Film and TV

The Razzies void Shelley Duvall’s ‘The Shining’ nomination after an abusive environment on set comes to light

When the Golden Raspberry Awards -- a satirical honor also known as the Razzies -- responded to the news of Bruce Willis’s aphasia diagnosis by rescinding Willis’s recent prize for bad acting, they also made an attempt at reparation for a much older affront. The Razzies took back one of their very first nominations: Shelley Duvall’s 1981 “Worst Actress” nod for her performance as Wendy Torrance in the now-classic horror film “The Shining.”

In a statement explaining the decision, the organization said: “We have since discovered that Duvall’s performance was impacted by Stanley Kubrick’s treatment of her throughout the production.” Earlier this year, in an interview with Vulture, Mo Murphy, co-founder of the Razzies, said she regretted the pick: “Knowing the backstory and the way that Stanley Kubrick kind of pulverized her,” Murphy said, “I would take that back.”

Duvall played the petrified wife of Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a writer who takes a job as offseason caretaker at the secluded Overlook Hotel, loses his mind and proceeds to try to murder his wife and son (Danny Lloyd). The 1980 film has garnered acclaim since its original mixed reception -- it even ranks 29th on the American Film Institute’s ranking of the “100 Most Thrilling American Films.” But in the years since the film’s release, the toxic conditions surrounding Duvall’s performance have come to light. Footage from “Making ‘The Shining,’” a short documentary filmed by Kubrick’s then-17-year-old daughter, Vivian, and a 2021 interview with Duvall in the Hollywood Reporter, revealed an abusive environment in which Kubrick tried to keep his lead actress in a constant state of panic and made horror a reality by berating and alienating her on set.

The Razzies’ decision to revoke Duvall’s nomination fits into a wider conversation about the dangers and drawbacks of method acting, which often entails actors seeking complete emotional identification with a character -- sometimes through extreme means. The decision to rescind the Razzie nomination also comes as Hollywood is reckoning with the politics of misfired jokes, with comedians such as Amy Schumer apologizing for racist jokes, and Eddie Murphy expressing remorse for making hurtful homophobic cracks in the past.

Founded by UCLA film school graduates John Wilson and Murphy in 1981, the Razzies give annual awards for “worst of” categories, voted on by the group’s members, described as “spanning almost every continent and 49 U.S. states, except one of the Carolinas.” The awards are given -- and typically received -- in good humor. In 2011, actor Tom Green showed up at the ceremony with his own small red carpet and played the harmonica until he got kicked offstage. That same year, Sandra Bullock brought a trolley cart full of DVDs of her Razzie-winning movie “All About Steve.” This year’s winners, which were announced online, included LeBron James for “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” According to the Razzies site, he’s earned a trophy, spray-painted gold, with a value estimated at $4.97.

Wilson says their own mission factored into the decision to take back the two Razzies. “Doing what we do, having the slogan ‘Own your bad,’ we got to live up to our own mistakes. We got to own our own bad,” he told The Washington Post in a joint phone interview with Murphy. “We don’t want to be bullies,” Murphy added. “We want to bring out the humanity in celebrity.”

This week, Wilson and Murphy brought out humanity in a different way by acknowledging an actress’ personal pain. During the very first year of awards, the Razzies nominated Duvall for worst actress. That same year, they nominated Stanley Kubrick for directing what they considered a poor adaptation of Stephen King’s 1977 novel. (King himself has famously disparaged Kubrick’s adaptation, likening Duvall’s performance to a “screaming dishrag.”)

Duvall’s acting in the film has been criticized for being over-the-top, and her character has been called weak and submissive. But Michael Blouin, an English professor at Milligan University who studies Stephen King and co-edited “Violence in the Films of Stephen King,” feels differently.

“Kubrick was trying to give this meta-commentary on the horror genre. The film is supposed to be cartoonish,” he says. “If it’s an unrealistic portrayal, it was meant to be. If she comes across as being weak, I think that just shows a blindness to what really goes on in abusive relationships. And that speaks more broadly to our blindness to the relationships that were going on on the set, as well.”

Over the intervening years, it has become clear that Duvall was not just pretending to be terrified but was often actually terrified. Vivian Kubrick’s documentary, originally shown on British television, shows Duvall collapsing from exhaustion on set and being berated by the elder Kubrick, who is said to have isolated and criticized the actress in an attempt to evoke the alienation her character feels in the film.

Known for being a perfectionist, Kubrick is said to have never finished a shot before the 35th take. The famous “Here’s Johnny” scene, in which Nicholson’s character breaks through a bathroom door, resulted in 60 broken doors over three days of filming. Kubrick needed 127 takes to complete the stairway scene, in which Duvall wields a baseball bat in front of her husband -- just shy of the Guinness World Record of 148 retakes, which was set by another scene in the film.

While giving an interview to the Hollywood Reporter last year, Duvall was reduced to tears while rewatching the staircase scene. “I can only imagine how many women go through this kind of thing,” she said

Filming “The Shining” -- which took nearly a year, rather than the intended 17 weeks -- took a toll on Duvall’s health. She had to carry Lloyd around constantly and maintain a state of sustained panic. She called the experience “excruciating work . . . almost unbearable,” telling Roger Ebert in 1980 that during the last nine months of shooting she had to cry 12 hours a day, five or six days a week. She likened it to “primal scream therapy.”

To prepare for scenes, she would listen to sad music or think about sad moments in her life. “But after a while, your body rebels,” she told the Hollywood Reporter. “It says: ‘Stop doing this to me. I don’t want to cry every day.’ And sometimes just that thought alone would make me cry.”

Over the course of shooting, Duvall struggled with bouts of illness and her hair fell out from stress. At one point in the making-of documentary, Duvall shows her director hunks of her hair. Kubrick replies by telling her to get ready for the next scene and then says, “I don’t sympathize with Shelley.”

Murphy believes the psychological harm inflicted by Kubrick may have done lasting damage to Duvall’s career. “She was such a cool, quirky, three-dimensional character. She was a delight to see on screen,” Murphy says of her earlier performances. “It just seems to me that there was a shift after ‘The Shining.’”

In recent years, Duvall has faded from the spotlight. She left Hollywood in the 1990s after producing successful children’s programming for cable TV. Now 72, Duvall lives in Texas with her partner, musician Dan Gilroy. Duvall’s last acting credit was 20 years ago in “Manna from Heaven.”

More recently, she received unwanted attention after a 2016 interview on the “Dr. Phil” TV show, during which she spoke incoherently and shared seemingly paranoid thoughts. At one point, she suggested that Robin Williams, her co-star in “Popeye,” might still be alive and “shapeshifting.” Celebrities criticized host Phil McGraw, a clinical psychologist, for exploiting a vulnerable subject.

McGraw’s treatment of Duvall has echoes of what she went through on the set of “The Shining.” In a 2013 BBC interview, King said the film felt “cold,” citing Duvall’s portrayal as “one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film. She’s basically just there to scream and be stupid, and that’s not the woman I wrote about.”

What seemed to upset King the most was how distant the characters seemed. Kubrick had viewers observing the Torrances like “ants in an ant hill,” King complained -- and Duvall’s experience suggests that Kubrick may have looked at his actress that way, too.

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