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Camera Operator for 'The Shining' Explains Helicopter Shadows in Opening Credits, Discusses Hallorann Crash Sequence

by Charlie Schmidlin
February 4, 2013 9:43 AM
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Room 237,” Rodney Ascher's quixotic look at Stanley Kubrick's “The Shining” and the elaborate theories surrounding it, is set to hit theatres and VOD later this year, but while the documentary packs in a enormous amount of supposed “answers,” the latest one up for review concerns the film's ominous opening credits, and perhaps comes from a slightly more credible source as well.

“The Shining” opens with a series of sweeping helicopter shots slowly tracking Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) and his family's car through the snow-capped hills of Glacier National Park. Contacted by Kubrick then to shoot this second unit footage, camera operator Jeff Blyth recently recalled his experiences of the shoot, but more importantly lent his thoughts on the credits' most disputed shot: A glimpse of the helicopter itself splashed up against the mountains. Was it an accident or Kubrick's intent?

“At the time we started shooting, we had been told we could do anything we wanted,” Blyth recounts. “It was with great amusement that I have read online reports that Kubrick somehow accomplished these shots by some sort of radio remote control while still in England. We'd talked with him by phone before setting out and I can assure you there were no specifics needed other than a yellow VW with Colorado plates.”

Addled with stress over lack of traffic control, Blyth and his team were attempting to maintain a fluid shot while filming in full aperture, with mixed results. “I had my hands full guiding the helicopter pilot in closer and closer based on the little black and white monitor (which the pilot could not see). I can assure you, shadows were the least of our concerns, even if they could have been visible on that [1:1.85-cropped] monitor (which they weren't).”

Due to Blyth's impaired sight lines, the camera operator concludes Kubrick “just liked those particular shots and didn't worry about the shadows.” He then added, “I have to say I was personally horrified to see the shadows on the first video release, since they'd never showed in the theatrical release, as we'd intended.”

Entertaining and insightful, you can read Blyth's full account over at Visual Memory, where he also talks about risking injury to film a deleted scene with Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) “receiving” Danny's telepathic S.O.S. by nearly swerving into oncoming traffic along the Pacific Coast Highway. Needless to say, Blyth and his team were “a little disappointed that the final cut of the film eliminated all of that and it was replaced with a very simple shot of Halloran responding to the message in his apartment.”

“Scatman did a nice job of the moment, though,” he says. Check out the opening sequence from the horror classic below. [via Movie City News]

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  • goldfarb | February 5, 2013 2:05 PMReply

    it's been known for ages that the helicopter shadow would have been masked by the 1.85 crop in the theater...but for reasons I can't remember, Kubrick had the home video versions of all his movies (2001 and Spartacus excepted) released full frame...I think it was because of the 4:3 of televisions.

  • zatopek | February 4, 2013 10:44 AMReply

    There's also that faint vibration thing on the top of that last image. I've always thought it comes from the propeller.

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