Posted in: Film Reviews, Horror

Review: Making “The Shining”

[Originally published in Movietone News 66-67, March 1981]

Time flies. The six-year-old brat in quest of an intergalactic bushbaby in 2001 is now all grown up and directing her own documentary film about what is only the third movie her father has directed since that 1968 masterwork. Televised by the BBC at a length of 35 minutes on October 4, 1980, just two days after The Shining‘s London opening, this documentary is utterly intriguing without being terribly substantial.

The great coup of getting Stanley Kubrick to appear in front of a camera (for the first time ever) shouldn’t blind one to the fact that we see very little of him. Unlike his four leads, Kubrick isn’t interviewed and he takes no note of the Aaton camera being pointed at him. We note a few items about his work methods, some of which are surprising: the constant rewrites between setups (so that Jack Nicholson jokingly despairs of knowing which pages are the current ones and which the ones that have already been rewritten), Kubrick’s spur-of-the-moment decisions about angles and lenses (before one setup he cautions crewmen to carry various different lenses in their pockets, just in case). Also surprisingly, we find visitors on the set – not just James Mason (in his Murder by Decree outfit) but members of the public, quite clearly unconnected with filmbiz and ogling the star, not the director. Nicholson, forever jesting and capering and acknowledging Vivian Kubrick’s presence, is “on” at every moment, just as he is in the film, whereas Shelley Duvall is constantly on the defensive. Whilst Kubrick is only seen flattering Nicholson, his direction of Duvall verges on downright cruelty, seemingly extending to bawling her out for screwups for which she is demonstrably not to blame.

Intercutting on-the-set footage with interviews clearly shot much later, after the end of filming, leads to intriguing contrasts. After the hurly-burly of work, Nicholson is much quieter, even a little sad (as when he reflects that a celebrity meets ten times as many people in a year as others do in their whole lives) whilst Duvall is infinitely calmer and entirely complimentary about the director we’ve just seen abusing her. More amusingly, little Danny Lloyd charms us (and breaks up several offscreen observers) by admitting that he didn’t expect any pay at all for the fun of doing a movie, then thought he might get maybe two dollars for pocket money, but now, having grown all sophisticated, is of the view that he might get maybe as much as, oh, 600 bucks for his work. The docu doesn’t explain, of course, how it is that The Shining arrived in Britain just 26 minutes shorter than it was in the U.S. (with Anne Jackson’s role removed entirely), and naturally no one discusses the plot. We perceive a few Day for Night-type occurrences: Kubrick desperately trying to decrease the amount of artificial snow being blasted about by the wind machines, simply so he can make himself heard; assistants anxiously consulting a plan of the Maze (which seems to be an interior set) and trying to figure it out. Vivian Kubrick proves herself her father’s daughter by following Jack Nicholson from the door of his dressing-room toilet, over to the exit, out onto the landing, down several flights of stairs, into and then across the length of a soundstage to conclude with Nicholson shaking hands with Stanley K. as the latter turns to camera for our first glimpse of him at the end of this one shot.

Essentially, Making The Shining doesn’t do more than two things. It gives Vivian Kubrick a chance to make a movie and get into the business, and it serves as a long commercial for the new movie by her dad. The latter service the docu performs admirably: within half an hour of its telecast yours truly was sitting in a cinema seat (and had a splendid ensuing two hours). Which means, presumably, that the day is not all that far off when we’ll all have to start using forenames when we talk about “the new Kubrick movie”.

© 1981 Pierre Greenfield

Direction, editing, and cinematography: Vivian Kubrick.
Featuring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Gert Kubrick, Brian Cook, and, very furtively, Stanley Kubrick.

A pdf of the original issue can be found here.