casting the shining -- 10/30/20

Today's selection -- from Stanley Kubrick by David Mikics. Director Stanley Kubrick’s casting of the movie The Shining:

"[The character] Jack [Torrance in the movie The Shining] is in fact Ku­brick's doppelgänger: his madness reflects the director's own work ethic. Jack the writer is more than dedicated, he is obses­sive, just like Kubrick the filmmaker. Unlike Kubrick, though, he has no partners in his creative project, no sense of sponta­neity or teamwork, just a will to control. And unlike Kubrick, he answers frustration with wrath. Losing control makes him a monster.

"Jack is a type, an empty vessel filled by the anger that storms through the American male. No one embodied such anger with more panache than Jack Nicholson. The hopped-up Nichol­son, with his big bad wolf grin and agile quotation mark eye­brows, made gonzo fury look charming.

"Kubrick early on settled on Nicholson to play Jack Tor­rance. Nicholson had just won an Oscar for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), in which he starred as the rebel misfit Ran­dle McMurphy. At the time Nicholson's life was in turmoil. He was breaking up with Anjelica Huston, and he had just found out that the woman he thought was his mother was actually his grandmother, and his elder sister really his mother. Nicholson was a refugee from the coked-up LA scene, but there were drugs in London too. He modeled his mad Jack partly after Charles Manson, whose gang had murdered actress Sharon Tate, girl­friend of Roman Polanski, a good friend of Nicholson. He called his performance 'sort of balletic,' and he was right: Nicholson moves with grace as he jabs the air with his fists, thumping and hollering in macho release.

"Kubrick wanted Shelley Duvall as his Wendy. He and John­son had earlier thought that Wendy would be a strong, defiant character, perhaps to be played by Jane Fonda or Lee Remick. But Kubrick went in the opposite direction with the gangly, twitchy Duvall, who was so high-strung as to seem almost oth­erworldly. A regular in Robert Altman's movies, she had just won at Cannes for her role in Altman's Three Women (1977). Duvall's job in the film was to be terrified, at times to the point of hysteria. To this end, Kubrick made her life miserable on set, yelling at her over her mistakes, and he warned his crew not to show her any sympathy. Duvall knew why Kubrick was making her suffer, and she acknowledged later that she learned more about acting from him than she had from Altman. But the film­ing was no fun for her.

"Vivian Kubrick depicts her father taunting Duvall in her short documentary about the making of The Shining. (She shot more than 100,000 feet of film, but the movie that exists is just half an hour long.) Gordon Stainforth remarked that Kubrick wanted the scenes cut out in which 'he was very warm and nice' and 'what was left were the sequences of him shouting at Shelley in the snow.' He wanted to play the ogre, not papa bear, and align himself with the madly irate Jack.

"The last two members of The Shining's ensemble were both inspired choices. For Dick Hallorann, Nicholson recommended his friend Scatman Crothers, a singer and television and film actor. Crothers, then seventy years old, was a kind, genial man with a bowlegged stride. As Hallorann he played the nice guy, cautious by instinct, with a touch of severity underneath. Ku­brick's practice of doing take after take -- invariably saying some­thing like 'Let's go again' rather than telling his actors what they had done wrong -- took its toll on Crothers. When Nich­olson axed him, Crothers had to fall thirty times. Kubrick filmed more than a hundred takes of one seven-minute sequence, Hal­lorann's early conversation with Danny over ice cream.

"Crothers sometimes had trouble remembering his lines, but that wasn't the case with the boy who played Danny. Leon Vitali headed a crew that interviewed more than four thousand American boys before selecting five-year-old Danny Lloyd, the son of a railroad engineer. Vitali was Danny's dialogue coach and constant companion on set. Lloyd had no idea that he was making a horror movie: he saw none of the paralyzing frights of the Overlook Hotel, no blood, no ghosts.

"The Shining relies on Danny Lloyd's firm and assured per­formance. When he crouches in his hiding place and hears his father's mad bellowing, he is a boy in a Grimms fairy tale, stark and still. We see Danny watching a Road Runner cartoon: like Chuck Jones's agile hero, he outwits his enemy. Danny finally wins by retracing his steps in the maze, tricking the ogre of a father who wants to murder him."



David Mikics


Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker


Yale University Press


Copyright 2020 David Mikics


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