When Lee Unkrich was twelve, he saw The Shining for the first time. He remembers less of the show than what happened shortly thereafter, which set off a lifelong obsession with Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece.
On his way to summer camp, Unkrich bought the movie copy of a Stephen King novel. “There were pictures of Wendy cooking breakfast in the kitchen,” he told Variety. “I realized that this wasn’t a scene in the movie. And that led to something going wrong in my head — I wanted to learn more about this world.”
For Unkrich, a 25-year Pixar veteran, that deleted scene will yield decades of Kubrick ephemera collecting, a stream of easter eggs in his work from “Toy Story 2” to “Coco,” a website that catalogs the results. He came up with, and now, “Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining,” 12 years in the making, a 2,200-page take on Kubrick’s creation of the film that Taschen will release March 17.
Armed with unfettered access to the Kubrick archives, Unkrich worked with the late JW Rinzler to gather hundreds of photos, production details, and interviews with nearly every available cast and crew member. The result is a roadmap through the maze-like history of one of the most closely examined films of all time. “Most people have audio clips and stories they’ve told over the years,” Unkrich says. “I would show them the pictures, and that’s when the stories started pouring in.”
For Dan Lloyd, who was only four when he auditioned for the role of Danny Torrance, the book crystallized memories he wasn’t sure actually happened. “There is a picture of me and my attitude and Leon [Vitali, Kubrick’s longtime assistant, who died in 2022] Walking backwards works on my fingerprints when Danny tricks Jack into the maze,” says Lloyd. “For a 5-year-old’s brain, it feels like we worked months on it.”
Although his memories of the experience are dim, Lloyd says everyone on set was very protective of him, especially when it came to filming the scariest scenes. “I would have appreciated that we were there in England for over a year, but I think I only worked probably 60 days. And there were definitely days when I wasn’t supposed to be in the studio,” he recalled. “Not just on set, but just don’t go in—even by accident you don’t fall—because they were going to do something scary.”
Unsurprisingly, Lloyd’s most vivid memories are of the child’s things he was capable of doing that tested the usual limits of parental permissiveness, though he says his parents were always there to supervise.
“I have good memories of riding the tricycle—I remember getting excited because I was riding indoors,” he says. “They kept trying to figure out how to shoot and it couldn’t be a dummy shot because of the tracks. But because they were experimenting, I had more and more time to run around.”
Unkrich says that Vitali was particularly helpful in discovering pieces of knowledge that were not discussed publicly.
“I had a picture of Danny and his brother sitting with Vivian Kubrick in the back deck at Elstree, and there’s a guy in the background. It wasn’t until I sat down with Leon and brought that picture to me and he said, ‘This is Werner Herzog,'” he recalls. Whole story about Werner Herzog being the guy who convinced Stanley that Danny’s bike going back and forth over hardwood floors and carpets sounded cool because Stanley was worried it didn’t sound right.”
Garrett Brown, inventor of the Steadicam who shot Sylvester Stallone up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in John Avildsen’s “Rocky,” was just beginning to build up an army of capable camera operators with the device when Kubrick clicked on it to capture the hallways of the Overlook Hotel with fluid fluidity. .
“Stanley had his 2CV Citroën stripped down — he took the engine, the body and everything from it, so you only had a seat, a steering wheel, and a little rig in the back for the camera,” says Brown. “Since the suspension is so amazingly sloppy, he hoped that if I pushed it down the lanes it would let the cam in, but the results from that were disastrous.”
“There was no real choice but a Steadicam to navigate those huge spaces,” he continues. “[But] It got ridiculous sometimes in the maze. If the viewer knew what we were doing, he would be amazed. I waded through eight-inch-deep dairy salt with Styrofoam over thousand-watt lights on perfectly dry pine needles. We were all terrified of fire the whole time, crunching in my constantly moldy boots of salt in the hundred degrees Fahrenheit. And it was oil smoke, now illegal, but then it became legal. And we inhaled it for three months to create that mist. Then you look at the last shot and, oh my God, it looks amazing.”
His recollection of production also reminded him of some jobs he hadn’t had. “I refused [‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’] For very bad reasons in hindsight, I got [Spielberg] Factor. When I watched the movie with my son in the theater, tears almost ran down my face. “Steven Spielberg forgave me and I worked with him later, but I made some notoriously bad decisions like that.”
Through interwoven interviews, Unkrich explored elements of filming that have since assumed epic proportions, such as the relationship between Kubrick and Shelley Duvall, whose feud in Vivian Kubrick’s documentary came to symbolize the director’s exacting requirements for his collaborators. Kubrick’s co-screenwriter Diane Johnson notes that the friction prompted the director to focus more on Jack Nicholson’s frustrated writer, Jack, and to treat Wendy Duvall more reductively than in King’s book—and, in fact, more than Johnson would have liked.
“The reason is that [Wendy’s] It wasn’t more of a script development finally because he and Shelley Duvall didn’t get along,” Johnson says. “They just had an argument. Thus, he removed many of her scenes. The dialogue I wrote was very much for Wendy [taken from] Stephen King, where she talks like a normal person and has interesting visualizations etc. And the reason she looks so hysterical is because of Kubrick and Duvall’s relationship.”
Rather than litigating the various accounts of what happened in the book’s pages, Unkrich tried whenever possible to speak directly to the individuals involved, especially Duvall, whom he met even before she sat down on her controversial conversation with Dr. Phil in 2016. “At the end of the day,” he says, Shelley is the most important person we hear from.” “And Shelly loves Stanley.”
“I think of it like that story about all the blind men touching an elephant, each with only one part, and they describe what they think they’re touching and none of them have the right, because they’re not seeing the whole,” he says. And I think that’s what happened with this movie, frankly, is that people assume the whole thing must have been that horrific for her.
“Shelley will tell you that the shoot was very difficult. She will also say that she didn’t necessarily agree with Stanley’s tactics at times to get a performance out of her,” he says. “But she admits he got an amazing performance out of her.”
On the other hand, Unkrich says there were some details he didn’t get the “real” story for. “The weird moment of the guy in the bear costume giving the guy blowjob on the bed when Shelley runs in? No answers as to why he chose to put that on,” he reveals. Even Johnson says she doesn’t know where it came from: “It’s not in King. We didn’t discuss anything at all—it came out of Kubrick’s imagination, as far as I know.”
Though Johnson had nothing to do with this photo, or the famous shot of blood gushing from elevators — “that was already in his mind, or maybe it was filmed, so I wasn’t invited to photograph anything,” she says — her post began when Kubrick became interested in what she calls Theoretical interest in the Gothic novel in the early nineteenth century.
“And then we started talking about contemporary ghost stories and horror literature in general,” she says, adding that this informal approach served their collaboration, especially since she had no prior screenwriting experience. “Stanley was very didactic… An outline was one of the things that interested him—a copy of the script as a kind of shortcut, to analyze the dramatic development, the suspense, the denouement, and all that.”
In retrospect, Johnson says she was struck by the ability of the film—and the medium—to transform her ideas into indelible cinematic moments. “I wasn’t aware of the magnifying effect of the movie,” she says. “When someone says ‘no’ on screen, it’s powerful. When you’re writing a novel it’s just a word. So I was a bit beat up to see it on screen.”
With plans to celebrate the anniversary of the book’s release with a March 17 screening of “The Shining” at the Academy Museum, Unkrich says he feels a sense of catharsis, but not necessarily a sense of closure. “I’ve already heard one story, and one thing that’s visual since we finished the book, I’m hoping I can get into commercial release or a later edition,” he says. But Unkrich is deeply satisfied with what the experience has taught him about his film idol.
“The most important thing I took away, which is kind of for me as a director, was Stanley’s humanity,” he says. Everyone put Stanley on this pedestal as a brilliant filmmaker, which he is, of course. The reality was that he struggled every step of the way. He couldn’t sleep because he worried there was a better idea he hadn’t figured out. And I can relate to that because I’ve been through that in all my films. And I liked that I saw a person, not just a symbol.”
Leave a Reply