- The horror, the horror
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
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
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