by Jane Hu
Stanley Kubrick was, to put it mildly, a meticulous director. On the set of The Shining, he drove poor Shelley Duvall mad. The famous baseball-bat scene was recorded an infamous 127 times. That striking poster of The Shining? Kubrick had Saul Bass draw over 300 versions of it. The director continued to tweak his film until its US opening, May 23, 1980 and even into its initial screenings; when he decided to cut the final hospital scene, Kubrick made bike couriers ride from theater to theater in order to personally remove the sequence. Kubrick’s artistic compulsions were a double-edged sword. Not even considering the immaculate texture of his films, Kubrick’s trailers are independent works of art in and of themselves.
Which leads to at least one question: why don’t people very often make artful trailers anymore?
The entire trailer of The Shining comprises of one continuous shot of the Overlook Hotel elevator, from which a flood of blood rushes forth to engulf both the lobby, the furniture and, presumably, the audience too. And, yes, Tony Burton recalls it went something like this:
“I don’t know how many times they shot the blood in the elevator. Somebody told me they had been shooting that ever since the shoot first started the year before. They shot it three times while I was there. About every ten days they would shoot it again and Stanley would say, ‘It doesn’t look like blood’ and they would say, ‘Well, is it the texture? Is it the color?’ It would take them like nine days to set the shot up and then they would come back, the door would open, it would come out and Stanley would say, ‘It doesn’t look like blood.’ But finally they got it.”
Throughout the trailer, a list of credits scrolls up the page as what is surely Penderecki swells louder and louder. “The Shining / Directed by Stanley Kubrick” occurs twice, bracketing the names of the two lead actors (Nicholson and Duvall) and Stephen King, whose novel inspired the film. By presenting the film’s title and director twice, Kubrick presents the trailer as a film-complete with opening and closing credits.
During his collaboration with Diane Johnson on The Shining’s script, Kubrick significantly stripped King’s novel down to its bare elements. On top of the significant cuts he imposed on the original text, he added many of his own twists in order to heighten the ghostly and occult atmosphere of the story. One of these additions was the elevator scene.
One critic wrote that “the flood of blood from the elevators has no reference to anything, looking like something put in for the trailer.”
They may be right there. Should it be viewed as the film itself?
Since trailers these days attack you with fast edits, sketch out the entire movie-except rearranged, of course-and present footage that won’t ever appear in said film, then who’s to say the 142 minute-long Shining isn’t just a long, drawn-out, and very, very artful trailer?
The elevator scene as seen in the trailer is cut and only periodically revealed in pieces throughout the film (trailer). So if we concentrate solely on this episode-dreamed up by Kubrick as apart from King’s novel-which is the more cohesive spectacle? The trailer (the film?)!
The Shining contains only fragments of the full elevator scene-they are like memories of the trailer.
Unfortunately, the circulation of trailers has altered since The Shining premiered. Someone I know first experienced Kubrick’s gushing elevator in the previews for a screening of Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back. He was ten and, since then, no preview has come close in impact. Kubrick’s high concept conceit evokes something and tells nothing. The trailer alone may not be a perfect movie, but it is the perfect definition of a sublime trailer.