Monday, 5 November 2012

The Shining - Extended Cut (1980, Stanley Kubrick)

The mystic pulling force of The Shining continues to endure as we're given the tantalising chance to revisit a milestone of genre filmmaking, on the big screen in its original 144 minute cut no less. A transcending example of technical innovation, saturated in ambiguous wonder, and lasting iconography that remains steadfast 32 years on.

Having the chance to witness any Kubrick film in the cinema should never be missed; whether it be the baroque decorum of Barry Lyndon (1975) powered by NASA manufactured cameras, the expansive 70mm filmed 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), or the final expressionist strokes of the dreamlike Eyes Wide Shut (1999). I wondered what I'd get out of a film I'd already extensively revisited, what could be gained from the newly placed scenes cut out of its original UK release? On this occasion the scale of the screen only added to the feeling of space so carefully constructed by Kubrick, you really feel the roaming camera this time as it glides the halls of The Overlook Hotel. Only through this can you see The Shining for what it's really worth, giving extra attention to those enticing clues in every shot.

For those not so familiar with the film may find the newly replaced scenes go straight over them, they're subtle and hardly have a drastic effect. There is a doctor's examination of Danny at the Torrence residents before their move, the conversation between doctor and mother Wendy adding more emphasis to Danny's 'gift' and his mother's attitude towards a past familial incident. Also there is an additional scene that gives Chef Dick Hallorann's journey back to The Overlook extra strain as his concerns for the family mount. These examples sound superfluous but though I've never had a problem with The Shining's 119minute cut I've been so suited to over the years, it certainly benefitted from being further drawn out to give father Jack's murderous decent into madness extra weight. If ever there was a complaint besides Shelley Duvall's polarising performance it was that Jack's transition was too abrupt. This new (old) cut certainly puts this concern to rest as we're given a more tantric exercise in terror.

Anyone who's watched the brilliant making-of documentary by Kubrick's daughter Vivian will know the strain put on Shelley Duvall as mother Wendy, desperately protecting herself and son from an evil from within the family unit. While Kubrick pampered Nicholson and gave him free reign, he put Duvall through hell to the point of collapsed exhaustion. What we then get is a lesson in overacting from Nicholson as he chews the scenery, having the time of his life, to Duvall quite literally just projecting her very real torment onto the screen, she barely needs to perform at all. This all just works, its a strange dynamic but it works on a bizarre level of deranged entertainment verging on black comedy. Enough praise cannot be aimed at 7year old Danny Lloyd as the Torrence's 'gifted' youngster. Whereas most child performers are awkward and merely read the lines they're given with great strain or jarring control, Lloyd manages to give his lines weight. You see genuine terror in his eyes and in quieter scenes see him thinking before he speaks, thinking not as a child remembering lines but as one answering to an adult.

For as many people that have seen The Shining there are nearly as many readings of it. For those who enjoy it for the great horror that it is, appreciating it at face value, is fine. But it's those who dig into the bottomless pit of possibilities it harbours who really love this film, with recent documentary Room 237 showing the extent of its cult following to almost worrying (sometimes comical) levels. It can be viewed as many things, and it certainly isn't just one of them; domestic abuse, child neglect, artistic vanity/frustration, and historic repression. Just a few themes I believe the film tackles, at least one which are evidently apparent to me.

The creator of The Shining Stephen King took a disliking to Kubrick's vision, due to the extremely loose adaptation of work very precious to him. The main difference that gripes most is the central character of Jack Torrence who, in the book, is a clean-cut upstanding man whose subsequent possession is made all the more shocking due to his pristine manner in which he's at first presented. With Nicholson's Torrence we're given a rough and ready man who is hinted at having, however forgivable, a history of violence and alcoholism. Whereas some shoot down Kubrick's version arguing that his maddening decent can be seen coming a mile off, what's interesting is the idea of temptation fuelling the film, that the hotel is using old demons to have Jack kneel to submission. Just think of the woman in Room 237, of the miraculous appearance of the barman in The Gold Room. As Jack is told he's, "always been here", the sense of a predestined tragic fate and an omniscient evil is put forth.

Like the maze which prominently features throughout and certainly in the now iconic finale, the film is also a journey easy to loose oneself in, to enter and never feel like each trip was the same yet feeling all the more familiar still. We know from the extensive analysis over the years the The Overlook Hotel doesn't make logistical sense, its a living breathing and deceptive animal more similar to a maze than the place of pleasure it poses to be. Each viewing feels like something has shifted, that something new has come to life, that yet again something else feels obscure just when you made sense of another. It's main scares are made of building menace rather than the cheap tactics of today's horror, the conversation between Jack and Delbert Grady in the bathroom is the most apt example as a conversion of manners is played out before slowly revealing a most sinister purpose. 

With its restlessly moving camera, dynamic ambitious sound design, wild spectrum of performance, and uncompromising open-ended approach, The Shining is a film that simply cannot be praised enough in short form such as this. It's an endless road of questions, one which gets under your skin for good and has you believe, like Jack, that you've never left, sentenced to roam its halls forever.

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