So given it’s October (ah, who am I kidding I love horror films) I figured it would be interesting to examine some iconic performances -most notably-Shelley Duvall’s in the The Shining.
Firstly, before I break it down, it is a stellar performance - but that’s not what I wanted to really discuss here. I wanted to talk around it. Mostly, I wanted to focus on the mental anguish suffered by Duvall -that was done by Kubrick and if it was really necessary to “get” the performance out of her. I’ll give you the spoilers now and tell you that, no, I don’t believe so.
Here’s a quote from an article to give you some context as to what she went through while filming this picture:
It’s no secret that Shelley Duvall had a rough time while shooting The Shining. Her role as Wendy Torrance, the frightened wife to a deranged husband, was so detrimental to her health that she lost chunks of her hair from the stress. And Stanley Kubrick, who was known for perfectionism within his movies, made her experience on set “excruciating.”
This along with reported anxiety attacks means that Kubrick seemingly put her through hell during the shoot -despite her respect for him-I do think it was unnecessary to demand so many shots, and re-shoots and mentally exhaust his actors.
If we look at other profound horror film performances, to name a few, Maika Monroe in It Follows, Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween, Linda Blair in The Exorcist or even Sigourney Weaver in Alien and Aliens - all of these performances came without the baggage offered by Duvall’s performance or by Tippi Hedren’s in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (another director known for demanding near-perfection from their crew)
Tippi says of her arguably abusive on-set experience:
On the final day of shooting the scene, live birds were loosely tied to Hedren’s costume while she laid on the floor. The actress says when “Action!” was called, the birds that were tied to her started pecking her and the wranglers again threw live birds directly at her.
This is to say nothing of actors who put themselves through similarly harrowing experience for their “art” like Christian Bale in The Machinst. I think these behaviours and demands for these sorts of performances are unhealthy both mentally, and potentially physically (I can not give enough praise to Robert Pattinson in his decision not to bulk up for The Batman). Some may think you need to suffer for your art - but as I pointed out in my counter-performances, on sets that were a lot more cohesive and collaborative - you can draw out art from a healthier place, even when the subject matter is dark or heavy. Nothing is necessary, everything is relative - ultimately real-life health of your actors should supersede audience/director demands - and by focusing in on one’s health, one does not get a ‘lesser’ performance.