The Shining – 30th Anniversary – May 23, 1980

Sunday marked the 30th anniversary of the release of my favorite movie of all time – Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of the Stephen King novel The Shining. The film, which is far superior to the book, is now regarded as a horror classic, though it was not initially given that esteemed honor upon its release in the spring of 1980.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Kubrick’s re-transformation of the story confused viewers, critics, and even Stephen King, who publicly detested the film.

Funny how a few years can change everything.

Today most of Kubrick’s films are considered seminal, and for good reason. The man changed film, and he remarkably did so mostly independently, living in England and away from the conventions and trappings of Hollywood.  He worked at his own pace, which for most in the business was painfully slow.  Kubrick’s perfection to detail and close consideration of every facet of his films make them classics in their genre and the history of cinema in general.  Often controversial, even to this day, Kubrick made movies that made people squirm, sometimes with excitement and enjoyment, other times with repulsion.  Whatever the reaction, there is no doubt: Stanley Kubrick’s films are still powerful, even eleven years after his death.

But his films were rarely regarded as instant classics – they were usually slow-paced, meticulous, and far too ahead of their time to be given the proper critical treatment until years after their release.  The Shining is no exception; in fact, it is the most-panned of his films upon first viewing.  The reviews were largely negative, more so than any other of Kubrick’s works, and it is the lone film of the last nine of Kubrick’s to be snubbed of both an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination.  Instead, The Shining received two Golden Raspberry nominations for Worst Actress (Shelley Duvall) and Worst Director (Kubrick).

This seems absurd now, considering the film was a box-office success that garnered Warner Bros. a profit and subsequently helped Kubrick’s reputation for making movies that audiences would go to see.  But that’s small potatoes compared to how the film is regarded now.  Esteemed critics, including Roger Ebert, have re-evaluated the film and given it a positive review years after the fact, and you’d be hard-pressed not to find The Shining on every single list ever made of the best horror films of all time, alongside The Exorcist, Halloween, Rosemary’s Baby, and every Hitchcock title in the genre.

To consider a visionary like Kubrick the “Worst Director,” especially for his finest film ever, is ridiculous.  With meticulous attention to detail, over-working his actors (Duvall was mentally strained after filming 127 takes of the now-famous “baseball bat” scene – a record for the most takes for a scene with dialogue), using over a million feet of film to get that perfect shot, and brilliantly capturing claustrophobia with the use of the then-new Steadicam, Kubrick was miles ahead of any director in the business, horror or otherwise.

Anyone who hasn’t seen the film has already seen it in pop culture references – so many things about the movie are unforgettable.  The twins in the hallway, Danny’s big wheel, the elevator filled with blood, the word “Redrum.”  And who could forget Jack Nicholson’s “Here’s Johnny!” routine through a hotel door shredded by an axe?

The pacing of The Shining is unbearably slow and unsettling, making the end that much more horrific.  Kubrick always paced his movies this way, but, because of its frightening outcome, The Shining feels more scary than anything imaginable due to Kubrick’s slow build to a twisted, violent ending.

As is the case with most over-indulgent, ego-centric, and frankly overrated authors of modern times, Stephen King hated that the film was not loyal to his plot-full-of-holes book; eventually he would say that he enjoyed some aspects of Kubrick’s rendition, but would stand that his feelings for it balanced out to zero and that the director was a man who “thought too much and cared too little.”  His feelings would remain, and in the 90’s he would supervise a TV miniseries based more around the book’s original plot, and more to his liking.  The series would receive negative reviews and would be forgotten.

I could go on forever about this film – the ending and its supposed meaning, the many interpretations of the film, the documentary Kubrick’s daughter made while he was filming, the comparison in plot, structure, and character to the book, etc.  But that’s what Wikipedia is for.  All of these things make a movie great – the subtle layers you don’t see at first, the flawless cinematography and theme, the well-crafted transformation of the characters, the dual meaning of every facet, every detail, every scene.  Was it ghosts? Was it just cabin fever?  Was it an allusion to Native American heritage?  Why is Jack in that photograph?  So many questions, so many interpretations, and no clear answers.  And isn’t that what makes something even more frightening – not knowing the answer?

Even though it started off slow, The Shining made its mark on horror and film in general, and would carve its place along with the rest of the Kubrick greats.  Remarkably, Kubrick would only create two more films after The Shining before his untimely death in 1999.  This film would be his only foray into the horror genre, but it was a significant one, even if people failed to see it at the time.

So, in lieu of the anniversary, I invite you to turn off all the lights, curl up on your couch, and watch your DVD copy of the finest film ever from the finest director ever.  After all these years, it’s still the scariest, and it’s still the best.

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