After thirty two years, finally, I get to see my favourite film of all time on the silver screen. And, for the first time in Britain, it's the original 'Directors Cut' of "The Shining" that he released in the US. : To say that Kubrick was hampered is a fallacy, he repaced the film for a shorter running time and took 32 brutal minutes out for the European release, which only now has officially been seen in the UK.
Not that I haven't seen it. The Kubrick fan would have been stunned in 1993, when Central Television in the Midlands - where I was living at the time - broadcast, unannounced, the full 144 minute version of the film in the middle of the night. I was sat there at the time, goofing off in my summer holidays, jaw aghast at the new scenes I'd never seen before, that I never knew existed, that quickly became part of the fabric of my world.: no longer did the conversation end when Wendy entered the Ballroom, it carried on long past. No longer did the momentary confusion at the climax seem so brief, but became longer and more intricate. The whole film was richer and stronger and more luxariant, and it was only in 2001, with the advent of DVD, I managed to own a non-grainy, non off-air broadcast. The first DVD I bought was an unrated US import - and I bought a special hacked DVD player to watch it : a poorly transferred 4:3 DVD with the barest of transfer, and visible, noticable hairs, pops, and crackles on the print. And it still looked amazing.
Looking at the European version now, Kubricks cuts seem arbitrary, graceless, and obvious. Scenes where transitions, fades, and rich dialogue were paced are castrated. The dialogue cuts mid sentence. Introductions are removed, the discussion of Jack's alcoholism, Danny's invisible friend, dislocated shoulders, and small pieces of dialogue that removed plotholes are excised. The European version seems abrupt, rude even, and the hotel doesn't have quite so much menace : the luxurious toying the Hotel takes with the Torrances (it has all the time in the world, after all), is telescoped, and instead of a slow, vicious torture the Hotel seems to spend much less time getting to business.
Seeing it on the big screen allows me to see the film in a way I haven't seen it in twenty years. I was able to absorb the details, watch the backgrounds, see the film, and not just follow the plot and dialogue. I was following the movement between shots of ties, appearing and reappearing chairs, subtle visual clues ("EXIT" signs at incongruous places), paper refilling itself in the typewriter and changing colour, the bizarre, impossible geography, the reflections in the mirrors (and the absence of them), the way that parts of the building move in relation to each other ; for example the garden maze appears, reappears, the entrance moves nearer the building, the maze changes shape, and so forth. Despite protestations of the crew, I am fairly sure that Kubrick meant at least most of this.
"The Shining" is a blank canvas to some : to others a rich tapestry of complex, interweaving signals and meanings. To me, it a luxurious, epic horror film that presents a tale of, as Kubrick put it "One family going insane together", but also, and more than that, it is one of the finest horror films of all time, because it respects itself. It takes the genre, and turns it inside out, making the "Monster" so much more than a physical beast, exploring the darkness of the psyche with psychological disembowelment instead of mere physical dismemberment. It treats a horror film as a tale as worthy of being told, and as epic and carefully constructed as any obvious Oscarbait. The Characters are well sketched (albeit, not always well rounded), and the acting somewhat lacking in obvious hamming up : aside from Jack's possessed character, who is ham on toast with cheese, as he unravels. Even the obvious jump scares - the visions of murdered people, skeletons, and so on and so forth - are designed more to make the participants collapse than to scare the audience, as the hotel itself is terrorising and playing with the Torrences, in the same way that Kubrick is playing with the audience. Ultimately, it is, to me at least, the finest film I have seen ; one that pits ordinary people in an mundane environment against a foe that may not even exist and is so far beyond their comprehension that they only perceive it in the way that most people perceive a black hole ; by inference and guesswork. The true monster in the dark is all around them, utterly normal on the surface, and hidden within the walls, which is both themselves and to an extent within their own minds. The Hotel is never seen 'attacking' anyone explictly - even the shower room sequence is portrayed ambigiously as a dream vision which may, like Lloyd, like Grady, like the packed Gold Room and the unlocked door, be a projection inside Jack's mind. Pictures in a book, that's all it is. Pictures in a book. Or on a screen.
on 23 August 2004
'The Shining' on DVD is essential viewing, not only because the film itself is one of the most beautifully shot horror classics of all time, but also because it comes accompanied by a wonderful documentary. 'The Making of The Shining' provides a rare insight into director Stanley Kubrick ('A Clockwork Orange') and also features actors Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall at work on set, both in and out of character. From this invaluable footage, you will learn to admire those who do the business behind the scenes and gain a good appreciation for what it takes to create a masterpiece.
As a movie, The Shining is thoroughly watchable from start to finish. Jack Nicholson steals the show as the ex-alcoholic, ex-teacher who is looking for solitude for a 'writing project', and the Overlook Hotel appears to be just what he is looking for as he pitches in as caretaker during the snowbound winter months. Joining him at the Overlook are his wife Wendy (Duvall) and his talented son Danny (Lloyd), whose special ability to 'shine' causes him to fear (and rightly so) the dark secrets of the hotels past.
With The Shining, director Stanley Kubrick has thankfully created an intellectual horror movie rather than merely played it for shocks. His superb pacing builds the tension up gradually, and with so many memorable scenes here, there is enough to make you return time and again, where you will always find something new.
I cannot recommend this film enough; if you haven't seen it, what are you waiting for?