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The Shining

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  • Noel Vera
    The horror, the horror Noel Vera Saw The Shining on DVD--remastered and restored, it says, but as far as I can see not letterboxed (apparently what Kubrick
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 7, 2005
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      The horror, the horror

      Noel Vera

      Saw "The Shining" on DVD--remastered and restored, it says, but as
      far as I can see not letterboxed (apparently what Kubrick intended).

      The only extra is a "making of" documentary by Stanley's daughter
      Vivian--which is interesting, because it tells us more about Vivian
      and Shelley Duvall than it does about the film itself. Like that
      Vivian probably had a huge crush on Nicholson, and that she just
      might have a slyer sense of humor than her father (when Duvall falls
      sick and has to be laid down on the studio floor, covered with
      blankets and fussed over by the studio staff, one of the women
      says 'it's a good thing you got that out"--the middle of which
      remark Vivian cuts to a shot of Nicholson unzipping his pants and
      pulling a Walkman out of the crotch).

      Interesting to learn that most of the snow was salt, that studio
      people kept getting lost in the downsized set they built of the
      maze, that Margaret Adams (Kubrick's secretary) was the woman who
      typed all those variations of "All work and no play makes Jack a
      dull boy" (Nineteen pages worth (I counted); plus the spelling on
      the first page was interestingly awry--at one point, "boy" was "bot"
      (abbreviation of "robot?"), then "bog" (reference to "A Clockwork
      Orange?")), and that Nicholson trained as a reserve fireman, so that
      all that axe swinging onscreen is as real (and swiftly destructive)
      as can be (they used mockup doors at first, but he went through them
      so fast they had to build new ones out of solid wood).

      And Duvall--wow. Offscreen she and Nicholson barely looked at each
      other, much less acknowledged each other's existence. Nicholson's
      legendary for his hyperlibido, so you wonder how insulting it must
      be to a woman's femininity if this incurable lech won't even look at
      her (personally, I think Duvall's beauty was too unconventional for
      Nicholson's tastes). She's had a failed relationship, she's been
      forced to live in England away from her home, she even has to wear
      the same set of clothes for a year--that would be trying under the
      best of circumstances; add the fact that Kubrick doesn't seem to
      give a shit about her, and is riding on her all the time, and it
      must have been a hell of an experience.

      Most painful aspect of the whole thing is how she sums it all up--
      she's so cowed by Kubrick's rep as a genius she can't admit he was
      mistreating her; she claims she's learned more from the film and its
      director than from any other she's worked on (more than
      from "Thieves Like Us?").

      As for the film itself--I've always found it odd, the film's editing
      in two scenes: when Duvall finds their child half-strangled, and
      when she tells Nicholson that they should take the child and leave
      the hotel.

      In the first instance, we have a medium shot of the boy. Duvall
      approaches him, realizes in horror what has happened (even on video
      the bruise marks on the neck are clear), and hugs the child tight.

      Any other filmmaker would cut to a closeup of her face, as suspicion
      dawns who might have caused the bruises; instead, Kubrick cuts to a
      shot of Nicholson staring at the camera (presumably at Duvall and
      child), then to a reverse shot behind Nicholson that shows Duvall
      and child in long shot, Duvall accusing him of strangling their son
      (as she yells at him, Kubrick inserts a shot of Nicholson with right
      hand raised, shaking his head in shocked denial).

      These series of shots and cuts seem to suggest that Nicholson is
      seeing one of the hotel's many "presentations" if you will, a vision
      of his wife making the worse accusation she can probably make (that
      he's fallen off the wagon and again hurt their child).

      In the second instance, Duvall and Nicholson are in medium shot,
      talking; Duvall makes the proposal that they leave. There's a moment
      where Nicholson's face registers surprise, but before that surprise
      turns into anger, Kubrick cuts to the child, screaming silently,
      with inserts of furniture swimming in a deluge of blood (the first
      we hear of Nicholson's angry reply is a voiceover while furniture
      bumps around in the blood).

      Again, the change of emotions in the face that you would see in a
      more conventional film is passed over, and the original impression I
      got--which I suspect more and more is the one Kubrick intended--is
      that here again, the hotel is giving us a vision, but this time it's
      Duvall who's watching.

      Interesting to note that in these two scenes, the plot takes crucial
      turns: she learns of her husband's irrational need to fulfill his
      duty as caretaker of the hotel; he in the earlier scene learns of
      his wife's irrational belief that he is the cause of their son's
      injury.

      I do see a difference between Nicholson's and Duvall's visions--
      Kubrick gives Nicholson a few reaction shots of shock and disbelief,
      so that we tend to identify more with his dismay (even in the
      editing choices he seems to favor Nicholson).

      The hotel's later visions are less effective, I'd say (except maybe
      for the nude woman in the bathtub--but that one feels more ineptly
      cut and shot than odd), which matters less than you may think;
      Nicholson is monster enough even without them. What does sustain
      interest in the later part, when family tensions recede and less
      interesting "horror" elements come to fore--is that the characters
      act with some amount of intelligence; they don't just scream and
      throw up their hands.

      In fact, the way the ax scene plays out reminds me of the endgame in
      a chess match (one of Kubrick's favorite form of recreation)--
      Nicholson has ax; Duvall retreats into corner; as Nicholson
      approaches, Duvall slips their son out the window; Nicholson checks
      Duvall (breaks down door). Mate--except a new player appears on the
      board (Scatman Crothers, in what may be the most pointless
      continental crossing ever attempted on film--though he did provide
      Duvall and child with a getaway Snowcat), and Nicholson has to pause
      to deal with him.

      It's a strange horror film, perhaps even a great one--but I know of
      another that was heavily influenced by this, and, in my opinion, is
      far better--Mike de Leon's "Kisapmata" (Blink of an Eye, 1981). As
      in "The Shining", there's a father, mother, and child, cooped up in
      a house; as in "The Shining", father isn't exactly sane (that, plus
      there's an explicit homage to Kubrick's picture in one scene).

      What makes me prefer De Leon's film (aside from the obvious one that
      De Leon made his film at a fraction of "The Shining"'s catering
      budget) is that he doesn't have to resort to supernatural means to
      frighten his audience--the film is totally grounded in reality.
      Also, De Leon's film is properly worked out, with a satisfying (and
      increasingly tense) dramatic arc (the supernatural aspect in
      Kubrick's is rather confusing, and tension tends to peter out as the
      ghosts grow more visible towards the end). And De Leon's film is so
      unsettlingly personal--aside from the original Nick Joaquin story
      it's ostensibly based on, De Leon reportedly draws characters and
      situations from his own life.

      Nicholson has strong scenes--my favorite being the confrontation
      with Duvall over the baseball bat--but in other scenes, particularly
      his first conversation with the bartender (Joe Turkel)--he seems to
      be in full shit-eating mode, more mugging and macho defensiveness
      than any convincing admission of past guilt (arguably, that's what
      he's avoiding--but I think it's possible to suggest the pain of what
      he's avoiding the same time he's denying it). Vic Silayan's
      performance in "Kisapmata", on the other hand, is subtler--garrulous
      and outgoing on the outset when he's in charge, slowly growing more
      and more quiet (and, by implication, more and more dangerous) as
      things slip beyond his control. His massive bulk looms over the
      film, much in the way the director's consciousness does, a
      malevolent presence that broods over its family members like so many
      chess pieces.

      1/8/05
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