Sight and Sound Top 250 – #156 The Shining (1980)

Yep, it’s been awhile, but it’s finally time to renew our voyage through the most recent Sight and Sound Top 250 Movies of All Time list, this time around, it’s #156 on the list, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. And as always I’ll note that for those just joining us, you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, just head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up. Trust me, if you’re not following one or the other (or both), you’re not getting the full Durmoose Movies experience.

sh1There’s been so much written and said about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, it’s possible interpretations and influences  – there’s even been a documentary, Room 237, exploring it’s different possible (though more than a little outlandish) meanings – that it’s tough to really know where to begin with it.

Therefore I’ll simply start with this declaration: for many, including me, The Shining is very possibly THE horror movie.

This film, the tale of a man – Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance – gone quite mad, very simply has it all. From the Stephen King book from which the story comes, through Kubrick and Diane Johnson’s screenplay, John Alcott’s cinematography, Kubrick’s direction, Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind’s score, and the rest of the cast and crew, this movie stands as one of the true masterpieces of horror cinema, very much deserves its place on this list.

One of the reasons this movie is so hard to write about is that it feels like one of those that pretty much everyone has seen and already has their own opinion about. I know that there are many – including Stephen King himself – who do not share my point of view on it. As a matter of fact, in the afterword of his sequel novel Doctor Sleep, King professed continued dissatisfaction with the Kubrick film writing”…of course there was Stanley Kubrick’s movie which many seem to remember — for reasons I have never quite understood — as one of the scariest films they have ever seen.”

sh2At the same time, I know that there are going to be many out there who, though they may have seen images and clips from the movie, have never actually sat and watched the whole thing. After all, it was made in 1980, which means that an entire generation of movie-goers have been born and come of age since its release, and though foe a long time it seems as though one couldn’t turn on the television without it popping up on one cable channel or another, however, those days, I suspect are long past.

So, for those of you who haven’t seen it, rather than re-invent an already well-made wheel, here’s the plot summary from Wikipedia. It’s quite long and obviously spoiler filled, so I’m going to set it off as a blockquote. For those of you who don’t want to read the whole thing, or want to avoid the spoilers, simply meet me further down, below the indentation.

Jack Torrance arrives at the mountain isolated Overlook Hotel, 25 miles from the closest town, Sidewinder, Colorado, interviewing for the position of winter caretaker, planning to use the hotel’s solitude to write. The hotel, built on the site of a Native American burial ground, becomes snowed-in during the winter; it is closed from October to May. Manager Stuart Ullman warns Jack that a previous caretaker, Charles Grady, developed cabin fever and killed his family and himself. In Boulder, Jack’s son, Danny Torrance, while brushing his teeth, has a terrifying premonition about the hotel, viewing a cascade of blood emerging from an elevator door, before falling into a trance. Jack’s wife, Wendy, tells a doctor that Danny has an imaginary friend named Tony, and that Jack has given up drinking because he dislocated Danny’s shoulder following a binge.

sh3The family arrives at the hotel on closing day and is given a tour. The chef, Dick Hallorann, surprises Danny by telepathically offering him ice cream. To Danny, Dick explains that he and his grandmother shared this telepathic ability, which he calls “shining.” Danny asks if there is anything to be afraid of in the hotel, particularly room 237. Hallorann tells Danny that the hotel has a “shine” to it along with many memories, not all of which are good. He also tells Danny to stay out of room 237.

A month passes; while Jack’s writing goes nowhere, Danny and Wendy explore the hotel’s hedge maze. Wendy becomes concerned about the phone lines being out due to the heavy snowfall and Danny has frightening visions. Jack, increasingly frustrated, starts acting strangely and becomes prone to violent outbursts.

Danny’s curiosity about room 237 overcomes him when he sees the room’s door open. Later, Wendy finds Jack, asleep at his typewriter, screaming in his sleep. After she awakens him, Jack says he dreamed that he killed her and Danny. Danny arrives with a bruise on his neck and traumatized, causing Wendy to accuse Jack of abusing him. Jack wanders into the hotel’s Gold Room and meets a ghostly bartender named Lloyd. Lloyd serves him bourbon while Jack complains about his marriage.

sh4Wendy later tells Jack that Danny told her a “crazy woman in one of the rooms” tried strangling him. Jack investigates room 237, encountering the ghost of a dead woman, but tells Wendy he saw nothing. Wendy and Jack argue over whether Danny should be removed from the hotel and a furious Jack returns to the Gold Room, filled with ghosts attending a ball. He meets the ghost of Grady who tells Jack that he must “correct” his wife and child and that Danny has reached out to Hallorann using his “talent.” In Florida, Hallorann has a premonition that something is wrong at the hotel and flies back to Colorado. Danny starts calling out “redrum” and goes into a trance, referring to himself as “Tony”.

While searching for Jack, Wendy discovers he has been typing pages of manuscript repeating “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” She begs Jack to leave the hotel with Danny, but he confronts her, and threatens her before she knocks him unconscious with a baseball bat. She drags him into the kitchen and locks him in the pantry, but she and Danny are trapped at the hotel; Jack has sabotaged the hotel’s two-way radio and snowcat. Later, Jack converses through the pantry door with Grady, who unlocks the door…

Actually, I think I’m going to cut the plot synopsis short there, because I really want to encourage you to watch the movie yourself. SO if you want to know how it all ends, well, you know what to do.

Ultimately, The Shining (and I suppose I should make it clear that I am only talking from here on about the movie, and not the book or the later TV adaptation) is an ambiguous movie. Is it a ghost story? Is it a haunted house movie? Is it a movie about possession? Is it perhaps a story about spiritual if not physical reincarnation? Is it the tale of one man’s descent into madness or is Jack Torrance already slightly mad even before hr and his family move onto the Overlook? Perhaps what happens is simply the fulfillment of his destiny. Or perhaps he has been another ghost all along.

sh5And in the end, do any of the above possibilities matter? No, not really. Because it is this ambiguity that largely gives the movie it’s power. It is, in large part the not knowing, the continuous pulling the rug out from under the viewer that makes the movie not just frightening but unsettling in a way that so few horror (or actually I would call this a terror movie) movies old or new really seek to be and even fewer actually accomplish. What Kubrick pulls off here is a spot-on definition of the term “masterwork” in that it exemplifies a master of his craft bringing every bit of his skill and everything that he has learned about the art of filmmaking to bear in the telling of what could otherwise have been – as we have seen in so many other films that have come before and since – merely another mundane film about a family (or any other group of people) trapped in a lone place with a killer (or at least potential killer) on the loose.

And, like most of the best stories, be they told in film or otherwise, the end result for each viewer is as dependent upon what they bring to and invest in the movie itself. That’s why, once again, I’m going to refrain from much more commentary and simply recommend that you watch the movie for yourself. If you’re a first time viewer, I think you’ll find that you’ve uncovered a gem, and even if you’ve seen it before, I think you’ll find that it rewards repeated viewings.

Here’s your trailer:

Sight and Sound Top 250 – #009 The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927)

Continuing our voyage throught the most recent Sight and Sound Top 250 Movies of All Time list, this time around, it’s #9 on the list, Carl Theodore Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. And as always I’ll just note that for those just joining us, you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, just head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up. Trust me, if you’re not following one or the other (or both), you’re not getting the full Durmoose Movies experience.

ja0Well, this time out, I not only get to mark another movie off the Top 250 list, but also off of my own personal “I really should have seen this movie before now” list. Of course by now you’ve  figured out that I’m talking about Carl Theodore Dreyer’s silent 1928 classic The Passion of Joan of Arc (or, giving it it’s proper French title, La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc).

Actually it’s a lucky thing that any of us are able to see the film at all, considering all of the troubles that beset the movie both before and after its production.

As soon as the production of Joan was announced, there were protests by French nationalists because of the director and because it had been rumored that Lillian Gish was to star as Joan. As Jean-Jose Frappa famously summed up these objections,

…whatever the talent of the director (and he has it)…he cannot give us a Joan of Arc in the true French tradition. And the American ‘star’…cannot be our Joan, wholesome, lively, shining with purity, faith, courage and patriotism. To let this be made in France would be a scandalous abdication of responsibility.

Then, before its premiere, the Archbishop of France and French censors ordered a number of cuts be made, demands to which the studio acceded, over the protests of Dreyer. Finally, the film had it’s public premiere in October of 1928.

ja1Then, in December of that year, the original negative of the film was destroyed in a fire, leaving only a few prints available, and most of those were heavily damaged. Fortunately Dreyer was able to piece together a new version made from alternate cuts of the film. This new version, however, was also destroyed in a lab fire in 1929.

In subsequent years, various recuts and editions were released, including a truly bastardized version which cut the film down to 61 minutes in 1933, and a 1951 recut by Joseph-Marie Lo Duca which became the prevailing print even though Dreyer objected to it.

ja2For years, it seemed as though there was no real chance that audiences would be able to see anything that truly resembled the director’s true vision for his film.

Then, in 1981, an employee of the Dikemark Mental Hospital  in Oslo, Norway, found several film canisters in a janitor’s closet that were labeled as being The Passion of Joan of Arc. These canisters were sent to the Norwegian Film Institute where they languished for three years before finally being further examined. When they finally were, it was discovered that they contained a copy of Dreyer’s original cut prior to government or church censorship.

These reels were finally restored, and in 1985, the closest thing to a definitive version was finally released to the public.

ja3As far as the film itself, there can be no doubt that Dreyer has created a true masterpiece, though it is a very unconventional one. The director for the most part eschews establishing shots and even the expected mid-range shots, instead spending most of the film giving us extreme close-ups which truly allow the emotions of the characters to come through. Also, through his decision not to allow the actors to wear make-up and to shoot them with mostly only the available light, he really does capture a sense of intensity which heightens not only the viewer’s empathy with Joan’s plight, but the furiousness that is brought by her interrogators.

Even when Dreyer does give us scenes of transition, such as when the action moves into the torture room, he chooses his shot in such a way that gives the room an unexpected starkness that serves only to heighten the viewer’s curiosity and the sense of dread which permeates the film.

ja4There are even times when the film seems to border on the abstract and the expressionist, such as the shots of the spiked spinning wheel which occur during the torture scene.

There’s also really no way to overstate the perfection of the performance which star Renée Jeanne Falconetti brings to the film in the title role of Joan. At the same time embodying the hopefulness of the martyr in her belief that God will save her with an equal sense of the hopelessness of her plight, Falconetti is tragic in a way that I dare say no one has or will ever be on film again.

ja6Kudos also have to be given to the various actors who make up the court. Again, since so much of the film is made up of extreme close-ups of their faces, they have to use those faces to embody an extreme range of emotions without being able to resort to other tricks and tics of body language to do so.

All in all, The Passion of Joan of Arc is one of those transcendent films which truly shows what a skilled and passionate (no pun intended) film maker can create despite the enormous amount of interference from all quarters the Dreyer was faced with, and it’s a film that seems, much like Joan herself, something of a miracle that we are able to see today.

Here’s a trailer that was obviously made for a theatrical showing of the new restoration: