Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Shining (1980)

Dir. Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers

The snow piles up outside. A solitary figure tap-tap-taps at their keyboard, snarling if disturbed. They’re tired, they say, but they can’t sleep, they have work to do. With this atmosphere at home is it any wonder I decided to watch The Shining instead…?

The Overlook Hotel stands above the snowline in the Colorado Rockies. Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is appointed the winter caretaker – when the hotel shuts down for the season it is his responsibility to keep the boilers working and manage running repairs and so forth. Suffering from writer’s block he is keen to take the post: he welcomes the promised seclusion. He brings his family with him: wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Danny has psychic visions, with his imaginary friend ‘Tony’ warning him about the place. Mr Hallorann, the cook (Scatman Crothers), communicates with Danny, saying that they both share a special gift known as ‘shining’. He also warns him to stay away from Room 237.

Hallorann never explains precisely why he is scared of Room 237. Upon taking the post Jack was informed that a previous caretaker, Grady, had suffered from ‘cabin fever’ and had slaughtered his wife and daughters with an axe before 'stacking' them in their room and committing suicide. Was their room 237? I don’t know. Danny later finds the door to the room open. He emerges with strangulation marks around his neck, which Wendy blames on her husband. Jack goes to investigate and finds a beautiful young woman in the bath; upon kissing her she transforms into a rotting corpse. Danny also sees visions of two twin girls who ask him to play with them, and a tidal wave of blood flooding down the corridor; his terror somehow transmits itself to Hallorann, who flies back from Florida when no contact can be made with the hotel. Meanwhile an increasingly manic Jack is having conversations with a phantom barman called Lloyd (“Best goddamned bartender from Timbuktu to Portland, Maine. Or Portland, Oregon, for that matter.”). This vision expands to an entire 1920s ballroom scene where he encounters a waiter who is also called Grady. Jack claims to recognise him. “You were the caretaker here Mr Grady.” “No sir; YOU are the caretaker. You have always been the caretaker. I ought to know: I’ve always been here…” Grady suggests that ‘the owners’ have put a lot of faith in Jack. He ought to ‘correct’ his wife and son.

Welcome to the Overlook Hotel:
You can check out any time you like but you can never leave...
The apparitions could all just be Jack’s imagination – a lot has been made of the fact that whenever he is talking to one of these ‘ghosts’ he is facing a mirror or highly reflective surface. But in that case who releases him from the pantry Wendy locks him into? Wendy herself sees some of the ghosts as she runs terrified through the corridors at the film’s climax. And Danny has been seeing visions before he even arrived there. The tidal wave of blood roaring down one of the Overlook’s corridors is first seen by Danny prior to leaving home; he transmits the image to Hallorann; Wendy later sees it. This ties them all together. Lloyd and Grady are peculiar to Jack’s private world however – when Wendy bursts into the Gold Room Jack is found sitting at an empty bar. Frankly, I doubt Kubrick wanted his audience to be able to form any clear conclusions. His screenplay is a masterpiece of foreboding, suspense, mystery and violence.

The Shining is based on a novel by Stephen King. However the film is noticeably different to the source material. It is Stanley Kubrick’s vision that we see here. Plot elements have been changed. Character motivations and depictions altered. The family’s history is barely mentioned. A lot in the film is unexplained. What is the mystery of the Overlook Hotel? Are there ghosts or just psychotic visions? What is it that drives Jack to madness? Are his flashbacks real? Is the story the viewer sees objective ‘truth’, or the subjective perceprions of the characters within it? Has Jack really always been the caretaker? In few films is the directorial vision so clear. The long shots of symmetrical corridors and architectural features, the rattling of Danny’s tricycle over the floorboards and carpets, the definite colour palettes where one room would be yellow, the next green, the third blue, the ominous music ratchetting up the pressure cooker of tension – these are Kubrick’s details, not King’s. King famously disliked the movie.

What have I learnt about Colorado?
The winters can be fantastically cruel. The Overlook Hotel has to close for half the year. Roads become impassable and telephone lines frequently come down in the storms. It is so cold a man could easily freeze to death. The only way to travel in weather like that is by tracked SnowCat (the Torrance’s VW is never referred to again once they arrive at the hotel). These conditions are known and accepted by the state authorities.

Can we go there?
Would you really want to? Sure, the July 4th party looked great, but that was in 1921. This is a hotel built on that oldest of clich├ęs, the Indian burial ground, remember?

The Overlook Hotel was based on a real location – the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. The Stanley did, indeed, open in 1909, and it hosted presidents and royalty… as well as Stephen King, who stayed in room 217 the night before it closed up for winter. The hotel shows this movie on a continuous loop on one of its in-house TV channels (What are the management thinking of? I mean, why would you?). And the building also has a reputation for being haunted, particularly the ballroom. The hotel itself runs ghost tours. They also have a resident psychic, called Madame Vera, who claims to be able to see your future. One can only hope it does not involve elevators full of blood...

The Shining was not filmed at the Stanley Hotel however – another of Stephen King’s grounds for complaint. Establishing exterior shots used in the film were actually of the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, Oregon. This historic hotel offers a full range of winter sports. It also offers tours, though not ghostly ones.

But The Shining was not filmed here either. The interior filming (and quite a bit of the exterior filming – viewing the overhead shots at the start of the film will show quite clearly that there is no hedge maze) took place in England, with a giant set being constructed specifically for the movie at Elstree Studios in Borehamwood. The management of the Timberline Lodge requested that Kubrick change the number of the haunted room from 217 (as specified in the novel) to 237. They were worried that no one would ever want to stay in room 217 ever again, but they did not have a 237. The interior design was based on elements from many different American hotels: the Colorado Lounge on the Ahwahnee Hotel in the Yosemite Valley, and the red bathroom on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.

The road that Jack is seen driving his VW up is not in Colorado either. It is the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana’s Glacier National Park. While not as famous overseas as many of the U.S.’s national parks I think it is one of the ones I would most like to visit.

Overall Rating: 4/5

I am the blogger. I have always been the blogger...

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