Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Shining

(1980) *****

It occurred to  me as I watched The Shining this time that I may have only seen the whole film, like once, 20 years ago or more. Weird.
And while the iconic images and scenes that we all have seen many times are still fantastic, I'd really forgotten what makes it such a special movie. It's not really the Nicholson performance for me, or the blood and ghosts. I mean, they're great and scary and all, but I'd forgotten two things: what a BEAUTIFUL movie it is, and how the musical score essentially dominates the action. Really, between the cinematography and the score, I think Danny just talking to his finger for 2 hours would have scared the shit out of me.

But when you combine those two formal elements with the relentless, totally relentless, terror of the final full hour of the movie, there's just little time to breath. I was watching this late night by myself in a dark basement, the DVD projected onto a huge pull down screen, with 6.1 sound cranked up, and I have to admit, I was creeped the fuck out. I kept looking over my shoulder towards the hot water heater room, thinking that some asshole with an axe was going to show perfect timing.

So what is it that makes the movie so gorgeous? Well, it starts with the credits and the helicopter following shot of Jack driving up that mountain road. The Rockies are huge and menacing, and the shot establishes the complete islolation of the hotel. Of course, those shots also hit on my adult onset fear of heights--I was thinking I'd never drive up those roads with the sheer cliff to one side. But then even more than the sweeping exteriors, it's really the highly stylized camerawork inside the hotel that almost becomes the more interesting character in the movie. I'm guessing Kubrick had just gotten his hands on one of these new mobile steadicams, because he uses it in seemingly every shot, and totally nails it. Following Danny on his bigwheel, Jack dragging his injured ankle and axe through the snowy maze, and then even just in the early stuff establishing the size and maze-like layout of the building. We're constantly being swept through doorways, around corners.

And then those angles. In both the sweeping movement shots and seemingly every static shot, even closeups and medium shots, Kubrick plays with perspective and angles to brilliant effect. Wendy's face peering over the edge of the typewriter, for instance. Or the camera down at Danny's floor level, looking up at Room 237 (why the fuck did he choose that hallway to play matchbox cars, btw?). Or, my favorite, when Kubrick lies on his back inside the walk-in, shooting up at Jack's face while he leans against the door, pleading with Wendy to let him out. But back to those angles and clear lines in all the large room shots--it occurred to me on this viewing what a central metaphor the maze really becomes for the whole movie. And I'd totally forgotten about that one surrealist shot when Jack looks down over the maze and we zoom in to see Danny and Wendy strolling down the central lane.

Btw, I watched the "Making Of" documentary on the dvd, and it's pretty fantastic. It's not really a making of, though. It's just Kubricks 17 year old daughter Vivian following Nicholson around with a super 8 camera, spliced in with a few brief interviews and clips from the movie. It's fascinating to see Kubrick put together some of the shots though, and it's funny to get to know Shelly Duvall a bit. She comes across as somewhat of a pain in the ass--Kubrick seems to barely be tolerating her at times; at one point just after she admits she was often jealous of all the attention Jack got on set, Vivian cuts to a scene where Duvall is basically passing out in the corner in dramatic fashion--all the PAs and assistant directors and folks are fluttering about trying to get her comfortable. It's a classic diva move, and it's hysterical. Nicholson comes off just as you'd except him to.

Anyway, so glad I finally rewatched this again. No idea why I waited so long--if it's been a while for any of you, remedy that.


Octopunk said...

What an excellent review! It's been really cool that you've been so present this year.

And I'm so glad you gave the movie the proper framework to scare the bejeebers out of you.

Catfreeek said...

Yes! I love this film and it remains scary no matter how many times I've seen it. I love the setting you watched it in, basements are scary as it is but add The Shining and yikes!

DCD said...

Awesome review! I read the imdb page on this movie as a sidebar to a Cracked article about crazy directors. Apparently, Kubrik created a completely antagonistic environment for Shelley Duvall. The imdb page has a ton of information that I found fascinating.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

Ditto what Octo said! I'm glad you took this one on. I called a moratorium on The Shining a little over a decade ago after watching it one too many times but your review made me want to whip it out! (It also made me want to watch the movie again.)

50PageMcGee said...

i think i gotta go with this as the definitive Horrorthon review of this movie. this is a hard one to review just because it's so colossally successful as a scary movie. it's one i think a lot of us dodge reviewing because we're worried we won't live up to it (i, of course, basically mailed in my own review of it).

nice job, sir.

Tami said...

Fantastic review! I first saw The Shining alone in college in the apartment complex where Patty Hearst was kidnapped and got so scared I didn't watch scary movies alone until a year or so ago for Horrorthon. Basement viewing sounds extra terrifying.