shot on soundstages in Britain. The set for the Overlook Hotel was then the largest ever built. It included a full re-creation of the exterior of the hotel, as well as the interiors. A few exterior shots by a second unit crew were done at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon. They are noticeable because the hedge maze is missing. Some of the interiors are based on those of the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park. The Timberline Lodge requested Kubrick change the sinister Room 217 of King’s novel to 237, so customers would not avoid the real room 217.

The door that Jack breaks down with the axe near the end of the film was a real door. Kubrick originally used a fake door, made of a weaker wood, but Jack Nicholson tore it down too quickly. Jack’s line, ‘Heeeere’s Johnny!,’ is taken from the famous introduction for The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, as spoken by Ed McMahon. The line was improvised by Nicholson. Kubrick, who had lived in England for some time, was unaware of the significance of the line, and nearly used a different take.

Stanley Kubrick allowed his then 17-year-old daughter, Vivian, to make a documentary about the production of ‘The Shining,’ which offers rare insight into the shooting process of a Kubrick film.

For international versions of the film, Kubrick shot different takes of Wendy reading the typewriter pages in different languages. For each language, a suitable idiom was used: German (‘Was du heute kannst besorgen, das verschiebe nicht auf morgen’—’Never put off till tomorrow what may be done today’), Italian (‘Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca’ – ‘The morning has gold in its mouth’), French (‘Un Tiens vaut mieux que deux Tu l’auras’ – ‘One ‘Here you go’ is worth more than two ‘You’ll have it’s,’ the equivalent of ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’), Spanish (‘No por mucho madrugar amanece más temprano’ – ‘No matter how early you get up, you can’t make the sun rise any sooner’).

This film was the third major movie to use the then-revolutionary Steadicam (after ‘Bound for Glory,’ and ‘Rocky’), allowing smooth tracking shots while the operator is moving over an uneven surface. In addition to tracking shots from behind, the Steadicam enabled shooting in constricted rooms without flying out walls, or backing the camera into doors. ‘One of the most talked-about shots in the picture is the eerie tracking sequence which follows Danny as he pedals at high speed through corridor after corridor on his plastic ‘Big Wheel.’ We needed to have the lens just a few inches from the floor and to travel rapidly just behind or ahead of the bike.’

Overall, ‘The Shining’ was a long and arduous production. Principal photography alone took over a year to complete, due to Kubrick’s highly methodical nature. Actress Shelley Duvall did not get along well with Kubrick and they frequently had arguments on set about lines in the script, her acting techniques and numerous other things. Duvall eventually became so overwhelmed by the stress of her role that she became physically ill for months. At one point she was under so much stress that her hair began to fall out.

The film features a brief electronic score by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind, including one major theme in addition to a main title based on Hector Berlioz’ interpretation of the ‘Dies Irae,’ used in his ‘Symphonie Fantastique,’ as well as pieces of modernist music.

The stylistically modernist art-music chosen by Kubrick is similar to the repertoire he first explored in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’ Although the repertoire was selected by Kubrick, the process of matching passages of music to motion picture was left almost entirely at the discretion of music editor Gordon Stainforth, whose work on this film is notable for the attention to fine details and remarkably precise synchronization without excessive splicing.

King viewed the casting of Nicholson as a mistake and as being too early a tip-off to the audience that the character Jack would eventually go mad (due to Nicholson’s identification with the character of McMurphy in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’). King had suggested that a more ‘everyman’ -like actor such as Jon Voight play the role, so that Jack’s subsequent descent into madness be more unnerving.


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