The story behind Iconic door-smashing scene in the movie The Shining

The story behind Iconic door-smashing scene in the movie The Shining

In the iconic door-smashing scene in The Shining, Kubrick originally had a prop door in place. Jack Nicholson, who had worked as a volunteer fire marshal, got through it too quickly, so it was replaced with a real door.

In 1975, Stanley Kubrick directed Barry Lyndon, a highly visual period film about an Irish man who attempts to make his way into the English aristocracy. Despite its technical achievement, the film was not a box office success in the United States and was derided by critics for being too long and too slow. Kubrick, disappointed with Barry Lyndon’s lack of success, realized he needed to make a film that would be commercially viable as well as artistically fulfilling.

The Shining was shot on soundstages at EMI Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, Britain. The set for the Overlook Hotel was then the largest ever built, including a full re-creation of the exterior of the hotel. A few exterior shots by a second-unit crew were done at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon. These shots are notable because of the absence of the hedge maze, a nonexistent feature at the actual hotel. Some of the interiors are based on those of the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park. The Timberline Lodge requested Kubrick change the number of the sinister Room 217 of King’s novel to 237, so customers would not avoid the real Room 217.

This film was among the first half-dozen to use the then-revolutionary Steadicam (after the 1976 films Bound for Glory, Marathon Man, and Rocky), and was Kubrick’s first use of it. This is a stabilizing mount for a film camera, which mechanically separates the operator’s movement from the camera’s, allowing smooth tracking shots while the operator is moving over an uneven surface. It essentially combines the stabilized steady footage of a regular mount with the fluidity and flexibility of a handheld camera. The inventor of the Steadicam, Garrett Brown, was heavily involved with the production. Brown published an article in American Cinematographer about his experience, and contributed to the audio commentary on the 2007 DVD release of The Shining. Brown describes his excitement taking his first tour of the sets which offered “further possibilities for the Steadicam”. This tour convinced Brown to become personally involved with the production. Kubrick was not “just talking of stunt shots and staircases”. Rather he would use the Steadicam “as it was intended to be used – as a tool which can help get the lens where it’s wanted in space and time without the classic limitations of the dolly and crane.” Kubrick himself aided in modifying the Steadicam’s video transmission technology. Brown states his own abilities to operate the Steadicam were refined by working on Kubrick’s film. On this film, Brown developed a two-handed technique which enabled him to maintain the camera at one height while panning and tilting the camera. In addition to tracking shots from behind, the Steadicam enabled shooting in constricted rooms without flying out walls, or backing the camera into doors. Brown notes that

“One of the most talked-about shots in the picture is the eerie tracking sequence which follows Danny as he pedals at high speed through corridor after corridor on his plastic Big Wheel tricycle. The soundtrack explodes with noise when the wheel is on wooden flooring and is abruptly silent as it crosses over carpet. We needed to have the lens just a few inches from the floor and to travel rapidly just behind or ahead of the bike.”

This required the Steadicam to be on a special mount modeled on a wheelchair in which the operator sat while pulling a platform with the sound man. Brown also discusses how the scenes in the hedge maze were shot with a Steadicam.

The Shining had a prolonged and arduous production period, often with very long workdays. Principal photography took over a year to complete, due to Kubrick’s highly methodical nature. Actress Shelley Duvall did not get along well with Kubrick, frequently arguing with him on set about lines in the script, her acting techniques and numerous other things. Duvall eventually became so overwhelmed by the stress of her role that she became physically ill for months. At one point she was under so much stress that her hair began to fall out. The shooting script was being changed constantly, sometimes several times a day, adding more stress. Jack Nicholson eventually became so frustrated with the ever-changing script that he would throw away the copies that the production team would give to him to memorize, knowing that it was just going to change anyway. He learned most of his lines just minutes before filming them. Nicholson was living in London with his then-girlfriend Anjelica Huston and her younger sister, Allegra, who testified to his long shooting days.

Nicholson was Kubrick’s first choice for the role of Jack Torrance; other actors considered were Robert De Niro (who claims the film gave him nightmares for a month), Robin Williams and Harrison Ford, all of whom met with Stephen King’s disapproval.

The opening panorama shots (outtakes of which were used by Ridley Scott for the closing moments of the original cut of the film Blade Runner) and scenes of the Volkswagen Beetle on the road to the hotel were filmed from a helicopter in Glacier National Park in Montana on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

For international versions of the film, Kubrick shot different takes of Wendy reading the typewriter pages in different languages. For each language, a suitable idiom was used: German (Was du heute kannst besorgen, das verschiebe nicht auf morgen – “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done today”), Italian (Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca – “The morning has gold in its mouth”), French (Un «Tiens» vaut mieux que deux «Tu l’auras» – “One ‘here you go’ is worth more than two ‘you’ll have its'”, the equivalent of “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”), Spanish (No por mucho madrugar amanece más temprano – “No matter how early you get up, you can’t make the sun rise any sooner”). These alternate shots were not included with the DVD release, where only the English phrase “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” was used.

During production, Kubrick screened David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977) to the cast and crew, to convey the mood he wanted to achieve for the film.

The door that Jack chops through with the axe near the end of the film was a real door. Kubrick had originally shot the scene with a fake door, but Nicholson, who had worked as a volunteer fire marshal, tore it down too quickly. Jack’s line, “Heeeere’s Johnny!”, is taken from Ed McMahon’s famous introduction to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and was improvised by Nicholson. Kubrick, who had lived in England for some time, was unaware of the significance of the line, and nearly used a different take. Carson later used the Nicholson clip to open his 1980 Anniversary Show on NBC.

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