The Invisible Horror of The Shining
If you’d make a ranking of perennially popular video essay topics, Stanley Kubrick would probably come a close second to Wes Anderson. And among Kubrick’s films, The Shining (1980) would undoubtedly place very high. There’s a handful of video essays on that movie on this very site, from a mash-up to an eerie 360° rendition of its setting, from a spatial re-imagining to an analysis of its camerawork. Kristian Williams acknowledges that avalanche of attention in his introduction to this piece on the 1980 horror classic. But he makes the case that this film is the gift that keeps on giving, in that it reveals new layers with every repeat viewing. The layer he unfolds in this particular video essay is the movie’s sound design.
Kaptain Kristian takes an unexpected approach, applying a term usually reserved for animation films to Kubrick’s live action movie. Mickey mousing is the practice of matching music very closely to the actions seen on screen. It is common in (cartoons but less so in live action films. It is especially uncommon to encounter this technique in a film that uses pre-existing music (instead of having a composer work to a locked edit). In The Shining however, many movements of the characters often line up perfectly with Béla Bartók’s 1930s musical composition Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Whole series of minor actions are in synch with the music, as if it was composed with those actions in mind. This video essay uses expert editing (and re-editing) to illustrate its analysis, even finding serendipitous connections that play into the movie’s mythic reputation. But make no mistake: Kaptain Kristian never veers into mere fan theory territory, but convincingly shows how the masterly placement of musical cues contributes to the film’s enduring impact.