2012-10-31

The Shining




The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where an evil and spiritual presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from the past and of the future.

With the recent release of Room 237, an entertaining documentary on the different analysis and critics of Stanley Kubrick’s very personal interpretation of Steven King’s best seller The Shining. Being one of the few who read the book prior to watch the feature film, I will already advance that Diane Johnson’s, along with Kubrick’s, vision of the story is far more efficient and holds up a better meaning and mystery. This long rewriting took eight months and even if King’s novel was far from mediocrity, with the Jack Nicholson version we are in for a better Freudian reading and a greater work of art.

A father brings his wife (Shelley Duvall) and their son to a remote Hotel in the Colorado for the entire winter while there are almost no ways to get there and escape. This recluse time was supposed to reunite the family, let Jack write his novel and take care of the Overlook Hotel in case if there were breakage of any kind. The only breakage that happens is when Jack suffers from writer’s block and that isolation and the privation of alcohol, Jack is ancient alcoholic. Added to that, Danny (Danny Lloyd), their son, has a gift that he shares with Chef Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers). 


 With this premise installed we can go on the many things that make it one the greatest danse macabre of all time. First, the mood of the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s and the decor gives to the film a very unique feeling. The pure bright lighting and the white, almost too white snow gives an aspect of bleak tragic winter. Every year the first snowfall of the season reminds me of The Shining’s immaculate winterland.
This unsettling mood is also well served by the tremendous photography of John Alcott, too often forgotten and in the shadow of his director. With The Shining, we discover the best use of the Steadycam, a device that is fixed on the cameraman and that gives a feeling of human vision. It also gives more natural movements of the objective. It renders an eerie feeling to the scenes where “we” follow Danny on his Big Wheel and when the camera is behind Jack when he bends over the miniature reproduction of the maze. This technical aspect of Kubrick’s film is very subtle but plays on another level in our watching experience.

Earlier, I mentioned that Johnson and Kubrick brought a deeper Freudian angle to the plot and the original material. It is not that difficult to read The Shining as an adaptation of the Oedipus Rex complex. Where the little boy is over protected by his mother and his father can’t interact and is not able to act about it. Long before Jack’s breakdown we feel that Danny is scared of his father more than a kid should be. Conventionally, the discipline is indulged to a child by his father as a strict but just figure. However, we learn that in the past Jack broke Danny’s arm by accident in an excess of wrath and booze. Note that the arm represents a phallic symbol as in the Oedipus Rex complex the boy is afraid that his father caught him and castrate the boy for loving his mother the wrong way and more than him. It is also a position where the child tries to take the role of the father and dethrones him from his status. More often than not, a father that is too strict and hard on his child will be replaced by another man that is more honest and respectful. In this case, it is Chef Dick Halloran with whom Danny connects with his gift. He represents a man that is ready to sacrifice everything for the widow and the orphan.

Having not seen Room 237, I yet read that it brought many wacky theories on the meanings of Kubrick’s movie. Of them all there is one about the genocide of Amerindians and another about the Holocaust. The later won’t be addressed since there are no obvious links I saw the film a dozen times. But, the first one isn’t completely inaccurate since it is mentioned early in the film that the Hotel was built on an Ancient burial ground. Plus, Shelley Duvall’s outfits are themed with Indian elements and hanged tapestries remind of the Art of these people. Even if these elements are brought to our ears and eyes, it is more an element of decor and detail that Kubrick is well known for controlling everything in the development of his projects. It brings a sense of mystery and an eerie opposition of the white man versus the Indian people but it would be too simplistic to just put it there.


The labyrinthine aspect of the Overlook Hotel is represented in many ways and it is more those elements that critics and enthusiasts should try to seek for meaning. The impossible architecture of the Hotel having doors, windows and long corridors that can’t exist give a strange effect to the overall look. There are many apparitions but the Hotel itself is living and giving the family a hard time. Just like the reproduction of the outside maze inside the Hotel Hall and the maze itself that takes place the final scenes. There are many symbolisms in these elements and they seem to mean to engulf the family in itself. 


About the family, Jack Nicholson, Danny Lloyd in his only role, and Shelley Duvall are almost the only characters of this cabin fever masterpiece. Back when I started discovering films I used to think that Nicholson was the best actor of all time. Since, he always does his Nicholson thing in every role and I tend to think that he is more of an intense actor that plays more or so the same part. On the other side, Duvall, a cokehead of the Robert Altman gang, hated the director. Making her redo more than a hundred times the same scene over and over again she broke into tears probably as many times as she redid some scenes. There was a clear animosity between those two. Watch Vivien Kubrick’s (Stanley’s daughter) short shot on the sets to witness their sheer opposition. Her performance is good and I think it was probably what Kubrick wanted from her; she just doesn’t shine besides Mr. “over the top” Nicholson and is perfect persona for the Jack Torrance profile. The little Lloyd gives a good performance considering his once in a lifetime presence.

This brings our tour to my favorite scenes of The Shining. As you now must acknowledge, the writer of those lines is a strong defender of its prestige and the movie even made it to his “if they asked me” ballot of the 2012 Sight and Sound poll.

The first scene that I deeply love is the double scene in the Ballroom and the Men’s restroom discussion. The gold palette of the ballroom and the music that haunts this scene is superb. Then the red blood restroom is unsettling and the little camera trick that reflects the two actors.  I also like the fact that Kubrick uses exactly the same camera movements (tracking shots) when he enters in a room multiple times.
Another scene or sequence I cherish is the first visit of the Hotel where we discover for the entire sets. We have the luck to feel the last day of occupancy. Then it is closed for the winter and the mood drastically changes.
The third and final scene I’d like to highlight is the moment when Jack throws his ball against the wall and begins to be enchanted by the walls surrounding him. It is the last time we see Jack playing before he breakdown because of his novel. Except that time with the baseball bat, I guess.


Finally, it is quite a release to pen down this review, or small essay, or call it what you want, because I admire Stanley Kubrick very much and this film more than I would admit. Thinking about the many qualities and meanings of The Shining was very inspiring but also scary to try to express my admiration and the many aspects that must be regarded. Even if I’m more than sure I will have forgotten a thing or two I think that those 1300 plus words are what this self proclaimed film critic thinks about this Horror masterpiece.

2012-10-30

The Real Horror

Even if I posted a list of the Top Horror films of All time just yesterday, I think that the real Horror happened here on the East Coast. Our thoughts and best wishes are for the people in the trouble all along the Coast from Virginia to the North East of North America.

Sometimes real events take the whole attention and deserve it. So no movie blogging here today in respect of the victims. I hope that everyone and their families who came accross this blog is safe and that people who I know are nearer the trajectory of Sandy are all well: Chip Lary, Kevyn Knox, and all the fine folks of the LAMB.


2012-10-29

The Ultimate Top 10 Horror Films




Making lists and compiling tops of movies is one of my pleasures. In fact, when I started this film related blog it was one of the things that got me into Website building and Blogging.

When I decided to dedicate the month of October to Horror Films I had one major list I was taking my picks on: TSPDT’s 1000 Greatest Films. But searching a little further made me realise that many films listed on this reference of mine are praised in many tops of serious medias.

2012-10-26

The Best Pumpkin Designs Inspired by Movies




 Every year since my girlfriend (now my wife) and I are together we used to carve a pumpkin together and light it on Hallows’ Eve and put it on the porch in front of her parent’s house. With the time we got more ambitious and we made crazy, funny designs. We even did a Jack Skellington face on it once.

But, for the last four years we lived in an apartment and did not made one. This weekend we’ll take that tradition back since we moved into our first house this past summer.

To get dome inspiration I searched on Google and I thought about movie inspired designs here are the most interesting I found.



2012-10-25

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)



Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956)

A small-town doctor learns that the population of his community is being replaced by emotionless alien duplicates.

In the 1950’s there were many Sci-Fi films released with low budgets and many others were B-movies. A lot like many Films Noir of the time, this industry left many little gems that are now cherished by cinephiles. Amongst them, Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of the most interesting  Sci-Fi meets Horror movies made.

Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) is the doctor of a fictitious Californian town called Santa Mira and he is called in urgency to come back earlier from a conference. There was an accumulation of cases and work for him at the office. Strange signs of paranoia are showing and many people came to tell him that some members of their families have been acting differently. But the person he wants to save the most is Becky Discoll (Dana Wynter); recently divorced she was Miles’ love interest. When Miles is called by his friend Jack (King Donovan) and discovers the body of a man looking a lot like Jack they suspect that something is going wrong.

Later, the story explains that pods are placed to take the appearance of the people of the community and substitute them in their sleep. The replacements are emotionless versions of originals. They are set to think the same and suppress any kind of personality. It is easy to read this as the fear of Communism that characterized many Sci-Fi movies of the 1950’s. It was read as the menace from the left and also the right that the treat was Communism and also because the Americans were eager to change their minds together and participate without questioning to the Witch Hunt of the McCarthy era. What is the most fascinating aspect of this movie is the fact that we can assimilate anything that we fear as the treat of dehumanization. Because, it is what the movie is about, without really explaining where the pods come from, the sky, or how they substitute themselves and get rid of the body of the humans. We are in the presence of Horror themes that go further than actually a menace to get killed but that can doom the entire human race and enslave it. Sometimes, when every elements of a plot aren’t all chewed and explained it lets the viewer a bigger range for imagination and interpretation. Not knowing what is going on can be very frightening. Invasion of the Body Snatchers plays well on this note without being unintelligible.

On the other hand, Don Siegel’s frantic directing creates a perfect visual of atmospheres, long takes and a great use of shadows and light. Using the aesthetics of Film Noir give a very dark and eerie feeling to the whole film. Siegel puts his mark in a very subterranean way. His subtle mise en scène isn’t much palpable, but the use of the super wide technique (Superscope) is efficient and helps his long takes that characterized almost his entire career.
Finally, having postponed my viewing of Invasion of the Body Snatchers for many years have been making me wonder why I haven’t watched the thing a long time ago. A classic that didn’t aged and that inspired three remakes. Highly recommended. 



2012-10-24

Cinderella



Cinderella (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske, 1950)

When Cinderella's cruel stepmother prevents her from attending the Royal Ball, she gets some unexpected help from the lovable mice Gus and Jaq, and from her Fairy Godmother.

When the Disney Studios re-release one of their classic movies you must decide if you want it or not because they get them out of the vault for a limited time only. It might be considered a very greedy approach but also it brings a sense of urgency to get it before it’s no longer available. The collectors out there, like the writer of those lines, are interpellated by this mercantile aspect of DVD/Blu-Ray rarity. Back in 2008, I went on a vacation to Disney World and I brought as a souvenir and because it’s my childhood favorite The Jungle Book. Well, this year the ultimate fairy tale has been released in a slick Blu-Ray. Cinderella being my wife’s favorite, I surprised her the day it came out I gave her the film. Personally, I saw the main scenes: the transformation, the dancing and some other scenes but I never sat through the entire thing because it was a girl movie when I was young.

However, with time and a fair interest in Disney Classics, it was about time that this critic discovers Cinderella. Like aforementioned, this is every girl’s fairy tale. A charming prince is looking to marry the perfect maiden. Cinderella is an eligible young woman but living with her stepmother has been a real pain in the back. She is the slave of her stepsisters and stepmother. However, she always gets up happy, singing with the birds and playing with mice. Some of the greatest moments of the animated feature are the upgrade of the dress, and the appearance and performance of the Fairy Godmother. Every element in Cinderella is very charming and the plot is elevated with the comic relief of the animals that have equalled if not more important parts in the movie than humans.

This is one of the most beautiful films that Disney has made and even if some elements and values may be perceived as conventional, well it was released in 1950 by a very American studio and in Far Away. What do you expect? It sets the standard with Snow White as the classic fairy tale. I must conclude with the fact that I think that the early Disney classics are masterpieces and that their craft are great works of Art. Even if Walt Disney himself once said that the worst thing that could happen to him was that his films were only shown in Art Houses I think that they can be appreciated in any theatre and by a vast public. Labelling Cinderella as Art doesn’t input it to be reserved to a restricted public neither does it under evaluate it. It’s a question of giving its nobility to the film. Highly recommended.


2012-10-23

The Innocents



The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961)

A young governess for two children becomes convinced that the house and grounds are haunted.

Starring Deborah Kerr, produced and directed by Jack Clayton, shot by cinematographer Freddie Francis who later would direct Horror classics at Hammer Films, and co-written by Truman Capote, The Innocents had the right formula to please any film buff out there. With high expectations and a recent viewing of Robert Wise’s The Haunting, I entered in this Classic ghost story.

Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), is a young woman who agrees to become the governess of two children raise in the country at a majestic manor. The whole place, his gardens, the many rooms, the deco, and even the young Flora are charming. Everything goes very well until young Miles comes back from school because he was expelled for a mysterious reason. Starting there, the house will seem inhabited by spectres and Miss Giddens will do whatever she can to protect the children and expel the unwelcomed ghosts.

The whole crew who worked on The Innocents was experienced and expert in his field. The use of space, sound, and the construction of frame is outstanding. Compared to The Haunting, the actual manifestations of the paranormal are visible and we clearly discover who the ghosts were. This is an element that withdraws the effect of fright and that reminded Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca in many ways.


Clearly, this landmark of ghost movies will influence the use of children in Horror movies for years to come and Deborah Kerr’s performance is outstanding just as the dame is known for. However, triple billed with The Haunting and Cat People, The Innocents seemed to be the blandest and the most traditional film of the three. Plus, the type of ghost story of The Innocents has been reproduced so many times that the original, while being widely influential, loses its luster.
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