The Shining - 1980
Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is considered by many to be a true classic. While you can debate whether it's a horror classic or a suspense classic, you can't deny the true brilliance behind this film, everything from acting by both Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, to the screenplay, the score and the directing. This movie can be enjoyed on all fronts and it's truly one of my all time favorite movies.
Let's start with Jack Nicholson acting, as he portrays Jack Torrance, a writer turned groundskeeper for a hotel, hoping a quiet and secluded life will help his boost his writing output. He helps to elevate the material, by giving us a wide range of emotions, almost all played through his facial expressions as he slowly descends into madness. Some of this faces have become memes at this point, but it doesnt take anything away from his performance.
Since Jack is playing up his slow decent into madness, Shelley Duvall, who plays his wife Wendy, has to sell her concern and fear as she sees her husband go down that rabbit whole. As events around her and her son, Danny, start to get more and more dangerous, she was able (with help from Kubrick) to portray a woman on the brink of a nervous breakdown. You really feel for her and root for her in the later stages of the movie, you as an audience member believe that this woman is truly scared for her life.
With the help of their main two actors, Kubrick's and Johnson's screenplay really shines (sorry I couldn't stop myself). As they wrote a smart and clever screenplay, filled with hints (or bread crumbs) that on a repeat viewing, you can see how they set up the closing events of the movie. I want to point out two specific scenes, that make me gush as a film lover, that point out what a great of a screenplay The Shinning has.
The first one I want to point out is the famous elevator door vision scene, the reason why it's brilliant writing is because it's pure visual story telling. Let me first set it up, in a previous scene, we learn through a simple conversation between Danny and Wendy, that Tony (Danny's imaginary friend) doesn't want to go to the hotel, when asked why, Tony doesn't want to tell Wendy. We can assume it's Danny's way of saying he doesn't want to move, like any other kid would, but then we go to the scene in question. We see Danny talking to Tony in the bathroom asking him why he truly doesn't want to go and after a few tries Danny finally breaks through and Tony let's him know, not by telling him, by showing him. In this brief 30 second sequence we learn a lot, one being that Danny has a gift (later in the filmed called Shining) and that Tony is real and second, we get the famous elevator corridor filling up with blood, the twins and Danny's pure terror face. This sets the stage for the rest of the movie, letting the audience know the danger that our main characters are facing, we didn't need a character to read a long a painful backstory or warn us of the danger, Kubrick and Johnson decided to show us the danger.
The second one that I want to point out is quick and simple, but it also gives a vast insight to things to come in the movie. Let me set it up for you once again, after the family has moved in, we see Wendy and Danny exploring the hotel grounds. As they are walking around, Jack is inside the bouncing a ball against the hotel walls, he throws it away a slowly walks towards a miniature replica of the labyrinth outside. Now here comes the quick and simple scene; as Jack looms over the replica, the movie cuts to an overhead shot of the labyrinth, us as the audience quickly assumes we are looking at the replica like Jack is, but as the camera slowly zooms in, we can see it's Wendy and Danny walking through the labyrinth outside the hotel. This scene is simple, yet filled with information as to the danger Wendy and Danny are in, as the presence of Jack looms over them.
Now the final aspect of what makes The Shinning a classic is it's directing style. I know that I am not breaking news here when saying that Kubrick is a master director and the many of his groundbreaking contributions to the film industry are still being used to this day, so I just want to focus on his camera work. The camera movement he used to follow his characters through the hotel. He gave the camera almost a life of its own in key scenes, making it an entity that was following them, without them knowing it. There are the three famous tracking shots of Danny in the big-wheel, the tour of the hotel by the manager and the final sequence of Danny running from Jack in the labyrinth, All this shots feels like the camera is trying to keep up with them. Then he counter-acts this movements with steady cam shots of huge rooms in where our characters look consumed by the hotel's vast spaces. My favorites are the ones where he shows Jack writing in his type writer, shows our character being lost the huge sitting room of the hotel.
The score also helps push the movie along, helping create tension and keeping its audience unease and uncomfortable. With the music being almost unpredictable as to where the music is going, it helps the visuals the audience is seeing, gain more weight and they hit even harder when they land. Below is one of my favorite examples of how great and unusual this score is:
I could go on and on about The Shinning, but I know the movie speaks for itself, and every-time I watch it, I gain a new nugget of information that I missed the previous time I watched it, shaping my perspective on the movie even more, and that's why I love movies.