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Stanley Kubrick, a legendary master of cinema, was known for his meticulous attention to detail and unwavering pursuit of perfection. One particular scene, considered iconic in his filmography, took an astonishing 148 takes to achieve the level of brilliance Kubrick desired. This tireless dedication to his craft is a testament to his unwavering commitment to excellence and his unyielding creative vision. Through his meticulous approach, Kubrick was able to captivate audiences and create unforgettable cinematic moments that have stood the test of time. Join us as we delve into the exhaustive journey behind this iconic Stanley Kubrick scene that pushed the boundaries of filmmaking and became an indelible mark in the annals of cinematic history.
Like many writers and directors who rise to the top of their profession, Stanley Kubrick was, no doubt, a perfectionist, and it’s hard to disagree with that statement based on evidence throughout the auteur’s career. The last six films he directed took sequentially longer before he deemed them ready for release. There’s a three-year gap between 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and 1971’s A Clockwork Orange. Barry Lyndon was next in 1975, a four-year gap, then another five before 1980’s The Shining. Full Metal Jacket stayed in production for 7 years, and his final film, Eyes Wide Shut, wouldn’t be released until 1999, an astonishing twelve years between projects (and that was released posthumously, suggesting it could have been even longer).
Stanley Kubrick movies are notorious for having multiple takes. One instance is in Eyes Wide Shut, when Tom Cruise‘s Dr. Bill Hartford walks through a door. He just walks through a door. That’s it. 95 times Cruise walked through the same door. It is not surprising, then, to know that the Guinness World Record for “Most Retakes for One Scene With Dialogue” belongs to Kubrick’s The Shining with a whopping 148 takes.
This Is ‘The Shining’ Scene That Took 148 Takes
The scene in question is a pivotal moment in the film when Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) explains “the shining” to young Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd). The beginning of the 5-minute scene sees Dick asking Danny if he knows how Dick already knew his name. Danny remains silent, so Dick moves on to talk about how he and his grandmother could hold conversations with one another without once speaking, a special gift his grandmother called “the shining.” Danny shares the same gift, and finally says that he’s not supposed to talk about it. When asked who said not to talk about it, Danny explains that it’s “Tony,” a presence in his mouth that talks to him in his sleep. Dick realizes that “Tony” is how Danny understands his shining ability and asks him if “Tony” ever talked to him about the Overlook Hotel. Danny asks Dick in turn if the hotel is bad, to which Dick explains that bad things happened in The Shining hotel, and those traces still remain. Danny then asks about Room 237. A visibly shaken Dick says, rather unconvincingly, that there is nothing in Room 237… but stay away from it.
It’s one of the most important scenes in the film, explaining “the shining” in a way that’s simple for Danny to understand and, in turn, the viewer. Dick is the instructor, mentor, and finally the voice of warning, while Danny is set up as one who knows a deeper truth about the Overlook than what he lets on. It’s a wonderfully acted moment between the two, with Crothers’ voice able to give depth to the emotions he’s expressing, from nostalgia to fear, and Lloyd taking it all in and asking incisive questions in a manner that suggests he already knows the answers. This scene from The Shining seems simple, but given its importance, it is understandable that it may have taken a few times to get it right. But 148 is excessive, in almost every sense of the word. It isn’t a scene that can be picked up halfway through, so each take would have had to be taken from the top. The fact that there’s a child involved in the scene makes the number of takes even more questionable.
This Isn’t the Only Scene From ‘The Shining’ That Had Multiple Takes
That scene isn’t even the only one in the film where Kubrick filmed the same moment repeatedly a number of times. The scene where the camera zooms in on Crothers’ face in his bedroom was repeated more than 60 times. The scene was hard on Crothers, who reportedly was reduced to tears. Shelley Duvall, however, had it worse, infamously “broken” by Kubrick during filming. Duvall’s most traumatic moment filming The Shining was the staircase scene, which finally wrapped up after 127 takes. The filming took a big toll on the actress, who spent entire days on set crying, almost walked off the set over stress, and suffered a debilitating anxiety attack, largely due to Kubrick’s incessant perfectionism and treatment of the actress.
In Kubrick’s eyes, however, didn’t view his acts as those of a perfectionist, but rather a director having to repeat a scene because the actors are unprepared. In a 1987 interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, when asked about the rumors of doing a hundred takes for one scene, Kubrick didn’t deny it, but was upfront with his rationale. As he explains, if actors are unprepared with their lines, they cannot act. If they have to think about the words, they are not prepared to work on the emotional aspect of the scene, and that comes across in their eyes. So the scene is repeated until the moment is right. However, as Kubrick points out in the same interview, thirty takes turns into a hundred as tales are told, giving him the reputation. “If I did a hundred takes on every scene, I’d never finish a film.”
Kubrick isn’t the only director, though, to insist on multiple takes to get a scene right. Sam Raimi‘s Spider-Man, for example, did 156 takes for the cafeteria tray scene. With CGI, and now AI, the tools are continually evolving for which directors can “fix” scenes in their films, so it is unlikely that Kubrick’s record will be overtaken any time soon. When facial tics, vocal inflections, and other minute details can be fixed in post-production, the need for a director to “get it right” the first time becomes diminished. And in a very odd way, that distancing from perfection at the outset, a move that weakens the emotional connection between a film’s creator and creation, becomes a little disheartening.
Looking back on the scene and the film as a whole, the end actually does justify the means, cruel as it may be. Crothers’ entire body, especially his eyes and face, had to be in the moment. If his eyes betrayed him thinking about his lines, or what his next action would be, it would lose the natural flow. Instead, what we see is Crothers going through a progression of emotions. His demeanor lights up as he talks about his grandmother and “shining.” There is an ease in his body language, and his eyes reflect the affectionate nostalgia of the memory. As the conversation goes on, you can physically see the fear rising: his body tenses, his eyes widen, his voice becomes more terse. Lloyd has the easier end of the scene, but a tricky one. He isn’t given a lot of dialogue, but what he says is important, and much like Crothers has to speak, Lloyd has to look like he’s hearing, taking it all in without, again, looking like he’s waiting for his next line. And he does it quite well. Maybe Stanley Kubrick knew what he was doing.
In summary, the iconic Stanley Kubrick scene that required 148 takes to get right stands as a testament to the director’s dedication and pursuit of perfection. Kubrick’s meticulous attention to detail and his endless quest for excellence are exhibited in his painstaking approach to filmmaking. While some may view the extensive number of retakes as excessive or obsessive, it is precisely this commitment to achieving a specific vision that set Kubrick apart as a true cinematic genius. This scene serves as a reminder that great art often requires great effort, and it is through an unwavering commitment to his craft that Kubrick was able to create timeless masterpieces. As filmmakers and enthusiasts, we can learn from Kubrick’s relentless pursuit of perfection and his unwavering dedication to his artistic vision.
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