Mindhole Blowers: 20 Facts About The Shining That Might Make You Say "Talk to the Finger!"
Though Stephen King can never seem to make up his mind about The Shining, the rest of the world remains fascinated by it. Kubrick’s fastidious to a fault nature created yet another masterpiece that continues to be analyzed and studied to this day. Technical brilliance aside—and regardless of whether it achieved all that Kubrick intended—it stands simply as an exceptional horror film. From Nicholson’s demented preening to Duvall’s broken down terror, to the inexplicable natural instinct of a young child, the movie captures fear and projects it into our own pounding hearts, even as we ride with Danny down those long, twisting corridors.
1. Director Stanley Kubrick “…hated to fly and the last thirty years of his life, refused to set foot in an aircraft.” Producer James B. Harris (The Killing, Paths of Glory, Lolita): “The whole [fear of flying] thing came about when he was a kid and he had a pilot’s license. He used to go out to Teterboro and fly those one-engine jobs where he had an experience: He started to take off and he was running out of runway and almost crashed into the fence. He had forgotten to turn on one of the magnetos. That developed in his mind. He thought that if he—who is so meticulous about everything—forgot to do something like that, then the pilots could make these errors. If he could do that, then anybody could do it.
All the opening scenes of Glacier National Park (Montana) were filmed by Second Unit (Douglas Milsome, Full Metal Jacket, Desperate Hours, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves). Some of the extra footage was given by Kubrick to Ridley Scott for Blade Runner (which had run over schedule and budget).
2. According to Steadicam Operator (and Inventor) Garrett Brown, the color of the opening titles were something Kubrick agonized over, changing the color until he got it exactly right. Brown also claimed the “rolling, brightly colored lettering stuck with Stanley since his earliest days,” but in fact, many Kubrick opening credits are done in white lettering and/or a non-rolling format; Killer’s Kiss, The Killing, Paths of Glory, Spartacus, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barry Lyndon, Eyes Wide Shut.
3. After looking at “scores of locations,” some of the Overlook Hotel exteriors were shot at Oregon’s Timberline Lodge, while the interior set was copied from the Ahwahnee Lodge in Yosemite. Kubrick had the interiors built in England so he could have control over the whole look. The Timberline Lodge made a request that Kubrick not use a real room number 217 (in the novel/script) as the murder room—fearing people would not want to stay in the room after the film came out—so the director changed it to 237.
4. Jack Nicholson (Jack Torrance) was an actor Kubrick had always been interested in; he’d been cast in the director’s version of Napolean, which despite two years of research was never made.
Kubrick’s technique was to take all scenes scores of times; he understood the effect on actors. Nicholson would do his first takes in conventional ways, then he’d relax and be neutral; Kubrick would say do something different, then Jack would start to mug…use his eyebrows, his voice would rise, he’d make exaggerated faces. Jack did takes friendly, harsh, manic, then the final edit was selected by Kubrick.
5. Garrett Brown had “many, many arguments” with Kubrick over the camera’s crosshairs being in the middle of frame; if it hit on an actor’s left nostril, that’s exactly where it had to be. Framing had to be symmetrical. “Kubrick insisted every image be framed in 1.66:1 ratio, something between wide screen and cinemascope, (so that) people fill the frame.” Brown used an Arriflex-35BL and spoke of having to pace himself. There were “forty takes of nearly everything” and he had to learn to hold the camera absolutely still. “Half the time Stanley used his handheld to continue the scene.”
6. Author/Historian John Baxter noted that every scene harkens back to the central theme of family. “This is a story of a family going insane together. Jack is already unhinged—on the verge—gradually the wife and child are drawn in. Danny picks up on it quickly because he’s psychic. To some extent, it reflects Kubricks difficulties with his father, his greatest influence.”
7. Danny Lloyd (Danny Torrance) was “a phenomenon,” with an “astonishing face and control of himself.” Lloyd was chosen through a search of thousands of children; he was six years old and had no acting experience. His coach said Lloyd, in a casting session, came up with the idea to hold up his finger and talk to it.
8. Garrett Brown discovered that Danny weighed about as much as a film camera. A chair was fashioned with webbing and “he would yell with delight as he swooped along riding suspended from the Steadicam arm.
9. Kubrick’s film diverged from the Stephen King novel on which it was based; he ran with the idea that the ancient Indian burial ground on which the Overlook had been built was cursed. “A family is going over the edge and the hotel exacerbates that, drives them to the brink.” Writer Diane Johnson (Le divorce), a novelist, worked with Kubrick on the “sense of family hate and the father and son conflict.”
10. Because the hotel interiors were built to scale, getting around was an issue for Garrett Brown. He’d find ways to ride on a vehicle to do shots, instead of walking. For the tracking sequence of Danny riding his Big Wheel, they needed the lens just a few inches from the floor, and to travel rapidly just behind or ahead of the bike. Brown tried it on foot and “found that I was too winded after an entire three-minute take to even describe what sort of last rites I would prefer. Also, at those speeds I couldn’t get the lens much lower than about 18 inches from the floor.” Instead, the Steadicam was mounted on a special wheelchair (invented by Kubrick and Ron Ford), providing a fluid, hypnotic style that Kubrick at first didn’t like, but grew to accept.
At one point Stanley thought there should be a spedometer on the wheelchair, so they’d go at exactly same speed for all shots. Brown was “so glad the idea went away.”
11. The Shining was shot mostly in continuity so that Kubrick had the opportunity to change things. “It’s his nature to want to control everything, but he wants to preserve spontaneity.” Brown described how Kubrick once “grabbed his camera and pulled it for framing. Reflexively, I tried to punch him—Stanley never grabbed again.”
12. Scatman Crothers (Dick Hallorann), a musician and band leader, was a friend of Jack Nicholson—the actor suggested him to Kubrick. He appealed to the director as someone who would credibly share a psychic connection with Danny. This was a terrible experience for Scatman—not an experienced actor—Kubrick drove him endlessly, redoing scenes twenty or thirty times. He finally said, “What do you want Stanley? What do you want?” The scene where Hallorann and Danny bond (Hallorann relates the tale of his grandmother explaining shining) set a world record with 148 takes of one close up shot.
Brown described Kubrick thusly: He’s not like a film director, (rather a) medieval artisan working in an ivory tower, sculpting until he had perfect image. He had real feelings for the characters because he worked so closely and symmetrically—the actors are perfectly in frame.
13. Production was scheduled for 100 days, it went to 250. He worked with a small crew most of the time (ten or less people) to save money. According to Brown, the shooting period was quadrupled. Kubrick was happy he wouldn’t have to fake the exterior scenes planned for summer.
14. The film’s only special effect involved the maze (changed from King’s topiary animals). After the center of the maze was built, Kubrick found an apartment nearby, on a high up block; he made a zooming shot down into the maze, with doubles for Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. That center of maze shot waas matted into identical zoom on the maze model.
15. The snow outside was either pulverized styrofoam (falling snow) or dendritic dairy salt (on the ground). Over 900 tons of salt was used.
16. John Baxter: “Jack’s fantasies—the nude girl who turns into a rotting corpse— are out of Kubrick’s own fantasies. He had a disquiet and discomfort with sex, never had a believable sex scene in any of his films…”
17. Kubrick loved gadgets, like the typewriter. He saw a chance to create text for Jack’s novel, and decided there should be a real manuscript of 500 or so pages. A secretary was hired to type the phrase ” All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over, so no matter where Shelley dipped into paper, she would find it. The secretary spent months and months typing out pages, formatted differently, with typos and the weirdness of typewriters.
18. While shooting in the maze—which Brown called “a terrible fire hazzard” (Nicholson was terrified of a fire)—the Steadicam scenes sent video off to Kubrick by wireless transmitter. “Stanley became afraid people nearby were watching the video on television.” Brown assured Stanley that the studio walls wouldn’t allow it—there was wire mesh in the walls—but Brown went outside and took portable, and often there would be a perfect signal. They had “large arguments about the signal and Stanley turned out to be right.” Rather than tell Kubrick, he deceived him: “I learned where the signal didn’t get out and showed Stanley those spots,” and so he was allowed to use the device. They were in the maze for a month. Crews in the maze became a problem, many actually got lost even with maps. “It wasn’t much use to call out ‘Stanley’ as his laughter seemed to come from everywhere!”
19. Garrett Brown had to leave to shoot Rocky II during filming (as shooting had gone way off schedule), so Ray Andrew (The Princess Bride, An American Werewolf in London, Das Boot) operated the Steadicam for the scene where Wendy attacks Jack and the elevator scene. Kubrick agreed with Jack there should be a stunt man for the role, “…but Stanley couldn’t just choose a single stunt man. He summoned every available stunt man in London, each was given a jacket equivalent to Jack’s, each screen tested, and the head of the union eventually stood in for Jack to fall down stairs.” For the elevator scene, Kubrick insisted on 200 to 300 gallons of “Kensington Gore.” The shot was done in three takes.
20. Room 237, a documentary which examines The Shining’s subtext (metaphor for the genocide of Native Americans/Holocaust allegory), debuted at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Reviews here, here and here.
At only 17, Vivian Kubrick (who appears in the party scene) documented her father’s process for Making ‘The Shining’ .
Cindy Davis still experiences heart pounding when she watches The Shining.