Monday, September 20, 2010

No sir, YOU are the caretaker. You've always been the caretaker. I ought to know: I've always been here.

No 52 – The Shining
Director – Stanley Kubrick

It is hard to describe quite what it is that makes The Shining such a visually incredible film. As the film begins we’re greeted by breathtaking vistas as a camera flies over Jack Torrence’s car, driving down narrow winding roads. It isn’t the first time I’ve seen this film, and it certainly isn’t the first time I’ve seen helicopter shots over vast landscapes, but yet… it is still wonderful to look at and it still takes my breath away.

The single take tracking shots continue throughout the film, usually following Danny on his tricycle as he makes his way through the Overlook hotel. However, where the initial helicopter shots show vast isolated landscapes, the shots in the hotel feel cramped and claustrophobic.
This is Kubrick’s great skill – although congratulations also have to go to – he creates scenes in vast open hallways and they become just as tense and claustrophobic as the scenes in the narrow corridors of the hotel or the hedge-lined pathways of the LARGEST MAZE EVER.

This is a film which brilliantly plays with the idea of slowly growing mad. It doesn’t feel like a western horror because there are no real cheap scares. Its all about the slow build of tension.
The famous ‘All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy’ scene is chilling, not (in my opinion) for the repetition but for the way that those repeating words are phrased, broken up into paragraphs and text. This is not mindless tapping. This is a piece of meticulously crafted work…. It is a deliberate fall into insanity that echoes throughout the whole film.

This is a film about claustrophobia and about prisons. How even the largest prison will close around you… will create cabin fever. But then, this is also a haunted house movie which has been the inspiration for hundreds of haunted house films and almost as many direct parodies.

At this point, let me break out a bit of a confession. I really like Stephen King. I’m aware he isn’t the edgiest or most innovative of writers (however, read the Dark Tower series and let that get you nice and Meta) but when he hits the spot, he really does make a wonderful story.
King’s books often deal with possessed entities, and the more he tries to explain the demonic forces, the weaker they become. Here, the haunted house is never really explained. It is only the fact that other people see things (Danny with his ‘Shine’ and at one point – later in the insanity – the entirely unpsychic Wendy) which quashes the theory that all of this is in Jack’s head. In fact one of the film’s most famous and most mimicked and homaged shots moves from being a metaphorical warning to being an event Wendy actually witnesses.
We only get one flippant line that the hotel was built on an Indian burial ground (ah that old cliché) to explain what might be the cause of all the weirdness.

The Shining is one of King’s best books, and this is one of the best King adaptations – but even so, I wish it could have included elements like the topiary animals (a wonderfully creepy concept, which is now mainstream thanks to Dr Who and the Weeping Angels).

Lets look at Jack…. As the film is about whether Jack would crack in the wilderness…. Unfortunately by casting Jack Nicholson, they remove any of the surprise. Nicholson is a man who looks unhinged the best of the time, so when we see the early Jack Torrance - before he’s sold his soul to the hotel for a bourbon – he already looks like the kind of man who would hack up his family into tiny pieces and stack them up in a room.

However, by the time he has gone mad, Nicholson’s face is perfect. That same freaky unhinged chaos which made him the choice for Burton’s Joker – he is a walking nightmare, and although the little 20’s sequences are pretty, they’re not really needed. Jack’s face is evidence alone that the hotel has its talon’s into him.

The final photo is the final proof. Not only does it introduce the chilling concept of being trapped in time, but it also has the chilling demonic face of a fully cracked Jack Torrance.

And I have to end by sharing this excellent example of editing. It is old but it is very good.