Ginger Nuts of Horror
Park Circus celebrate this coming Halloween with a release of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Screening in over 100 cinemas – for one night only, on 31 October – audiences can enjoy this remarkable thriller on the big screen once again at cinemas throughout the UK, plus selected European and Latin American territories. ( Click here for full details of screenings )
Accompanying the film on its release to cinemas is a bonus seven-minute documentary, Work & Play: A Short Film About The Shining (2017), directed by Matt Wells for Park Circus.
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All work and no play makes Oscar-winning actor JackNicholson - the caretaker of an isolated resort - go way off the deep end, terrorising his young son and wife (Shelley Duvall). Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, who’s come to the elegant, isolated Overlook Hotel as off-season caretaker. Torrance has never been there before or has he? The answer lies in a ghostly time warp of madness and murder. Master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s visually haunting chiller, based on the bestseller by master-of-suspense Stephen King, is an undeniable contemporary classic. Newsweek called The Shining “the first epic horror film,” full of indelible images, and a signature role for Nicholson whose character was recently selected by the American Film Institute as one of their 50 Greatest Villains. Accompanying the film is Work and Play: a short film about The Shining (2017), directed by Matt Wells for Park Circus. This short documentary brings together new personal reflections from Kubrick’s collaborators and unseen materials from his personal archives to shed light on this unique cinematic achievement. Featured in the documentary are: Lisa and Louise Burns (The Grady Twins), Garrett Brown (inventor and operator of the Steadicam), Diane Johnson (co-screenwriter on The Shining), Katharina Kubrick (Stanley Kubrick’s daughter) and Jan Harlan (Kubrick’s producing partner and brother-in-law)
Due to the recent cinema releases of The Dark Tower and IT, along with the BFI showing a season of King movies to celebrate his 70th birthday, I’ve seen five movies based on King’s work at the cinema in the last month. So, here’s a mini-series of trip reports - nothing so grand as reviews - based on my month of King Cinema. Spoilers for both the movies under discussion and the source books abound, so be warned. Enjoy.
I was back in front of the biggest screen in London to see Kubrick's take on early King classic, The Shining. Fortified by a shot of Jack Daniels and a double helping of Ben and Jerry’s cookies dough ice cream, I sank into my seat and prepared myself for what was to come.
And, I mean, I’m no stranger to this film. My number of viewings are easily into double figures, between the taped-from-TV VHS and later DVD copy. But some smart arse had told me I hadn’t really seen it unless it was on the big screen. And said smart arse was very, very right.
For starters, none of the flaws apparent with the film stock in Carrie applied here. Kubrick's decision to film in 35mm meant that this extended cut of the film was crystal clear. Indeed, the opening aerial shots (shots I don’t think I’d previously really registered on my small screen viewings) were of such breathtaking quality that I ended up with mild vertigo. They are absolutely beautiful, and established the qualitative difference this viewing experience would prove to be.
And it’s an almost unforgivably pedestrian observation to note that this film is beautifully shot, but again, I think I’d failed to appreciate just how beautiful it is until it was filling my entire field of vision. In addition to the aforementioned opening sequences, the cavernous interiors of The Overlook, the claustrophobic caretaker's quarters, and the giant imposing hedge maze all felt realer, somehow - as if I were actually there.
That, I think, was the central insight that I got from this viewing - in this film, it felt to me that the camera was acting as a window into the world of the movie. A combination of the clarity of the image, the size of the screen, and the exquisite camera work all contrived to make me feel like I was myself a ghost of The Overlook, floating around it’s halls and observing the emerging psychodrama, with no power to intervene. Its was a genuinely unsettling experience, quite unlike my previous small screen viewings.
I also got a lot more out of the performances this time. I was already of the opinion that Shelley Duvall’s work here was grossly underrated, and that was definitely reinforced. SImilarly, whilst I had fond memories of Scatman Crothers, I think I hadn’t fully appreciated just what an amazing job he does in that one big sitdown scene with Danny, in the Overlook kitchen. He has a ton to do, and most of it happens on his face, with his careful consideration of what and how much to say, and his awe at Danny’s power. It’s a brilliantly controlled performance, and does so much to help set the early tone of dread that permeates the whole film.
But I have to say that the biggest single surprise for me was Nicholson.
The director of my local youth theatre used to dismissively describe The Shining as ‘Jack Nicholson overacting with an axe’, and I think that impression had largely stuck with me. And I’m not about to argue that his performance is restrained or muted - that would make me madder than him, and even I don’t have that level of crazy - but I don’t think I’d appreciated just how controlled most of it is.
The first bar scene I think best typifies what I’m talking about. His conversation with Lloyd is, yes, big, even grandiose… but it’s also incredibly precise, each gesture, choice of vocal inflection considered. Jack Torrance is lying in this scene - lying to Lloyd, of course, but also, in the mode that addicts and people of violence often find themselves, lying to himself - but it’s also clear from Nicholson's performance that, on some level, not far below the surface, he knows he is lying to himself. It’s really impressively layered stuff, and it’s absolutely all going on, in the choices he makes with every line. It’s honestly kind of breathtaking - or at least, I found it to be so - but/and also… well, okay, I’ll just say it, there’s a subtlety at work there, right under the surface bluster.
I’m not going to claim there aren't some OTT moments for him as the movie progresses, that would be unsupportable. But I am saying that there is a level of craft in the performance that I simply hadn’t seen before - a subtlety that I only appreciated, ironically, when presented with the performance in a supersized environment.
As to the rest of the movie - I mean, what can I say that hasn’t been said? It’s almost all true. It’s spectacularly shot, the sound design is immaculate, it’s too damn long but that doesn’t matter because it’s so damn good. Kubrick clearly doesn’t care about women much, but that doesn’t stop Shelley Duvall turning in a masterclass in performance, the kid is amazing, and it’s creepy as hell.
It’s absolutely, indisputably, a masterpiece of modern cinema. It’s a work of art.
But as a movie going experience, I much prefered Carrie, with all it’s flaws and dirt and humanity. There’s a clinical coldness to The Shining. That doesn’t diminish it’s brilliance - in fact I’d argue it’s part and parcel of it, that layer of ice adding to the awful clarity of the experience - but it does make the film, for me, harder to love. It’s not quite that crass reductionist argument about ‘relatable characters’ - or at least, I hope not - rather, there’s something about the relentless, unforgiving precision of the piece that I find holds me at arm's length, and whilst I can appreciate it a great deal, I can never embrace it, never love it.
Carrie, on the other hand… yeah, Carrie I can love. Carrie has a heart - bruised and bloody, you bet, but beating just the same.
The Shining is one of the finest pieces of cinema I’ve ever been privileged to witness, and yes, it is resolutely a big screen experience.
But I actually think Carrie is a better movie.
It was certainly one hell of a double bill, and I’m glad I took the opportunity to go. Next up - the 2017 smash hit adaptation of IT.
PS - If the above has whet your appetite to see The Shining on the big screen - and to be clear, I would heartily recommend you do so, if you haven’t - there’s a limited cinematic run happening click here for details on where you can experience it in all its cinematic glory, which will include a 7 minute short film called ‘Work and Play’. This short is a delightful addition to the main movie, featuring short contemporary interviews with select cast and crew members, and focusing mainly on Kubrick - the artist and the man. The discussion of the serendipitous introduction of Steadicam was particularly interesting, as was the conversation with Kubrick’s daughter, which shed a much needed humanizing light on a director whose public image is often so cold and aloof. All in all, a lovely appetizer for the main course."