Amongst many filmmakers, directors and producers, Stanley Kubrick stands whether it is in the Classical Hollywood or New Hollywood era because of his distinctive style, immersive qualities and unique approach to successfully convey the storyline by using formalist technique, sounds and the motion picture instead of relying on the plot, thus giving the audience more ambiguity, allegories and metaphors to analyze.
In this essay, I will look at how Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and ultimately his Auteuristic style diverge from the classical Hollywood cinemas. I will define the Classical Hollywood Cinema, give a few examples and compare its narrative structure to Stanley’s The Shining, his unique auteur style, as well as some parts of his other movies to evidently show a pattern in his film-making.
Authors Timothy Corrigan and Patricia White define classical Hollywood narrative in “The Film Experience” as the dominant form of classical film narrative between 1910s and 1960 in the Hollywood studio systems. The style refers to using norms such as time and space continuum, plot with a cause-and-effect logic, linear chronology, and an omniscient or third person narration to suggest some degree of realism; as well as set techniques like the 180-degree rule, three-point lighting and continuity editing with no jump cuts because it may disrupt the time/space (Corrigan and White 245). The storyline usually unfolds by showcasing the situation, followed by a disruption or issue of the circumstance, then resolution (Corrigan and White 464).
The narrative is objective and realistic, giving the viewers all the vital information or background of why and how the climax and resolution take part, ultimately understanding the meaning of the film (Corrigan and White 245). Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho and 1958 Vertigo are good examples of classical Hollywood films. The less random classical narrative and paralleled linear development plot unveils to the audience a clear understanding of how and why the situations arise.
For example, in the psychological thriller Vertigo, the audience clearly understands how Scottie’s acrophobia is introduced (by watching the policeman fall) and developed throughout the movie (how it affects his life), thus there is a logical chain of reaction in the cause-and-effect as well as comprehension of his motives to the viewers (Corrigan and White 251). Another example of movies with a classical narrative in the classic Hollywood era would be the 1955 Melodrama ‘All That Heaven Allows’ by the Douglas Sirk, the plot chronologically uncovers showing society’s reaction towards an Oedipus relationship deemed to be unacceptable, simultaneously showing Cary’s downfall and resolution to her complication (Bob 1).
On the other hand, Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 The Shining covers the Horror genre in a different matter compared to the Hollywood Classics, with many loose ends and inexplicable confusing events making it a gothic horror film (Leibowitz and Jeffress 47). The movie is an adaptation of Steven Spielberg’s 1977 novel of the same name about the head of a family, past alcoholic writer Jack Torrance played by actor Jack Nicholson accepting a caretaking job at the Overlook Hotel during the winters where he later gets a ‘psychological breakdown’ and attempts to murder his wife and child(Corrigan and White 318).
Stanley’s style in conveying the movie greatly enhanced the storyline (obviously without the attacking topiary as mentioned in the novel); Differing from the classical Hollywood narratives, Stanley successfully infused the grotesque and mysterious by using alternative ending, sound stingers, eerie character motives and positions, jump cuts and psychological images (blood gushing out of the elevator and the two twins), as well as semiotics like room 237 or Jack reading the playgirl magazine. Stanley uses different elements like the setting and mappings, characters, sounds, and imagery to portray his auteuristic style and features in his movies(Vimeo).Stanley takes great consideration towards mise en scène, carefully placing each elements and figures in the shot to create suspense.
Narrative wise, The Shining plays on a linear timeline where audience can see Jack’s actions accelerating towards his aggression, for example when in the study room Wendy accuses him in bruising Danny, their son; Jack is weirdly quietly accepting the allegations. Kubrick adds a non-diegetic sound to the shot, a stinger, creating suspense and fearful expectations behind Jack’s eerie reactions, building complications and doubtfulness towards of the events, raising the question whether if Jack really did bruise Danny given his previous hit, keeping in mind that the previous scene was Danny entering room 237.
The spooky, supernatural aspect of the novel is portrayed in different matters in the film. For example, in the novel Mr. Grady is seen unlocking the door for Jack when he is trapped in the pantry – Kubrick on the other hand uses the notion differently where the audience is shown Jack free the next scene. Audience who have not read the novel may not be completely aware of the supernatural other than Danny speaking to himself “shining” or the pantry door unlocking for Jack.
The motives for Jack attempting to kill his family could be signs of haunting/ghostly elements, or as simple as a psychological breakdown because of cabin fever, audience can not pin down the direct analysis for his rationale; making the cause-and-effect factor difficult to see, ultimately giving an open interpretation for the viewers.
Nonetheless, the cause of his breakdown or haunting certainly pushed him to pursue the killings – the central characters like Wendy do propel the concept of Jack’s psychological breakdown either actively or passively by accusing him. Other than killing, audiences are not fully aware of Jack’s intentions.
The three part act structure of the classical narrative apply only after the audience are assured of Jack’s madness and his motivation to kill, which is after Wendy swinging the bat and hitting him, presenting the situation, then disruption of the situation which is Jack following them around the hotel trying to kill them, and finally the resolution of Wendy and Danny fleeing the hotel. Stanley is successfully adapting the structure but is leaving some loose ends with questions unanswered, moreover giving openendings to let the viewers mind float of how and what exactly ignited the causes/effects (Bob 2).
Another feature of Stanley’s style is the use of psychological images. For example, when Danny is “shining”, he sees images of the hotel elevator gushing out blood, or the two identical twins murdered; with stingers, the psychological images convert and relate fearful feelings to the audience thus bringing them up later easily relate horror. Another prominent “signature move” of his auteuristic style is the tracking shots using a steadicam; the camera follows the characters around in a particular way.
For example, following Danny in his tricycle around the house mapping the set, or in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ following Dr. Frank Pole jogging inside the discovery one, or in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ the reverse zoom from Alex’s eye. His usage of music and stingers in some of the scenes stand out, making it complementary, like in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ when Bill is being confronted by the group elders, Ligeti’s background piano music greatly enhances the tension in the scene. In the philosophy of Stanley Kubrick, Jerold Abrams argues that ambiguity was not a part of the cinema in his era, thus it is a part of Stanley’s experience when watching the movie, and the usual “traditional methods” of analyzing or interpreting the movie may not be sufficient (209).
The movie ends differently than the novel, giving an alternative ending rather than an omniscient cause-and-effect understanding, for example the photograph in the ending adds confusion to the storyline because now the audience are doubtful of the realness of the events or conclusion.
One can definitely agree that Kubrick’s auteurstic compositions like visually mapping the set by steadicams, eerie characters, phenomenological images, sound stingers, and his alternative film narrative creates the excitement in his movies, giving ambiguity and unanswered metaphors or allegories for the audience to float with like what is actually behind room 237, or the definition of “all work and no play makes jack a dull boy”.
Classical Hollywood narratives depend on a cause-and-effect factor, linear chronology with understanding of how and why situations arise, finally ending with a clear resolution to the crisis. Kubrick’s style portraying ambiguity, visual structure and sounds play an equal role in the Stanley Kubrick cinema experience.
The Shining’s narrative is somewhat similar to the Classical Hollywood narrative in the sense that it follow a linear chronology plot, in which audience walk through the timeline with no flashbacks or interrupted time/space continuum other than the psychological jump cut images; Kubrick does not portray the full intentions behind his characters actions or motives, thus leaving viewers in suspense not completely omniscient.
A Clockwork Orange. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Warner Bros., 1971.
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Eyes Wide Shut. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Warner Bros., 1999.
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The Shining. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Warner Bros., 1980.
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