Considered by a great part of the moviegoers, critics, fans of cinema and terror in general one of the exponents of the genre, The Shining turns 40 in 2020. Based on the book created by Stephen King, the film was only the second adaptation of a work by the author for cinema – after the success of Carrie, A Estranha (1976), by Brian De Palma. In The Shining, who runs the show is none other than the cult Stanley Kubrick, one of the best filmmakers of all time.
The Shining premiered on May 23, 1980, strictly in the United States. The film would gain an expanded circuit from June 13 of the same year across the country. In Brazil, the feature would arrive six months later, on December 25th. Wrapped in a lot of mysticism, and rediscovered all the time (including constantly being the subject of documentaries and videos on the internet), O Iluminado is the number 61 film among the best of all times in the opinion of the general public on IMDB, and has 85% approval of the press specialized in Rotten Tomatoes; in addition to being included in preferred lists of specialists and renowned vehicles.
Still a constant topic in popular culture, O Iluminado has already won a miniseries and even a sequel – both in book and film. In this way, CinePOP decides to leave here its homage to this true icon of the seventh art. Come and find out more about this horror epic with us.
Book vs. Movie
After the warm reception of Barry Lyndon (1975) – despite the Oscar victories and the cult status he would acquire years later – Stanley Kubrick was looking for books for his next film project. Reports by his secretary at the time claim that the director hurled several literary works against the wall in this search, until he was captivated by the writing of author Stephen King in The Shining.
The story everyone already knows – or should – and talks about an aspiring writer accepting the job of janitor at a huge hotel in the icy mountains called Overlook, while he is closed to the public out of season, that is, during the intense winter. For the venture, Jack Torrence, the protagonist, takes his dedicated wife Wendy and little son Danny with him to live there for a few months. The catch is the fact that the Hotel is cursed, since it was built on an indigenous cemetery, and has several macabre legends about hauntings. Besides, of course, taking everyone who spends time there slowly to madness. Other than that, little Danny in turn has premonitory and extrasensory gifts, feeling the threat of the place on his skin.
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Interestingly, one of the strong themes of the text is the psychological condition known as “hut fever” – which talks about how individuals forced to remain confined for a long time in the same space can have outbreaks of anger, depression, insanity and violence – much reflection consistent with our current reality.
The Shining was King’s third work adapted to the audiovisual – following the success of Carrie (1976) in theaters and Salem’s Lot (1979), produced in the form of a two-episode miniseries and aired by the American network CBS with Warner Television distribution. The same company would spend around $ 19 million for Stanley Kubrick to take his view of King’s story to the theaters.
Despite the author’s initial enthusiasm, King would come to belittle The Shining as one of the worst adaptations of his work. The reason? Kubrick made numerous changes to the writer’s text, alongside screenwriter Diane Johnson, leaving out specific moments in the book, motivations, altering the description of some characters and even the ending of the plot. In addition to having refused the script written by the author himself. As a result, King, despite recognizing Kubrick as a filmmaker with a rich and unique look, considers this adaptation empty of content. In his words: “a fancy car, but without an engine”.
Kubrick, a Methodical Executioner
Stanley Kubrick did not get approval from the creator of the story, but at the end of the film’s recordings his actors also had little appreciation for him. The behind-the-scenes accounts of The Shining became an urban legend and contributed to the mystique surrounding the methodical director. Kubrick transcended perfectionism, bordering on obsessive compulsive disorder. Everything needed to be millimetrically made, which for the performances translated into repeating the same shot hundreds of times on many occasions. Which made the main actors nervous.
Other than that, at that time, cinema was often treated as “truth”, and directors of this size liked that their performers were really in a mental and physical state similar to that of their characters, in order to extract the precise feeling from them. This is the so-called “method”, in which many artists like to operate. The difference is the choice of the actor to use it or not. When in charge of a director, like Kubrick or so many others, we are placed in the thin line of abuse in the workplace. Alfred Hitchcock, Bernardo Bertolucci, John Landis, James Cameron and, recently, Joss Whedon are filmmakers known for their accusations of exceeding their authority on set – which in some cases has resulted in tragedy.
The protagonist Jack Nicholson got along with Kubrick, but he called colleague Roger Corman, the filmmaker with whom he started his career, to tell about the exhaustive work method used by the director of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), very strange for both . Scatman Crothers, who lives in Hallorann in the film, had a nervous breakdown when he had to repeat the same scene over and over again. But who suffered the most at Kubrick’s hands was Shelley Duvall, Wendy Torrence. In order to keep her in a constant state of tension and fear, the director treated her harshly, abusing her psychologically in order to leave her fragile. In addition, he demanded that Nicholson do the same – all duly recorded by the director’s daughter, who was recording a behind-the-scenes documentary and publicly speaking out against her father’s abusive behavior. Despite all this, the director only had praise for Duvall’s performance and commitment.
Interestingly, the cult David Lynch had an influence on Kubrick’s vision for The Shining. Well, at least one of your films has. This is Eraserhead’s cellulose nightmare (1977), Lynch’s first feature film, and one of Kubrick’s favorite films. In order to get the mood that the director wanted to impress in his film, he showed it to the actors and the crew.
Jack Nicholson – The Good Soldier
One of the greatest attractions of The Shining is undoubtedly the highly inspired performance of Jack Nicholson, a true world treasure in cinema, as the pseudo writer Jack Torrence. According to Stephen King, equally against the casting of the actor, the impression that Nicholson gives on paper is to be crazy before the claustrophobic experience. In any case, before him, other actors were considered by Stanley Kubrick for the leading role, among them: Robert De Niro, Robin Williams and Harrison Ford. Can you imagine another living the character?
Despite his good relationship with the eccentric filmmaker, Nicholson was not far from Kubrick’s bizarre techniques and also suffered in the skin in his participation. In addition to the physical exhaustion that made him fall in bed at the end of each day – without paying much attention to his then girlfriend, Anjelica Huston; in order to extract the discomfort and nervousness from the actor, the director only fed him cheese sandwiches for two weeks. The detail: Nicholson hates cheese sandwiches.
Other than that, having lived in England for most of his life, Kubrick did not initially understand Nicholson’s improvisation in the classic scene after hatching axes and saying “Heeeere’s Johnny”. The now famous “Here is Johnny” is a reference to the Tonight Show program and its presenter Johnny Carson, announced this way every night from 1962 to 1992.
Suffering Shelley Duvall
Regarding several elements, Stephen King expressed his dissatisfaction with the Kubrick film. And like Nicholson for the role of Torrence, the author did not approve the casting of Shelley Duvall for the character Wendy, his wife. King created Wendy on paper as a beautiful blonde woman, a kind of trophy wife, a dondoca who has never experienced problems or difficulties in her life, thus emphasizing her challenge to overcome everything that occurs during her stay at the Overlook hotel. According to King, Duvall is the complete opposite of his creation, having the fragile appearance of a woman who has had to face a lot in her life.
And it wasn’t just King who didn’t want Duvall in the role, his screen mate Jack Nicholson noticing the stark differences between the actress and the character in the role, insistently suggested Jessica Lange’s casting. At the time, Lange had starred in only two films: King Kong (1976) and All That Jazz – The Show Must Continue (1979). But Kubrick was emphatic and stamped on the version of Wendy he wanted in the cinema – a more fragile woman.
In the same year, Shelley Duvall would play the iconic Olivia Palito in the film adaptation of Popeye, by director Robert Altman – who lived to become a failure and be rediscovered later as a cult work. Interestingly, Nicholson’s desire to work with Lange would come true the year after the release of The Shining, in the remake of Destiny Knocks at Your Door. After the film’s release, Nicholson said that Duvall’s performance was one of the best performances by an actress he had ever seen.
Just as they usually suffer …