By Akshay Seth, Daily Film Columnist
Published September 3, 2013
Danny Torrance showed me how to love. Or, love movies at least. Yes, we’re talking about that weird psychic kid from “The Shining” who only wears overalls — you know, the little brunette whose best buds are his imaginary finger friends. Through passing eyes, it’s a quaint memory, touching fondly on the love little Danny had for his little tricycle, but as I sit here thinking of my younger self, my infinitely wiser present self sees a column idea. Because the real reason I fell in love with Danny and his tricycle has to do with a particular tracking shot, the way it drew me in even as a youth and showed me the simplicity in following.
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The first time I saw it, I was no older than Danny, fresh off the boat — or air-boat — from India, friendless, on the very far end of the heavy side and the go-to target of my elder cousins’ idiotic sense of humor. Leading up to my first Halloween, this idiotic sense of humor dictated that I be dragged to an evening screening of “The Shining.” My mother was told I’d be watching “a movie kind of like ‘Home Alone’ that takes place in a hotel.”
They wanted to see me pee my elastic jeans, but the joke was on them. I didn’t understand diddly shit of what anyone was saying. The American accent, with its rolling r’s and tapered t’s, was an enigma, a weird mutation of the English language that only white people seemed to truly comprehend (I’m convinced this is the reason I look utterly dumbfounded in every family picture taken over the course of my first year in the U.S.).
So it goes without saying I was totally confuzzled by what was happening on screen. That is until that iconic blue tricycle appeared. Danny looked like a certifiable badass gliding forth through the deserted halls of the Overlook Hotel. The overalls were there. The wind was in his hair. The little red shoes were pedaling away like they just didn’t care (a poem). He was about to see the mutilated, axed remains of those creepy identical twins with their equally creepy identical dresses, but in retrospect, even that was a veiled yet important life lesson: looking fly has its consequences. And let’s not forget the cinematography involved with this priceless piece of movie magic history.
The try-and-top-this-swag-cycle just pushes forward, the eerie drawl of its wheels sliding over hardwood, then carpet, then again hardwood: a thudding noise oddly reminiscent of our hearts’ quickening pace. Kubrick teases ever closer to Danny, only to wheel further away at the next moment, holding us still and hostage with his camera at calculated points around the corner to let our suspicions build, then topple into frenzied anticipation. Yeah. It’s great — one of those perfectly composed scenes boasting an inimitable marriage between editing, photography and direction.
The only thing my nine-year-old, thoroughly homesick self had to do was follow the tracking shot. There was peace in that simplicity, no American accent to throw me off — a calmness that gave me my first experience of being totally disarmed by film.
For those too lazy to schleck their way to Wikipedia, the tracking shot is, in basic terms, a shot taken by mounted or handheld camera that tracks movement over an extended period of time. The idea is simple, but as is true of most worthwhile things in showbiz (and by extension, real life), the simplest mechanisms can yield the most natural solutions.
In this case, the problem is the jump-cut — the annoying little thing that cuts from one frame to the next with little to no transition, creating a jumping effect that can become tiresome with overuse. It’s not fun. Like this. Really short and dull. Random and weird. Half sentences. So for the film to breathe, we need a touch of stability to diversify our viewing experience, to convince our eyes to look closely and with more commitment.