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Rear Window and The Shining

Two of the classic movies about people stuck inside are The Shining and Rear Window. The Shining is about a family hired to work as caretakers of a large Colorado hotel that gets snowed in every winter and Rear Window is about a photojournalist stuck in his New York apartment with a broken leg. The men in these situations really handle being inside for too long in very different ways. While Jimmy Stewart’s character in Rear Window is not a model citizen when he resorts to peeping on all of his neighbors across the way, Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance character goes a bit further by going nuts, getting possessed by hotel demons and trying to kill everyone. To each his own.

Rear Window poster, 1954.

When sheltered in place, it is important to take up activities and hobbies, Danny Torrance rides a big wheel around, Wendy Torrance socializes through the CB radio and Jack plays wall ball and writes. He's a pretty good writer, although he has only mastered the one sentence over and over again. The Rear Window crew, however, have a little more trouble entertaining themselves. Lisa tries entertaining Jeff by ordering in from a fancy restaurant and playing hostess while staying in, Stella the nurse does her job as a nurse but that's not really an activity of it's her job and Jeff gets really into true crime. Jeff gets drunk and catches a murderer, Jack gets drunk and axes Scatman Crothers.

The ladies certainly seem to handle things better than their significant others. Grace Kelly's character is made to be someone who is adapted for indoor life to the extent that Jeff isn't comfortable with her being able to "rough it" with him. She has a nice meal brought up to the apartment and has packed her things for staying the night in a small carrying bag. For all of her freaking out in character and off camera Shelley Duvall's Wendy is still the one that handles the responsibilities of the Overlook Hotel caretaker while Jack goes crazy in the Colorado Room.

The Overlook hotel is an iconic set in film history. Steven Spielberg revisited the haunted hotel for a scene in Ready Player One for a puzzle where the players have to walk through a movie to solve a riddle. This was changed from War Games in the book presumably because of the chill that goes up the spine on the reveal of The Overlook. Spielberg and Kubrick were good friends, working on A.I. together before Stanley’s death. Kubrick made Spielberg install a fax machine in his bedroom so he could fax him ideas for the movie all through the night. Kate Capshaw, Spielberg's wife, ultimately make him unplug the machine overnight because she couldn’t stay sleeping with Stanley’s three a.m. faxes printing out. While some of the exterior shots in The Shining are of a real hotel, the entire interior is on a giant set in London. Shooting took so long that other big movies at the time had to adjust or delay their schedules. The ceiling of the studio had to be raised, a feature that was later used on Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Arc.

Rear Window trailer, 1954.

Rear Window had its own problems with the size of it's set. The apartment set was built to really overlook the units on the back of the Apartments that Jeff is watching. Everything was on set. That meant that the set had to be four stories tall and that the camera and stars had to be four stories up for the whole production. There just weren't any studios that were that tall and it would have been ridiculous to just build an apartment complex in a field… like M. Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water… so, Hitchcock had his production dig three stories down under the studio so that the fourth floor was on the first floor. Because it was all indoors there needed to be some pretty powerful lights that were located at the top near the upper units that would get pretty hot.

I would like to see a spin off movie about someone watching the Jimmy Stewart side of the apartment complex. Not only would they have the mystery of a guy in his pijamas watching out with binoculars, but a whole other building of unseen characters who end up seeing the police come for one guy and a fella in a leg cast falling out a window. All where wondering where that nice music is coming from and watching a parade of guys in the stairwell trying to get to Miss Torso's apartment. The Shining equivalent of a spin-off story would be the new groundskeeper going through the maze looking for Jack's body that never appears with moving topiaries just off camera. The topiaries from the book were left out of the movie when Stanley Kubrick realized they wouldn't be feasible to put on camera and might ruin the movie.

Both movies have had their own remakes and adaptations. Both movies were reworked as made for TV movies that were pretty well known. In 1998 Christopher Reeve played the role of the injured voyeur, this time as a paralyzed crime solver, playing the role after being injured in real life. The 2008 Shia LaBeouf movie about a young man on house arrest snooping on a neighbor who turned out to be a serial killer was sued by the writer of the original story of Rear Window. Although I recall at the time that it was clear from the trailers that it was a rehash of Rear Window, the court ended up throwing out the case. The Shining’s TV miniseries treatment was a second chance for Stephen King to have an adaptation closer to the vision he had of his story when Stanley Kubrick ended up changing everything around to his image although it hardly had the same cultural impact. The eventual sequel that tells the story of an adult Danny Torrance dealing with a lifetime of trying to get over the events at the Overlook and reconciling his abilities to shine follows the book in the book version and Stephen King pretty enthusiastically came to terms with the Kubrick film for the movie adaptation that adopts imagery and story points that were not consistent with the books.

The Shining poster, 1980.

The movie of The Shining has taken on a nearly supernatural life of its own through the years. The documentary Room 237, named after the haunted room of the hotel, tells a string of conflicting theories and interpretations of the movie from native american genocide, the holocaust, faking the moon landing and minotaur skiers. Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim, Baby Driver and others) has been posting dream double features to watch during quarantine on twitter over the last couple of months and the movie he paired with The Shining was one that was maybe more enigmatic. He chose Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad (1961), a surreal movie set in a mysterious palatial estate in France where a love triangle wanders around, suffering memory or time slips and never leaving the grounds. It’s uncertain what exactly is going on in Marienbad, but the prevailing theory is that they are all dead, none of them realize it and they are stuck in purgatory. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that director Alain Resnais ws close friends to Stan Lee and desperately wanted to direct a Spider-Man movie. He and Lee wrote an original superhero script together that was a bit too weird for any studio to get on board with.

While all of these movies are about people staying at home and their varying abilities to handle isolation, the most fitting movie about Covid from these directors might actually be Eyes Wide Shut. Tom Cruise does get out of the house, although he is desperately afraid of getting sick. While the movie seems to be about infidelity and secret organizations, there is a strong theme of Cruise’s character encountering people with AIDS even as he is strongly tempted to engage in unsafe activities. In the end it is movie that discourages going out to large gatherings and gives masks a lot of screen time.

Letterboxd reviews of Rear Window and The Shining

Next Month: Spider-Man Far From Home and 2019 movies in the review.

Coming Someday: A series of baseball posts about Shortened and Interrupted Seasons.

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