'The Shining' 35th Anniversary: Cast and Crew Talk Kubrick, Ghosts and Conspiracy Theories
A special event at the U.K.'s Elstree Studios, where much of the film was shot, reunited many of those involved with the movie for the first time.
To celebrate the 35th anniversary of "Here’s Johnny" becoming one of cinema’s most iconic lines, the crew and some of the cast from The Shining assembled at Elstree Studios, the famed U.K. facility where much of Stanley Kubrick’s acclaimed psychological horror film was shot in 1979.
Arranged by Warner Bros and The Elstree Project, a local program aimed at maintaining the studio's heritage, the group later attended a special screening of the film in the Odyssey Cinema in St. Albans, the nearby town outside London where Kubrick lived for 20 years until his death in 1999.
“Seeing this crowd again, it’s like a room full of ghosts, but very gentle, good ghosts,” Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown, who was heavily involved with the film, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Although the Steadicam had come out just a few years before The Shining, Kubrick used it extensively throughout the film, with Brown ending up working on it for nearly a year.
“I visited the set with the original idea of showing Stanley the equipment and training somebody to use it, but the result of those conversations was that I really must do it this myself,” Brown said. “I was a huge fan of Kubrick, a huge fan of his work — we almost thought of him as being someone on Mount Olympus as filmmakers. And the idea of being able to contribute something to this movie was extraordinary.”
Brown added that, had the Steadicam not worked, Kubrick had a backup plan in the chassis of a Citroen 2CV car, which had “mushy suspension." “The provisional idea was that they would be pushing this [car] down the corridors," he said.
Diane Johnson, the novelist who co-wrote the screenplay with Kubrick, described her initial contact with the filmmaker and being told to expect a “phone call from a stranger.” She and Kubrick would speak each night around 11 p.m. about books and politics, "but never films," for about a week before she was invited to meet him in London.
“I found out that he’d been thinking of making a movie out of a novel of mine called The Shadow Knows, and that he’d been weighing it and Stephen King’s novel,” she said. “He decided on the Stephen King [novel] but thought I’d be easier to get along with as a screenwriter.”
Johnson ended up working with Kubrick on The Shining screenplay for 11 weeks.
“I would be driven to the Kubrick house, where we worked; we’d sit there across the table talking about stuff, having lunch, watching movies and having Chinese food. It was really great,” she said, adding that she adopted Kubrick’s unorthodox style for later screenplays.
“He suggested that we each work independently in compiling a list of 120 scenes. He gave me a copy of Stephen King’s novel and some scissors and told me to just cut out the scenes that I thought should be in the film.”
Also present at the event were identical twins Louise and Lisa Burns, who played the Grady Twins and were just 10 at the time of production.
“It’s so lovely to be with the whole gang again,” said Lisa, retelling a fond memory involving Garrett Brown on set. “Mummy wouldn’t let us have a cup of coffee and a donut each, just half a cup and half a donut. But he used to go around and get us an extra cup and a donut. It was like being part of a big family.”
Neither of the twins actually watched The Shining until they were in their early 20s, about 12 years after it was released.
Aside from being considered a hugely influential title, not least one of the scariest horrors of all time, The Shining has also provoked an entire documentary’s worth of conspiracy theories devoted to the messages Kubrick is believed to have tried to hide in the film’s imagery and ambiguities.
Rodney Ascher’s 2012 film Room 237 collates some of the theories, including one that suggests the knitted Apollo 11 sweater worn by Danny and the particular design of the carpet were Kubrick’s apology for having supposedly shot the 1969 moon landings. But those in attendance at the 35th anniversary celebration were quick to dismiss any such thoughts.
“People tried to think that the film should have made sense,” said executive producer Jan Harlan, who worked with Kubrick across many of his titles. “But it didn’t. It’s a ghost film, end of story. It’s completely mysterious. When at the end you see Jack Nicholson in the photograph in 1923, you can’t ask 'How come?', because nobody can possibly have an answer. Kubrick always said, 'Never try to explain something that you don’t understand yourself.' "
Kubrick’s daughter Katherina said that during the shoot she had asked her dad if he believed in ghosts. “He said no, but wouldn’t it be nice if there were, because that would mean it wasn’t the end,” she said, adding that she didn’t actually see the bathtub scene from The Shining until several years later.
Perhaps the biggest surprise appearance at the anniversary event came via a recorded video. Danny Lloyd, who was just six years old when he played Danny Torrance, greeted the audience and attempted to put to rest some of the theories about his life after making the film.
“I know that I’ve kept a low profile, and I know people say that’s because I didn’t like the movie or didn’t like the process of making the movie, but that’s definitely not true,” he said. “So I want to set the record straight and say that I really enjoyed the experience and the crew was like my family.”
Lloyd went on to say that he’s now a father of four and teaches at his local community college in Kentucky, where he has a small farm.
“So if you’ve heard the rumors that I’m a pig farmer in Idaho, that’s not true. I don’t have six kids, I have four, and I live in Kentucky, and we’ve got a couple of cows and a horse.”
Lloyd finished the video with his son Ben riding a bike around the house, much like he himself had done in the Overlook Hotel, built in Elstree Studios, 35 years earlier.