Friday, October 29, 2010

Sound, Redrum, and Isolation: The Genius of The Shining

The Shining: 1980, directed by Stanley Kubrick.

"A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where an evil spiritual presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from the past and of the future."

I love Stanley. I love the longness of his films, the creepy oranges, distinctive lights, how everyone faces some internal struggle, all of it. This film, horrifying as it is, is one of my favorites, ever. Disclaimer: I can't talk about King on this one, the book and film are just horses of different colors in my mind (and ne'er the twain shall meet, right?)

Normally if a film is good, I try to break it up and talk about narrative, technical elements, and theme. In this film they are all one and the same, really. The narrative is spiced with fear and evil, accentuated by isolation. (The Overlook Hotel is evil and makes Jack crazy. Jack is a writer who can't write. Wendy and Danny can't get out). The filmmaking exemplifies fear by drawing out scenes slowly and sneaking up from far away, using color, sound, and motion (The Overlook is shown many times to be a vast, grand structure. Characters are constantly going down halls, coming upon different surprises, most of them unpleasant. Oranges, yellows, and golds vibrate with danger. The simmering teakettle instrumental music mirrors Jack's own boiling point, the glissandos up and down the scales by strings echo Jack's psychological ups and downs. The steadi-cam behind Danny's big wheel shows not only the difference in size between Danny and the hotel, but suggests corners, twists, and dead ends like the hedge maze outside). I'm sure you all know what a steadi-cam is, but in case you don't: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steadicam 

They can't get out.

This film is what it is because they're isolated. If they were at some Howard Johnson somewhere, they'd just have to bust out and pound on a neighbor's door, but they are stuck inside the Overlook Hotel with no one but themselves and the ghosts (The Grady Daughters, The Woman in the Bathtub, Lloyd, Mr. Grady, Various Partying Guests, The Two Masked Men Engaged in (implied) Fellatio, etc.). That's scary.

The sounds: Danny's big wheel alternating between solid floor and carpet. Jack's tennis ball thumping against the walls and floors. The sound of the typewriter. Later, the axe slicing into wood. In the hotel, these things all take on ominous properties; they were done really, really well. Original music was composed by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind. Bravo, gals, really.

Another thing the film does exceptionally well is foreshadowing. With a troubling story like this (Dads killing kids, etc.) you almost need to drop hints, or at least prepare the audience a little. From the very beginning, it's clear that there is one way this is going to end: BADLY. All the pieces are there.
1. Mr. Ulman explains to Jack the murderous story of Charles Grady; Jack seems absolutely thrilled (!)
2. Tony (Danny's imaginary friend) doesn't want to go to the hotel but won't say why. Shows Danny image of blood flooding from elevator.
3. There is a history of abuse (Jack injured Danny's arm while drunk).
4. The mention of The Donner Party as the family drives to the hotel (cannibalism)
5. Through his conversation with Dick Halloran, Danny discovers there is something bad at the hotel, specifically room 237.
6. As Wendy fixes lunch one day, a news program alludes to a "missing Aspen woman" who had been missing ten days after a hunting trip with her husband. Did he shoot her or what?
7. Danny tiptoes to his room to get his fire engine and apparently gets a disturbing look inside his father's mind, prompting him to say, "You'd never hurt mom or me, right?"
8. The blizzard. The phone lines down. The fact that no one else can get to them.

Poor Danny. Not only did he have to get his neck all mangled by the old gal in 237, but through his shining, he had a front row seat to Jack's Bathtub Lady experience, his mother's getting trapped in the bathroom during the whole "Here's Johnny" segment, Dick Halloran's unfortunate collision with the axe, and then the chase through the hedge maze. Enough, already! I'd say he probably needed some temporary relaxation in the rest home like Eddie Van Halen (Hot for Teacher) when it was all over.


If you ever get the chance to watch the extras on this disk, do it. There is a documentary included, shot by Vivian Kubrick, and it's amazing. And while I thought Shelley Duval was perfect in the role of Wendy Torrence, the little documentary shows an entirely different side to what was going on during the filming and gives you an idea of what working with actors is really like . . . it's funny.


So, there you have it, this is my scariest film, ever. I saw it when I was seven; I'll never forget the sound of the woman's laughter when Jack sees her in the mirror. . . I don't think anything will ever scare me as much as this did (and does). But it's nice to be cinematically moved at the same time, don't you think?

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