“I saw The Shining in the summer of 1980. I had seen several films by Kubrick previously: Spartacus, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey (in 70mm Cinerama at the Warner Hollywood in 1968), and A Clockwork Orange.
Until after seeing The Shining, however, I did not know that what I had seen were Kubrick films. The irony in this is that I, like many viewers, was disappointed by The Shining. But I had the feeling that there was more in – and thus to – the film that needed to be examined and considered. In the process, I learned that Stanley Kubrick was not just any filmmaker; he was a serious intellectual who had read and thought a great deal about the world. And what he thought about the world in which he had grown up was buried deep in The Shining.
The rest was history.” – Geoffrey Cocks
“By the time I watched The Shining on first release in central Melbourne in 1980 I had been a fan of Kubrick since my early childhood. My immediate impression was shock at electric blue titles ascending over the stunning Rocky Mountains topology and the haunting electronic score. But as the end credits rolled, I slumped, mostly underwhelmed and disappointed, somewhat tainted by reading King’s novel in advance. This was decidedly not the “masterpiece of modern horror” or the “tide of terror that swept America” the advertising had promised. And yet, as the days passed, echoes and traces of the film murmured and manifested during my waking hours, like the eponymous “shining” Hallorann describes. I returned to the cinema, this time stunned by the mise-en-scene, editing, photography and performances. I reveled in the allusions to and critiques of colonialism and patriarchy. Narrative puzzles, ambiguity and the labyrinthine production design thrilled me. I was hooked.” – Mick Broderick
“If you had told the callow young man coming out of a cinema on Manchester’s Oxford Road one dull Wednesday afternoon in October 1980 that almost forty years later he would be putting the final touches to a 370-page interpretation of the film he had just seen, you would at best have been met with raised eyebrows.
The Shining was the fourth of Kubrick’s works I had seen on the big screen. Interested in films but still a couple of years away from being a cinéphile, he was the only director whose name seriously attracted my attention at the time. That was a result of seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey a few years earlier. I knew then that I had seen something, not just spectacular, but deeply significant – even though I was clueless as to what it meant. Trying to find out prompted me to buy my first ever book on cinema: Jerome Agel’s The Making of Kubrick’s 2001, (New York: New American Library, 1970).
What I expected from The Shining was very clear to me, though. If 2001 had produced a quantum leap for the genre of science fiction, I expected similarly dramatic leap from my seat at Kubrick’s venture into the horror genre. So, bearing in mind that The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973) had scared the living daylights out of me, I went to see The Shining with a heady mix of anticipation and trepidation. Perhaps that contributed to the enormous disappointment I actually felt and would continue to feel for years afterwards. Even when the box set of Kubrick films was released on DVD, The Shining was the one that I played the least.
So what redeemed the film in my eyes?
I fail to understand why Room 237 (Rodney Ascher, 2012) is so maligned, even if someone disagrees with the theories contained in it. What struck me were the objective observations contained therein, such as those regarding impossible windows, room dimensions and continuity anomalies. They were indisputable and made me realize that although I’d sat through the film a number of times, I’d never really seen it. Coupled with its reminder of there being a US version which was 25 minutes longer and which I had never watched, my attitude to the film was about to change substantially. I have now seen it too many times to keep count, but having delved deep into its secrets, I am convinced that its ingenious construction is deliberately designed to fascinate long after any effect from the horror has passed. I knew that Kubrick was meticulous and passionate about his film projects and wanted no less than to change the conventions of narrative cinema. Those conventions are a language shared by director and viewer, so if the director has created new communication protocols, which the viewer does not intuit, dissatisfaction may ensue. In other words, I now understand that the callow young man’s disappointment was his own fault, not Stanley Kubrick’s.” – Ian Christopher
“Last week I decided to watch the movie again, in preparation of course for writing this essay. I hadn’t seen it in thirty years. Wow, is it good. So beautifully done from first to last. I just love Turkel as the bartender. Absolutely great, those two scenes, maybe my favorites in the whole movie. It will make all the sense in the world to the reader if I say that thinking about The Shining has been a saving grace for me during this last little while.” – Alexander Nemerov
“Around the time of my 15th birthday, my dad took me to a private DGA sneak preview, avant-premiere screening of The Shining. As a writer-producer for television, my father is a member of the Director’s Guild of America and got frequent invitations to courtesy screenings. If I remember, it was at the Bombay Cinema on 57th street in New York, a theatre devoted solely to playing Indian films, and I had never been in that theatre before. We had seen 2001 a couple of times at the huge Ziegfeld theatre on 54th street which was a major single-screen movie palace with a 52-foot wide screen and 1100 seats; the Bombay had a much smaller screen and half as many seats but was still quite impressive. And that night the theatre was full. Even at 15 it was clear to me that a Kubrick premiere was much more of an event than most movies. There was a lot of excitement because the trailer that had been widely promoted showed only one slow motion shot of the two elevators opening, spilling blood and pushing the furniture in front of the camera (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-tgsURVNrI). Everybody was intrigued by that teaser, because most trailers tell at least something of the plot.
I hadn’t read Stephen King’s book before seeing the movie. I did read the book soon after the screening in order to understand the supernatural side of the story. That only confused me more, and I did prefer the movie to the book. Seven years later I made a point of reading Dispatches by Michael Herr and The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford before attending the premiere of Full Metal Jacket and it was very interesting to go into that film having already read the source material and inspiration for the movie.
The Shining was rated R so I did not see it again immediately. Years later when I learned that some scenes had been cut before the release, I had a distant recollection that I had seen those scenes. We didn’t have YouTube back then to look it up. I studied the film extensively in 1988-89 for film theory classes in Paris but that was from a European released VHS and the European version was different. It was many years before I would see those deleted scenes again, but I did remember them.
The last time I saw The Shining was in Cannes last year, at a screening presented by Kubrick’s widow. The Debussy theatre, with its 1,100 seats, was packed. I had managed to get a few orchestra tickets and gave them out to film students who work with us at the festival. Among them was a Korean girl who had never seen a Kubrick film – she told me she didn’t like horror films but I convinced her it would be an important experience, and that actually there were only a few seconds of violence in the film. She ran last minute to the theatre where I was waiting with the ticket. I had no ticket left for myself so I ended up in the balcony where I could see her with the other students in the orchestra below. I like to see how friends react to movies I love, but whenever I glanced at her she was hiding her eyes behind her hands. The music was spooky, but knowing the film I knew nothing scary was about to happen. I kept wishing she would watch the screen. She never spoke to me again during the festival, and I have never seen her since.” – Pip Chodorov
“The Shining really got me the second time I saw it. We were in Art School. We were all taking ourselves very seriously. We saw the film in a lecture hall, which was a surreal experience. I was stunned, bewildered, awed and mesmerised. I also felt Jack’s boredom acutely. I was discomforted. I was repelled and perversely fascinated. I felt this was being inflicted on me, that I was being punished. But I was in some kind of masochistic thrall. I have never been able to look away, even when I wanted to, even from the car-crash adaptations and appropriations that have happened since. I have definitely become one of the ‘legion of obsessives.’” – Joy McEntee
“I honestly don’t recall the first time I watched The Shining. Being born in 1972, I was too young to have seen it in the cinema, although I must have watched it on video at some point in my teens. But I do know that with every subsequent translation into a new format – DVD, Blu-ray, DCP cinematic release, I have watched it again and again as it is the film that just keeps giving. The more I watch it coupled with the more I read and learn, new details, angles to explore, and ideas spring out, including even in the writing of my very piece to this dossier. And undoubtedly The Shining will keep giving over the next forty years, surprising us with new revelations along the way.” – Nathan Abrams
“I was only six when The Shining was first released, so my first interaction with the film came as an adult. I was already studying Kubrick’s film scores for my book, and I don’t remember my very first time watching the film. I had, however, a very memorable and affecting interaction with The Shining in the early days of 2012. I was deep in the thick of writing The Shining chapter for my Kubrick book. I had been listening to the score of the film incessantly, watching the last 40 minutes repeatedly. I was often alone, as I was on winter break from teaching. One exhausted evening, I had – for a brief but frightening moment – a feeling that I was becoming part of the film, that the music was drawing me into the hotel and into a new reality. It was a quick thought, but it was enough to rattle me. I got up from my desk, called a friend, put on my coat and went out for the night. ‘All work and no play…’” – Christine Lee Gengaro
“I came to The Shining late. The year was 2010; I was in my mid-twenties, living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’d never written about film in any serious way. Earlier that month, I’d had my first experience of Carl Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc in a packed art deco auditorium, with a live orchestra, and had been bowled over. The Shining made an equally strong impression on me although I watched it alone with a close friend. Appalled that I hadn’t seen it, he invited me over immediately. The Shining was his favorite film, he told me. He had discovered it in the late nineties while moonlighting as the lead singer of a death metal band. A few hours later, I took the bus to his Oakland apartment—a shed behind a family’s house, really—with a six-pack of beer. In a way I’d grown used to, the place was covered in band paraphernalia—posters, stickers, vinyls—and decorated with dismembered mannequin limbs: some arranged on the shelves, some strung up on the ceiling (this was an homage, I only realized much later, to Killer’s Kiss). My friend pulled out a VHS tape he’d acquired back in the day in Savannah. He kept a VHS reader and a cathode-tube TV in his living room closet. He didn’t take them out, just swung the door open and repositioned the sofa towards them. The TV blinked as it warmed up; the tape coughed and hummed; the image striped in and out of focus as we watched the FBI warning and the previews. Then, the screen steadied itself. We turned off the lights; the street outside was already dark. My friend’s cat, Skinflint, had come in for the night and sprawled on the carpet. Jack Torrance started to make his way to the Overlook, framed by my friend’s punk trench coats.” – Marta Figlerowicz
“I first watched The Shining on Italian television, late at night, when I was a teenager in the early ‘90s. To paraphrase a line from the film, it scared me to death. I remember discussing the film with my friends the following day: we were all puzzled as to why we felt so frightened by a film which apparently made no use of the ingredients of classic horror . We agreed that it was the vast emptiness of the Overlook Hotel and the weird music permeating its interior and surroundings that made the film so spooky. Basically, without any knowledge of film theory, we were talking about Kubrick’s startling directing choices.
I then watched the film on VHS, and discovered that the version I had seen on TV had been censored. I looked at new scenes unfolding, a few that once again scared me, like the decomposing corpse of the woman in the bathtub, and another one that I was not sure how I should feel about – Jack confessing that he had injured Danny. Jack Nicholson’s performance was so over the top, and his lines so outrageous – “a momentary loss of muscular coordination, a few extra foot-pounds of energy per second, per second!” – that I didn’t know whether I should be shocked or laugh. The more I watched it, the more the entire film seemed to exist in this weird, risky, interesting place, between the horrific and the comic. It is this quality that I found most rewarding in all my subsequent viewings, on DVD, Blu-ray and a few times on film in a theatre.
The Shining never fails to amaze me and entertain me. It gives me pleasure to watch it, and I guess it affects my friends in the same way, since we continue to quote lines from it. I rarely watch Kubrick’s films now – I know them by heart – but The Shining is the one Kubrick film I never get bored of.” – Filippo Ulivieri
“The first time I saw The Shining was when it appeared on American TV in the late 1980s. I was almost twelve years old, and the film played on a small monitor in a room we called my father’s study. Edited for daytime propriety, with frequent commercial breaks, this version was part of the channel’s day-long marathon of Stephen King adaptations. I watched it alone with a ration of junk food and ginger ale. Even in this sanitized format, Kubrick’s film made a formidable impression and set itself apart from the mediocre films that surrounded it. I recall feeling aligned with Danny (Danny Lloyd) despite being a few years older. Growing up in the VCR heyday of the ’80s, I was no stranger to horror. Technically my parents didn’t allow me to rent horror films, but friends with lax babysitters had introduced me to Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984). Also, my older sister occasionally let me break the rules and hang out with her slumber party friends when they watched horror favorites like The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973), The Omen (Richard Donner, 1976), Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978), The Amityville Horror (Stuart Rosenberg, 1979), and Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976). These 1970s films, I should add, were all references for Kubrick as he prepared The Shining – films he borrowed from while nevertheless shirking several hallowed conventions. These other films all triggered my overactive imagination and kept me from sleeping well. The Shining, however, had a different effect, and not just because of the censorship. I remember regretting that I hadn’t recorded it on a VHS tape, as I wanted to see it again. There was the lingering sense of mystery that needed further investigation – a profound, incalculable mystery for which the recurring elevator blood served as an emblem. Its rust-red color was a little desaturated on our television, but its force was still indelible. When I think of that image now, I see it on that old television, surrounded by the books in my father’s wood-paneled study. I have stressed how enticing the film was, but it was also deeply alarming, not through graphic imagery so much as through the prospect of the “man of the house” turning against his family – a notion that grated against the Reaganite picture of middle-class values that pervaded so much of the popular culture I absorbed. David A. Cook was one of the first critics to locate the horror of The Shining not in its ghostliness but in its close-to-home “indictment of the system that isolates and destroys the nuclear family.” The film illustrates “that true horror is not extraordinary but surrounds us every day and, as Auden wrote of evil, ‘sits with us at the dinner table’” 1. The Overlook Hotel is not so remote as it appears. And viewing the film at home, in the middle of the afternoon, with one’s house or apartment flooded with daylight, might in fact magnify its emotional power.” – Rick Warner
“I will never forget my first encounter with Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Little did I know at the time that it would constitute the single most decisive cinematic discovery in my life. The year was 1993. Like many boys my age, I had been devouring Stephen King’s novels, and The Shining had made a particularly powerful impression on the young teenager I was (adolescent fright and sexual frisson combined—King’s trademark). I was intrigued to watch the movie starring Jack Nicholson—a star familiar to us kids who’d drooled over the merchandising around Tim Burton’s Batman, a film we were not allowed to see upon its high-profile release, as it had been given an equivalent of an R rating in my native Belgium. My parents had recently gotten a VCR (on which I had hitherto watched fare like Moonraker or Hudson Hawk over and over again) and I sat in the living room one sunny springtime afternoon, a wire headset on my ears, with an old battered VHS of the film rented at a Brussels video store, as my parents were entertaining guests just a few feet away from me (perhaps I elected to watch the film during the daytime and with other people in the room in anticipation of being unable to handle it alone at night…), all but unaware of the transformative experience I was undergoing. My twelve-year old hormones, no doubt, were a major contributing factor in said transformation. But still, this was different than a first slow dance to the tune of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”. From the very opening of the film and the odd synthesizer music by Wendy Carlos, I felt transfixed. And while my foreknowledge of the novel made me frown at the room 237 bathroom scene (which I thought worked beautifully in the novel) as well as Kubrick’s shocking choice to have Hallorann murdered, there was no question in my mind that the film had achieved something far greater than the novel ever could have: it was scary and thrilling, of course, but—first and foremost—it was deeply entrancing and seductive. Never before had a film made such an impression and had such a lasting effect on me, and never has a film repeated the feat since. This was also the first time that I saw an adaptation superior to the source text, the first time I became cognizant of the medium specificity of film, and the first time I encountered film art that was also mainstream entertainment. Single-handedly, The Shining had paved my way to become a full-blown cinephile, contemporary orchestral music obsessive, amateur filmmaker and, later, film scholar. Watching the US cut upon my first visit to America (in the summer of 1998) was akin to discovering a new continent. Later came the DVD editions (with Vivian Kubrick’s Making ‘The Shining’ a coveted bonus), and, finally, the 35mm screenings (the US cut at Yale for John MacKay’s class on film theory and, more recently, on Halloween 2019, a brand new print courtesy of the Film Studies Center; and the European cut, several times, at the Brussels film archive). While I think The Shining is neither Kubrick’s greatest nor most perfect film, it is undeniably my favorite.
I have returned to the Overlook Hotel ceaselessly with the same joy ever since, and, like so many of us fans or obsessives, after the first shock of the jump scares and adrenalin rush, enjoyed it like a visit to the local carnival funhouse paired with a trip to a Gothic library—where one is gripped by the vertigo of one’s ignorance and the extant knowledge out there, and seized by the urge to make sure that no word, no image be left unexamined. This is the joy of watching and listening, doubled and amplified, for ever and ever, by the epistemic and phenomenological excitement of encountering an object far greater than one’s mind can fully grasp. In a word: sublime.” – Jeremi Szaniawski
“I first watched The Shining in the prosaic circumstances of a first-year film studies class at the Australian National University in Canberra in 2003. It was this course that truly gave me the cinephilic bug, and for that I am forever grateful. Alas, I don’t have much too many concrete memories of the screening itself – although, like everyone, I was bowled over by the film from the opening credits on. Perhaps what I most cherish about the screening was the fact that it was shown on an already ageing video cassette, projected onto the big screen of the university auditorium, where the dust and static of the magnetoscopic image was clear to the eye. But these visible imperfections only served to improve the spectatorial experience. There is a certain kind of film, I would maintain, for which, regardless of the format they were shot on, the ideal medium to view them on is VHS, and The Shining is probably the archetypal example of this genre.” – Daniel Fairfax
“My memories of my first encounter with The Shining resonate with Danny’s unsettling encounters with the Grady twins: while I vividly remember experiencing the film for the first time, the memory is not of a singular, well-defined past but of multiple overlapping and repeating pasts. I recall seeing the film at the isolated farmhouse owned by grandparents, at which my family spent a great deal of time while I was growing up. The rest of the house and the farm surrounding it were pitch black, while the screen flickered, by contrast, too brightly with images of The Overlook that would from that moment on be seared into my brain, forever, and ever, and ever. But in these memories, I am at once a young child with my father, discovering the film on broadcast television, a 12-13 year old girl gleefully finding the film on Betamax video in the farmhouse and watching it alone (while I grew up in the 1990s, our family used Betamax well past its wider obsolescence!), and being an older teenager watching it with my partner while we had the farmhouse to ourselves. Perhaps all three of these memories are part of my “first encounter” with The Shining.” – Jessica Balanzategui
“My first experience of The Shining took place after I read Stephen King’s novel and saw the TV series which faithfully adapted it. I was fascinated with this uncanny story of a family in peril in a remote place, outside of ordinary space and time. When I was nine or ten years old, on a hot summer afternoon, I went to my trusted video store, a place I frequented daily in order to rent horror films. I watched the film at home and it was love at first sight. Considering the great differences between the three works, I lost my admiration for the book and the miniseries (both of which I rediscovered and appreciated only recently). Since then, I have watched the film dozens and dozens of times – three in a theatre, once even in 35mm – and The Shining never ceases to fascinate me and stimulate me in a critical and analytical sense. To date, it is still my favourite film as well as the one I have studied most.” – Ilaria Franciotti
“In 1999, at the age of 11 , I read a magazine article about horror films with haunted places, something that both fascinated and disquieted me. The Shining was one of those films, and I decided to watch it at the first opportunity. On the night of April 1, 2000, when I was 12, The Shining was aired on Italy’s main TV channel (Rai Uno), obviously in the Italian dubbed version, so I recorded it on VHS and watched it the day after. Even before starting, I was in a peculiar aversive anticipatory state, since I was not used to horror films. It was like entering a forbidden area, though my mother sat down next to me as I watched. Moreover, I was isolated because of bronchopneumonia, and the weather outside was overcast, portending a storm. The film had me absolutely spellbound; I found every single scene full of overwhelming tension. However, I could not finish watching it, because the video recording had stopped too early (at the point when Grady’s knocking on the pantry door is heard). In any case, this first interaction with The Shining affected me radically and changed my life forever (and ever…). The film instantly became one of my favourites. I told my friend Simone how mesmerising The Shining was, enthralling him so much that he bought the VHS of the film with his pocket money, and we watched it together that summer. During Danny’s first vision I found out that the TV version was a censored one, so I started wondering what other horrific scenes I had been missing. This, in addition to the anxiety of discovering what would happen after the knocking on the door, scared me so much that I left my friend alone to watch the film, making an excuse to leave (at the moment when Wendy has dragged Jack to the pantry). Later, Simone told me how much he loved the film and what happened in the part I had missed. More than a year passed before I had the chance to watch The Shining in its entirety, confirming my love for it. During that time, I often imagined what the missing part was like, and I even dreamt it! Since then I’ve seen the film countless times in both its versions and in many variants (in Italian, in English; at home, in theatres; on VHS, DVDs, Blu-rays, 35mm), and I regularly use it in my classes. The Shining led me to discover the music of Bartók, Ligeti and especially Penderecki, pushing me to study musical composition years later. The Shining is the film I have studied the most to date, as well as my favourite. But there is something more: to me, The Shining is like an obsession, a magical object that warps space-time and still haunts me, inviting me to delve into it. 20 years after my first viewing, I feel a bit like Jack Torrance: each time I watch The Shining, it is as though I have always been there.” – Valerio Sbravatti
- David A. Cook, “American Horror: The Shining,” Literature/Film Quarterly 12, no. 1 (1984): p. 2 ↩