Senior HTF Member
- May 31, 2004
- Agua Verde
- Real Name
- Pike Bishop
So, last night I watched The Shining again and this is one of those odd pictures that my relationship with and feelings about seem to change over time. I don't know if this happens to any of you but there are some films which as I see them again over the years my thoughts on them continue to develop. From seeing it in a theater when it was first released, to seeing it on TV, VHS, DVD, and blu-ray...well...I have over the years paid many visits to the Overlook Hotel. I was surprised when I searched here there was no dedicated thread to this film. So, here is a thread to talk about it...if you dare enter the doors of the Overlook once again...
The Shining may be one of the most written about and discussed films in the history of motion pictures. From real analysis to out there conspiracy theories I am not sure any movie has been more picked apart. When the picture was released on blu-ray a whole new round of frame by frame dissection began and we are not just talking about how the video and audio improved. These improvements allowed people to dive even deeper into whatever it is that they think Stanley Kubrick and the film are trying to tell them. I do think most of the weird conspiracy stuff is based around the fact that Kubrick made this film and people think he was some sort of mad genius privy to all sorts of esoteric knowledge...faking the moon landing and evil cabals that run the planet for example. The truth is he was just a family man that loved his pets and puttering around the house, while working on a good story he could tell on film. That's a bit boring when compared to being contacted by NASA to help them fake the moon landing so never allow the truth to get in the way of a good legend.
So, one of the things that has continued to develop for me is how I feel about the performances in the film. When I first saw the film in a theater and for years afterwards Nicholson was the person I was most focused on. His performance was crazed and weird but I felt at the time that it was justified. Shelley Duvall I found annoying at first. Danny Lloyd was quite good as their son but the film makes it pretty clear why Danny would be terrified. The poor kid has a little boy that lives in his mouth, talks through his finger, shows him terrible stuff, he sees ghosts, his father is bat shit crazy, and his mother seems of little help. This kid is not having a good life. For many years I watched the film mostly for Nicholson's performance.
As time passed though things flipped for me, while still enjoying Jack, Shelley became the key performance in the picture. She really is the anchor of the whole thing providing a realistic transformation from wife that wants to be supportive of her obviously deeply flawed husband to terrified and aware he is dangerous to her and her son. It's actually a great performance that seems so real you can't tell Duvall is acting.
Nicholson though is another story. He is most definitely acting and in a great big comic way. All of his reaction shots in the film make it appear he thinks he is doing a comedy. There is no normal or naturalistic acting from Jack here, he starts weird and just gets more worked up as the film progresses. The critics of the film, including Stephen King, all cited Nicholson's performance as one of the major flaws of the picture, that he goes nuts too quickly. Well, he seems to be nuts from the jump to me. From his opening interview for the job his reaction shots are pretty funny. Then his explaining to his young son what happened to the Donner party as they drive up to the hotel...well...this is pretty hilarious. And Kubrick makes sure that we have Jack's face in the foreground so we can see every little nuance of his facial expressions and seriously, they all scream this guy is anything but alright.
Jack is a very expressive actor and his eyebrows, now oh so much more evident in hi-def, tend to often elevate things from normal to comic in one little twitch. He does not just chew the scenery in this film though, he pretty much rips it to shreds. There really is nobody like Jack Nicholson today but perhaps the closest we can come is Joaquin Phoenix who also gives a clinic on reaction shots in films like The Master and Inherent Vice. The faces Nicholson makes in The Shining as he reacts to all the other characters do sort of betray any sense of terror...because on my watch last night I was laughing at his performance nearly the whole way through the film.
He also stands out more now because there just are really no actors today that jump off the screen like Jack and have his massive personality so what may have seemed alright in 1980 to me now looks like crazed mugging for the camera. His drooling, tongue flicking, eyebrow raising, pouting, sneering, ranting madness is so out of control you have to wonder if Kubrick ever said to him "Jack, let's try that again but this time tone it down a bit."
Honestly, it seems he never did. Kubrick often did many takes with actors to push them to do strange and odd things and to go places they would not normally have gone. Also to break them down to the point where they would no longer be able to "act" and so were just "being" on camera in a more realistic manner. With Nicholson though, Kubrick may have met an actor that he just could not or had no idea how to handle or regulate his performance.
In a Spinal Tap way he somehow starts at 11 and works his way up to 22 and Kubrick and his camera seem to just be holding on for dear life. The other actors in the film deliver all the terror and unease. Joe Turkel and his dead eyed stare as Lloyd the bartender as a party literally takes place on Jack's face. Or Philip Stone creepy as Grady telling Torrance that he must "correct" his wife and child while Nicholson mugs like a naughty boy.
Also, the funny moment where Nicholson wipes his hand on the back of Grady's jacket as they make their way to the men's room so Grady can clean up the mess he made spilling drinks all over Torrance. Nicholson often seems to be going for little comic moments while others are acting in a horror film. It's not so much nuts as it is hilarious. I could sort of feel Mr. King seething as he watched this.
I do think sometimes when you watch a film many, many times you become overly familiar with it and then you start to see other things in it you may not have paid attention to before. In the case of The Shining Nicholson was always front and center in it but I think I laughed a lot more through this last viewing than I have on previous ones and I am not sure I am supposed to.
Duvall is not funny, she appears truly terrified and sort of heartbreaking. We know Kubrick really pushed her to get that performance. Watching the film this time though I kept wondering what did Kubrick say to Jack as they shot his scenes? I don't think his performance really fits the subject matter. I mean, he is no doubt fun to watch but is he supposed to be this hilarious?
I'm not saying I would like to swap Jack out for another actor or that I don't enjoy watching him but I have to say in what I think is supposed to be an epic horror film Nicholson oddly gives a hilarious comic performance. Maybe it was just meant to be weird but watch Nicholson react to Lloyd the bartender or Grady in the men's room and tell me what you think Kubrick wanted in these scenes.