Authors hate it when filmmakers fuck around with their work. They see the word as paramount and everything else subservient to it. Take Stephen King. He hated it when Stanley Kubrick fucked around with his book The Shining. Which is surprising as Kubrick’s movie greatly adds to King’s novel.
King sweated a lot blood writing The Shining. The story was as much about the his own personal addictions as it was about some haunted hotel. I like King. I like King a lot, and think he’s due a lot more respect as a writer than he gets. And though I generally prefer King’s books to the films, in the case of The Shining I will always opt for Kubrick’s movie rather than for King’s book.
The reason is simple: Where King filled pages with backstory and character motivation—making everything neat and tidy and very, very explainable—Kubrick left his adaptation of The Shining open—allowing the horror to seep in.
Where King has a genius for storytelling and plot, Kubrick had a genius for making deeply intelligent, visually stunning, multi-layered films that only reveal the director’s full mastery of his art after successive viewings. If ever.
Barkeep, I’ll have a Jack and Coke.
The Shining is probably the most discussed and obsessed over movie Kubrick made—though maybe it’s run pretty by 2001: A Space Odyssey. Theories about the film range from coded confessions about the Moon landings to the “narrative of a murder” embedded in the film, to Kubrick’s interest in the Jungian duality of human nature—as seen through the set designs, motifs and parallel characters to a critique of history—the failure to learn from past experience—as the caretaker Hallorann explains to Danny in the film:
A lot of things have happened in this particular hotel, over the years, and not all of ‘em good.
Kubrick was fastidious in making The Shining. Originally scheduled as a seventeen-week shoot, the production went on for fourteen months. That’s around 200 filming days. According to the film studio, Kubrick shot 1.3 million feet of film—roughly a shooting ratio of 120:1. Most movies have a 5:1 or 12:1 shooting ratio—so you get an idea of justhow picky Mr. K was when filming.
Kubrick shot and reshot scenes time and again. There was genius at work in this seeming profligate madness. Jack Nicholson always gave a brilliant first take. Then Kubrick would ask for another, then another—anything up to one hundred takes before he was satisfied. This meant, Nicholson’s performance varied the longer the filming process went on. In the edit, Kubrick often chose the more over the top performances, which he then countered with one where Nicholson underplayed. The juxtaposition of two differing styles highlighted the growing split in Nicholson’s character—revealing the internal battle between good and evil. But let’s be clear—this was Jack Nicholson who supplied the performances, the raw material—not the director.
Kubrick used different psychological techniques to obtain the performances he wanted from his cast. He was particularly hard on Shelley Duvall, who he berated and criticized during filming—though Duvall delivered one of her most memorable performances. Much of Kubrick’s techniques was captured by his daughter Vivian Kubrick, in her documentary film The Making of ‘The Shining’—which followed Stanley Kubrick, Nicholson, Duvall, the other cast and crew members during the long interminable weeks of filming at Pinewood and Elstree Studios.
While Kubrick usually gets all the praise for the film—it would never have been made were it not for Stephen King’s original words. Whereas Kubrick embellished King’s tale—he could never have come up with something as good without the original source material.
And no matter how superlative a film—it is nothing without the performances of Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers. How Nicholson and Duvall fulfilled Kubrick’s demands tells you everything about their talent and professionalism.
Vivian Kubrick’s film on her father making The Shining captures this and the behind the scenes workings of one of cinema’s greatest horror movies.
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Stanley Kubrick’s daughter’s photographs of life with her famous father