Movie #96: The Shining

Manly Footwear: This is the first of several movies on the list that I have seen so many times, and is such a part of the motion picture ecosystem, I worried I would not be able to see it clearly. And I was right, it is all but impossible to separate all the other times I’ve seen the rivers of blood gush out from the elevators from this viewing, or to muffle the echoes of every line of dialog before they are spoken. So, I paid attention to the way shots were framed, pacing, editing, the better to appreciate The Shining as a work of art.

And, as a work of film-making art, I noticed how much of the film looks like a series of paintings in a gallery: static, rectangular shots of large, beautiful spaces with one or two figures doing something small. Even the tracking shots of the boy on his tricycle have a graceful, old master kind of feel to them. Had I thought of it, I would have done better to watch The Shining with the sound down, and just look at all the beautiful, creepy stuff going on in every scene, because the story, and much of the dialog, is vague, or just plain dull. Danny, the little boy, is supposed to be some kind of psychic wunderkind, but every scene he is in is inadequate to the rest of the performances, a fact the weirdly incomprehensible plot does nothing to help. Of course Nicholson’s performance is fascinating, and Duvall is just batty enough to be compelling, and within the context of the endlessly gorgeous cinematography, it almost works, if more as a kind of tone poem than as a gripping yarn. The climax, with the ax and all those trademark lines etched in our collective consciousness, comes quick and is over just as fast, adding to the overall sensation that plot is not really what Kubrick cared about, which seems a strange choice for a horror movie, and certainly for a movie based on a Stephen King story, who is a plot-driven author for sure.

So, I don’t know that I will ever watch this one again, and certainly not if I had a choice, but it is more full of curious choices than I had noticed on previous viewings. Maybe I will watch with the sound down, or with a soundtrack of Sun O))))) and Fever Ray playing over the top. Ask me again around Halloween.

Comfortina Footwear: The opening panoramic scene of a car driving up winding roads into the middle of nowhere foreshadows the course the characters are to follow in the film to come.

Jack’s driving the car and ends up at a job interview at a posh resort. He’s been recommended to be the winter caretaker to keep the pipes from freezing at the resort during the winter when the roads are impassable. His sometimes glib and other times tight wound responses to the interview questions make you wonder just what his motivation and back-story are.
You get some of that from the scenes with Wendy and Danny. Danny’s got an imaginary friend (Tony) who talks through Danny’s finger. Wendy gets a call from Jack telling her he got the job and she talks to Danny and Tony about it.

Tony doesn’t want to go the hotel and Danny begs him to explain why. Tony sends him a vision which makes him catatonic and the doctor has to be called. During the doctor’s visit, it comes out that Jack has a history of alcohol abuse which led to him injuring Danny and subsequently the first appearance of Tony.

This is still one of the best horror films I’ve seen. It builds little tics and stutters into scenes that get layered and exposed in all different ways throughout the film. The monotony of the snowbound days in an isolated hotel are accentuated by scenes of Danny riding his big wheel through the halls in the same path over and over again and by Jack bouncing a rubber ball against the walls and the ceiling of the great room where he goes to write.

Writer’s block, guilt, and isolation combine to fill Jack with anger that seems to open a door to the forces at work in the hotel that Tony has been warning Danny about.  Danny’s also been warned about the hotel by the cook who showed him around on the first day and recognized him as a fellow telepath. He forms a link with Danny that proves critical to the outcome of the film.

The physical changes in Jack’s character mirror the mental changes he’s going through and are most evident in the ever widening grin he sports at the drop of the hat. His co-opting of the phrase: “Heeeere’s Johnny!” has now permanently made it into something scary as hell.

Vinnie From Queens: Manly nails the enduring value of this movie, which is that it simply looks great.

That said this movie is underrated as family entertainment. It is a classic family drama. Dad is a pathological child-abuser with a drinking problem, connected spiritually to a timeless evil that haunts a mountain castle built on an old Indian burial ground. Mom is a cartoonish, gangly, dense, hysterical mess, who is somehow surprisingly difficult to kill. And Danny is a kid with a great sweater and a personality that qualifies as neither extroverted (he appears to have no human friends) nor introverted (he appears to have no interests). I mean, let the games begin, right?

Scatman Crothers is on the receiving end of what might be the first great jump-scare in movie history. It’s a beauty. He is also at the center of the worst scene of the movie. We know he has a psychic connection to Danny. We know he senses the evil of the house. We know he knows bad things are going to happen. We know he literally hears alarms lying in bed in Miami. Then he’s on an airplane in a first class seat (meaning, last-minute ticket purchase). Do we really need this line: ‘Pardon me, miss. What time will we get to Denver?’ 

I mean, this is a movie where we are expected to figure out that the Overlook is the container of countless tormented souls, trapped into committing the same unspeakable acts in an eternal and cyclical flow of time in which real people sometimes step into that stream and never re-emerging, because, as the photo shows and the creepy waiter says, they were always there all along.

We are expected to figure that out. But the film-makers feel the need for this clunky exposition so we don’t get confused about where Scatman Crothers is going?