Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Is Stanley Kubrick's The Shining a masterpiece? Room 237 thinks it's worth exploring.

In 1980, Stanley Kubrick, Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers and Danny Lloyd were responsible for injecting a piece of movie horror into the main stream of pop culture. A new documentary, Room 237, now takes a deeper look into the film's meaning and mysteries and its growing reputation as a cinematic classic.

Based on the novel by Stephen King, Director Stanley Kubrick used the tools of his craft to spin King's novel The Shining into a sensation. With a May 1980 opening in just 10 theaters (a wide opening would come a month later), The Shining pulled in more than $62,000.00 per theater in 3 days. Its entire original run scored just over $44 million. Moderate by current standards but still nicely profitable on a reported production budget of just $19 million.

But this is a case where numbers don't begin to tell the story. In a great movie, it should be scenes of the movie itself that live on to become unforgettable. Kubrick's The Shining is packed frame to frame with them.

The most memorable for me is the following shot of 7-year old Danny Lloyd, as Danny Torrence, furiously peddling a plastic wheeled tricycle through hotel hallways as the sound of the rear wheels on concrete and hardwood alternate with the silence of area carpets. Somehow that soundtrack embeds both speed and foreboding. The tricycle stops and the young boy looks drawn to a room he was about to peddle past, room 237. You want to race down the hall, scoop the boy up out of his seat and rush him away from that room to safety, but you are trapped in your theater seat, helpless to help and captivated by danger. What's in that room and who are the mysterious twins that appear?

The Shining is famous for other shots as well. Perhaps highest on the list is Jack Nicholson's (as Danny's father Jack Torrence) demonic delivery of Ed Mahon's Tonight Show introduction "Here's Johnny" while axing through his wife's room door. And then there are the majestic shots of the snow storm isolated Overlook Hotel and its infamous outdoor maze.

Kubrick elicited intense performances from his leading cast and then provided a baseline and counterpoint to the building hysteria with a superbly understated performance by Scatman Crothers as caretaker Dick Halloran. It would seem that all the pieces are in place to acknowledge The Shining as a true horror masterwork.

Yet, when I saw The Shining in a movie theater in its original release, I was unimpressed. Even bored and annoyed. What's it all mean?

Given Nicholson's on screen histrionics, even Kubrick's name wouldn't have led me to believe the film would age with such respect. But it may be the craft of the meticulous and pioneering director that stands as the truly undeniable classic element of the film. One I've slowly come to appreciate.

In perhaps in the simplest of examples, the producers of Room 237 realized Kubrick's genius for visual production is on full display in the teaser trailer released to promote The Shining's premier run. So much so that they used the device of a static hallway shot for their own clever trailer. Here are both. The trailer for Room 237 followed by the teaser for The Shining.

Documentaries can be a wonderful way to discover new worlds, new cultures and new points of view about subjects that range as wide as the personalities and the imaginations of the filmmakers who make them. In this case, you may discover a film you've never seen or a film for which you may gain new insight or respect. Or perhaps, you'll be revisiting a favorite from a new perspective. Stanley Kubrick is certainly a director whose work is worth exploring. Perhaps Room 237 will be your place to start.

Room 237 opens in the US in limited release on March 29th. It is directed and edited by Rodney Ascher and produced by Tim Kirk, it is an IFC release.

Box-office numbers provided by the-numbers.com. 

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