The Shining - 18th December 2010

Now this is how films are made! After the recent slew of appalling rom-coms and The A Team, which raped my childhood without even buying it a drink first, it was refreshing to step out of a certain brilliant, midnight movie screening, cinema at 2am on a Sunday morning and breathe in a big gulp of great movie air.
I don't really need to go on and on about how fantastic Stanley Kubrick is, as film scholars and lovers have done that since 'Paths of Glory' in 1957, but one point I will make is that, if you get the chance to see a film that you love, at the cinema, even if it's a film you've already seen a handful of times, then go see it! Drop whatever it is you're doing and head to your nearest retro screening immediately because watching a film you thought you were familiar with from TV, VHS or DVD on the big screen is eye opening, incredible, fresh and, dare I say it, a hundred times better than seeing any new film at a multiplex.
I must've seen the Shining at least ten times in my life, or at least that's what it felt like but I guess it's a film I have actually seen all the way through probably only three or four times but have seen sections of it, either through partial viewings or documentaries on the subject, many many times and it's remarkable how a film as epic in its intensity and craft and as haunting as The Shining can really just be relegated to a greatest hits compilation of oft repeated scenes in your head.
Seeing it on the large canvas is the only way to see it, the cinema screen and surround sound revealing each creepy image, each unnerving sound and each spectacularly nuanced and developed performance in a profoundly rich and absorbing way.
Maybe I am alone in this but when I think of The Shining, I would remember the performances, the sound design and the use of steadicam but I'd really underestimated the sets and colours in this film. The carpets, for example, are menacing, which is a weird sentence to say to begin with, and they seem to become increasingly garish the closer the characters get to danger. The carpet in the feared Room 237 is ridiculous but put it in this film, shot in that simple, stylish yet deceptively difficult and complex way that Kubrick likes to do it and add the increasingly tense and eerie score and it suddenly seems like the carpet is attacking, screaming and biting at Nicholson's heals as he heads into the bathroom to experience his first ghost.
The scene in the very red bathroom of the ghostly Golden Ballroom, where Jack meets the sinister British spectre of Grady, is a vivid delight on the big screen. It's a tremendously brave and bold design choice because if the performances weren't as solid and mesmerising as they are and if the words weren't quite so perfectly sculpted to give you just the right amount of revulsion but also intrigue then the redness of the bathroom could have completely overshadowed the proceedings.
There were also some images in the film, particularly towards the end when Shelley Duvall finally begins to see the hotel's peculiar hauntings, that I had flat out forgotten and that made the whole thing feel like the first time, just alive and vibrant and where you also get to see Kubrick's little mischievous touches at work.

I hate to say it but, as was proven by the atrocious made-for-tv , King produced movie, Stephen King is wrong about the film adaptation of The Shining, which he famously can't stand. I understand it isn't faithful to the book, which, as the author of the book, is a legitimate comment but he has also said that casting Jack Nicholson in the main role took away the journey of a character descending into madness because Nicholson already looks mad and everyone had seen him play mad in One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest and hated Duvall's casting because she already looks traumatised at the start of the film apparently but actually both performances seem in perfect keeping with the script and Nicholson's, in particular, is incredibly layered. His character is far from normal at the beginning, having been an alcoholic who damaged his sons arm once while drunk and is now tetchy due to being on the wagon and Duvall's character has been living with an alcoholic and a son who seems to be a little different, going to the Overlook Hotel is meant to be a redemptive and contemplative period for them both. It is a realistic and expertly played set up that adds to the tension and sense of isolation that is so clear in the middle section of the film once they have settled into the hotel, showing that you can't run and hide from your problems.

It was also a delight, after the film, to go with friends and hear their take on what just happened and what the film is actually about. The genius of a film like this and the seemingly diverse nature of its imagery and storytelling is that it can be interpreted many different ways, mostly because of a confusing and open ending that leads you to question everything you have just seen. Is it all just an unfortunate roller coaster ghost story that plays out exactly as we see it, is it all an examination of hell with the character of Jack Torrance reliving his murderous deeds over and over again every winter since 1921, with Kubrick taking inspiration from Dante or is it something else? Kubrick said himself that he didn't believe in hell and saw ghost stories as optimistic because it meant humans can survive death so take from that what you will. At the end of the day it doesn't matter what truth does or doesn't lie deep underneath the overlapping possibilities in the film, just saying that there could be means that this is probably one of the most intelligent horror films you'll ever see.

I don't know who at Warner Brothers looked at Stanley Kubrick and understood him but thank goodness someone did because occasionally, to get films this good, you need a visionary director like Kubrick to be given exactly what he needs: a blank cheque and limitless time. People can call it selfish, obsessed, frustrating, difficult, never ending, uncomfortable and ultimately pointless but it's art, it's personal, it's the sheer craft and achievement of the thing (the entire interior of that magnificent realistic hotel was BUILT on a sound stage!), it's an incredible film that will survive lifetimes and it beats the hell out of remaking Prom Night.

10 out of 10 intrinsically layered but extraordinarily tasty trifles
Points from the wife 9 out 10

Couples Retreat - 20th December 2010

The A-Team Movie - 17th December 2010