- Shelley Duvall takes a bathroom break in The Shining.
For this edition of Never Seen It, I asked Memphis musician Louise Page what well-known film she had missed over the years. First she said Jurassic Park, but by the time we got our act together, she had already watched it at the Summer Malco Drive-In's reopening double feature. Then she suggested The Shining.
The Shining was my original "never seen it." For years when I would have movie nights with my friends, I would propose watching it, but everyone else had already seen it, so to me, it existed only as clips of Jack Nicholson beating down a door with an axe. When I finally saw it, it became my favorite horror film and cemented my status as a Kubrick fanboy. We watched the film together at the same time in our respective domiciles and conducted the following interviews on the phone. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
- Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, and Jack Nicholson
Chris McCoy: So, what do you know about The Shining?
Louise Page: All right, I know some things about The Shining. I actually know it came out in 1980, and I wanted to look up when the exact 40-year anniversary of the film is because, for all we know, we're close to it. [note: Louise was right. The Shining was released on May 23, 1980.] I know it was based on a novel by Stephen King that came out in the '70s. I know that it's directed by Stanley Kubrick and stars Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. And I vaguely know what it's about. I've seen the famous scene where he's busting through the door. I know it's about a family that is somehow isolated in, I think, a hotel. And he is trying to write something, and he goes insane. That's what I know.
Chris: Okay! Well, you know a lot! So, what is your relationship with horror movies? Do you generally like horror movies, or are you not a fan?
Louis: It totally depends. I do not do well with very intense gore — like, I've never seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and likely never will, because any sort of body horror or really gory stuff, I just feel it in my bones. It really gets me. It's not so much that I don't like horror movies, but I'm very judicious about when and how I watch them because I have strong reactions to them. You know, if there's a jump scare, I'm gonna jump. Something stupid happens, I'm going to be scared. I thought I saw a clown in the corner of my room after I saw It. So, it'll get me, but that doesn't mean that I do not like horror films. So I think I'm probably fun to watch horror movies with because I freak the fuck out. And this is totally due to being sheltered when I was a child. I'm not desensitized. I'm fully sensitized.
Chris: I think we're in for a good night.
Chris: All right, Louise Page! You are now someone who has seen The Shining. What did you think?
Louise: I've been nervous for two hours. I think I said out loud “I'm nervous!” like 10 to 18 times in the last 30 minutes. I loved it. It was beautiful. I mean, honestly, I was really struck by it. Even though it's a horror film, it was really beautiful. There were so many artistic shots and a lot of really beautiful things done with color and pattern and light. I really enjoyed watching it a lot. It's a great movie.
Chris: It's really uncomfortable though, isn't it? A lot of people hated this movie when it came out, like Stephen King. Do you read Stephen King?
Louise: I've read some Stephen King, but I've never read this particular work. But my movie buddy [Cameron] is a really big fan, and he's seen The Shining a ton of times and he told me that it's different in the book in several ways … That's the funny thing about it, though, is that there really are moments of like beauty and almost like serenity. For moments that would make you nervous, it's the music that makes you nervous. The soundtrack was really, really good.
Louise: The parts that were genuinely super hard for me to watch [were] where Jack interacting with Wendy early on in the movie when he's just being a condescending little asshole. Those are even honestly more disturbing than Danny having creepy and violent visions. I was really uncomfortable with those very loaded interactions.
Chris: This is a movie about abuse, isn't it?
Louise: It totally is. It really is a movie about an abusive husband and father. I kept thinking, too, there's some allusions in this movie to fairy tales and classic literature. I think I've talked to you about this before, outside of being a musician, I was an English major in school. I was thinking about Faust a lot during this movie. When he's yelling at Wendy at the end, he's like, “You don't think about my responsibilities! I signed whatever I signed!” And when he's getting the drink at the bar, he's like, “I would sell my goddamn soul for a drink!” That's sort of when things start to really turn, and I feel like it is an allusion to him selling his soul to the hotel and the furious beings there.
Louise: But yeah, it really is a movie about abuse. I think the most uncomfortable scene in the entire movie is when they're going up the stairs and she has the bat.
Chris: It's a hard to scene to watch.
Louise: That could be taken out of context of the movie, which has these paranormal things, and just straight-up be an abusive interaction.
Chris: Oh yeah it is! I think the increased awareness of the prevalence of domestic abuse has been one of the positive social developments of the last decade or so. Before, it was just so invisible. But this is about psychological torture.
Louise: Absolutely. Totally.
Chris: I love the scene where he's playing handball in the big ballroom. There's something about it that it's so animal-like. He's testing the limits of his cage. And it comes early because this movie is all about the slow burn. Like the Scatman Crothers gag, when Mr. Hallorann is killed.
Louise: Oh, that made me so sad. Okay, so you called this guy out here, and then he got murdered, and you steal his car! That kind of sucks, I think, for that guy.
Chris: That's one little murder — or one really gruesome murder. From the time he's called in Florida, it's like 45 minutes of work in the movie.
Louise: The slow burn is real. It's about psychological torture And that's really interesting that you said a lot of people didn't like the movie when it came out, and I said it made me so nervous. It's almost like — not even almost — it is like he's including you, the viewer, in the psychological torture.
- Mr. Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) recieves a psychic message.
Chris: You know, Shelley Duvall really sells this movie.
Louise: I love it, but it makes me so … I've read somewhere that Stanley Kubrick kind of intentionally gave her a hard time in certain moments while filming, to increase her agitation.
Chris: Yeah, that's the legend
Louis: Terrible. Right now, I know she's not mentally well. Also, that makes me really sad because her performance in this movie is beyond amazing
Chris: You know the “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” scene? She sells that scene because she sees what's on the page long before you do, and you just watch the horror of realization creep over her face. “Oh my God, my husband is completely, murderously insane, and I'm trapped here with him.” And typography also sells that scene. Two things: Shelley and typography.
Chris: You were talking about point of view, how Kubrick pulls you in and makes you sort of the subject of the abuse. One thing I noticed this time that I've never noted before is how he uses the Steadicam. It had just been invented, and this movie is like the first movie that extensively used one. Now, we're used to it. But, at the time, it was crazy that he could just move the camera through these environments and there was no dolly track or anything. A lot of directors would be like, “I'm gonna stage a big action scene with this thing!” But the first thing Kubrick does is basically reinvent the “walkie-talkie,” or the reverse track. He sees this new technology, and he's like, “I'm gonna shoot dialogue with it.”
Louise: That's the first thing Cameron told me as the credits were rolling in the beginning. So I was trying to look for it in the movie, and you're totally right. He kind of uses it in a way that builds tension and builds up your personal investment.
Chris: When he's showing Jack and the hotel manager walking and talking, it's all shot from the front. They all are, right up until you get to Danny in the Big Wheel rolling through the hallways. That's shot from behind. You are seeing Danny's point of view there, and I think that's very deliberate. He pulls you into Danny's point of view. That makes the movie even more about family trauma because it's about you watching your parents fight.
Louise: At the end, when [Wendy] was seeing all that spooky stuff, and specifically the scene where she looked into the room, and there's all these skeletons and cobwebs, I thought, “Damn, whoever the set designers were for this movie probably had the greatest time of their lives!” There's so many beautiful carpets and beautiful costumes and visually striking moments. And the scene with the maze from above? Oh man! That was just so beautiful. I was like, how did they do that?
Chris: Did you feel like this is a good quarantine movie? Did it feel relevant to the quarantine experience for you?
Louise: It's time for me to get rid of my axe. I don't think it's safe for me to have around anymore. [Laughs] I thought about that in the very beginning, when Jack's interviewing for the job, and the guy interviewing said something like, “The solitude is what some people find the most difficult.” That made me think of the quarantine, and that Jack is like, “Well, I really need time to work on my novel anyway.” And I feel like that's kind of what a lot of us thought at the beginning of all this. Like, “Oh well, I'm gonna get a lot done that's been on my long-term to-do list.”
Chris: Everyone's different. Some people got things done. You wrote a new song.
Louise: I did! And I got my website up. You know, people are getting some stuff done, but I just think it actually is a pretty apt comparison. You think that all you need is time to accomplish the things that you want to accomplish, but I think a lot of people are running into some walls during quarantine. It's not like a writer's retreat — there's kind of a global trauma going on. And this ended up not being the writer's retreat that Jack expected, either.
- What a failed writer's retreat looks like.
Chris: A thought just occurred to me: He's a total bully. But all she has to do is hurt him a little bit, and he withdraws. It happens twice: She hits him with the bat, which is not even really a very strong hit. The first time, when she gets in with the bat and grabs his wrist, he's vulnerable for a second. And then she whacks him on the head. And then the second time, he's reaching in and she just kind of scratches him with that knife.
Louis: Yeah, she doesn't get him very deep.
Chris: He's kind of a paper tiger in the end. Because he's a bully.
- "Here's Johnny!"
I feel like it's clear from really early on in the film that Jack fucking hates his wife. He just doesn't like her. She's like, "Hey, I made breakfast in bed!" and he's like "Oh, hello Wendy." You can just tell he resents her so much, and she's trying so hard.
Louise: Yeah! Oh my God! You know what really made me think about abuse is when she finally locks him in the pantry and he immediately starts with the “Wendy, baby I'm hurt real bad. I think you really hurt me. I need a doctor.” That is like a textbook abuser thing, where like once they think that you're slipping out of their clutches, they turn sweet and soft. They try to make you think they've changed and try to apologize. You know, that was like a total metaphor for the cycle of abuse. Abuse happens, and there's this apology phase and a honeymoon phase like in the movies. Then it happens again. And then the apology phase, the honeymoon phase. It gets the victim back into the fold. It keeps them from leaving their abuser because it's not nightmarish constantly.
- Danny Lloyd retired from acting at age 10. He is now a biology professor at a Kentucky community college.
Louise: Yes, I absolutely would! There were several pop culture references in The Shining, like the redrum thing, and the creepy twin girls in the blue dresses. I didn't realize that these came from The Shining. So it will connect those pop culture dots. I think it's the most aesthetically beautiful horror movie I've ever seen. And as a fan of vintage fashion to the core, I was truly living and thriving in that film. Shelley Duvall's wardrobe!
Chris: It was like the Seventies vomited all over her.