music friday: judy collins, jesse colin young, b-52's, cadallaca
african-american directors series: summer of soul (ahmir-khalib thompson, 2021)

revisiting the shining (stanley kubrick, 1980)

I've written a lot about Stanley Kubrick over the years, and what I've said can be easily summarized: he was great through Dr. Strangelove, started to fall off with 2001, and was erratic after that, nowhere near as great as his reputation. One thing I hadn't written about was The Shining, so I gave it another look.

I'd say it was better than I remembered, but I don't remember thinking poorly of it in the past. There are iconic moments, and a couple of them still work. It takes a while to get to the horror, but it certainly delivers in the second half. I don't think it's a classic, but it's a good movie.

The score by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind is very effective, and is one of the reasons the movie works as well as it does. Kubrick movies always look good, and The Shining is no exception ... Kubrick and cinematographer John Alcott make The Overlook Hotel ominous in a good, horror movie way. Garrett Brown, inventor of the Steadicam, gets a lot of use out of his invention, most memorably when little Danny is riding his Big Wheel around the hotel.

The acting is variable, as is true too often with Kubrick. Danny Lloyd, who played the kid, was only 6 years old, but his performance is the best in the movie. There are stories told that Kubrick protected the little tyke by never letting him know he was in a horror movie ("it's a drama, kid!"). If that is true, it's one of the few times I can think of where Kubrick looked out for his actors. Jack Nicholson is well-remembered for this film, but I think it's one of his lesser performances. It's true that Jack Torrance is going nutty, so Nicholson's overacting can be explained away. But a key flaw with the movie is that Jack seems a bit off from the first time we meet him, and he's over the top soon afterwards. If we are to accept the malevolence of the Hotel, Jack's descent into madness should be gradual, but watching it this time, I felt like Jack was pretty crazy before he got to the hotel.

And then there is Shelley Duvall. I liked her in many of her roles. I think she's awful in The Shining, but I'm not ready to blame her for that. As the character is conceived, Wendy Torrance, like her husband, is a bit off from the beginning. In Jack's case, it's burgeoning madness, in Wendy's case, it's an extremely neurotic interaction with the world. I'd be scared, too, if my mad husband was chasing me around with an ax, but Wendy is never "normal" ... Kubrick never lets us see what Wendy might have been like before Jack and the Overlook. Add to this the tales of Duvall's traumas making the film, and you have something disturbing in a way that goes beyond horror. (See the Hollywood Reporter article/interview "Searching for Shelley Duvall: The Reclusive Icon on Fleeing Hollywood and the Scars of Making ‘The Shining’".)

I don't know. If The Shining were just another horror film, I'd say it benefits from Lloyd's performance, the atmosphere of the Hotel, the music, and the excitement of the final hour or so. It's a decent horror movie, not as good as more recent efforts like Let the Right One In or The Babadook, to name two examples, but with enough scares and quality to warrant another look if you haven't seen it for a while. But the reputation of The Shining seems to be that it is a great movie by a great director, and I can't agree with either of those opinions. It's #84 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time, so I'm clearly in the minority (it is, in fact, only Kubrick's 5th-highest ranking film on that list).



Did you happen to watch the Castle Rock TV series a few years back? Season 1 introduces a young woman named Torrance who has a fixation on the weird violent history of the town and area. Sissy Spacek is luminous in her role. I never got into the second season (Misery-prequel) but I’ve always thought Season 1 should’ve been looked at for writing and production awards. And Spacek for acting

Steven Rubio

I didn't see that, but it sounds intriguing.

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