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Gordon Stainforth
Il contributo dell'assistente montatore al film al mix della colonna sonora

Gordon Stainforth era stato assunto come assistente al montaggio ma, dopo un incidente accorso al montatore accreditato Ray Lovejoy, ha partecipato attivamente al final cut del film. Negli ultimi tempi della post produzione di Shining, Stainforth si è diviso tra il lavoro con Kubrick e quello con sua figlia Vivian, che nello stesso periodo ultimava il documentario sul film prodotto per la BBC.

Gordon Stainforth partecipa occasionalmente al gruppo di discussione alt.movies.kubrick fornendo preziose informazioni circa la complessa post-produzione di Shining.

Conversazione con Gordon Stainforth
di Felix "El Gato" Martinez

Who is this guy?
I'm browsing through the alt.movies.kubrick newsgroup, and I see an extraordinarily informed posting on The Shining's music editing. This catches my attention, because since the fall of 1981 when I disobeyed my parents and watched The Shining on a pay channel, I've been fascinated by the sights, sounds and performances in this film that divided critics and fans at the time. However, like all important works, it's enjoyed an extended life, sustained by re-evaluating critics and über-fans (like yours truly).
As a musician and music producer, I'm intrigued by this person's posting, which reveals an unusually high degree of knowledge of the film - both intimate and technical. So I e-mail Gordon Something-Or-Other to trade thoughts on the film.
Turns out that it's Gordon Stainforth, one of the assistant editors on The Shining, and a warm, down to earth gentleman who is now a respected landscape photographer with a number of published books under his arm. The e-mails segue into a pleasant phone conversation with Gordon in the U.K. and me pacing around my kitchen, jotting notes on unpaid bill envelopes and trying to quiet a Pomeranian that somehow appears to be sharing my excitement. What follows is a literal montage of that conversation and the few, lengthy e-mail exchanges collected over a one year period. We discussed working with "Stanley", the editing process and the upcoming DVD remasters of the Kubrick films.

How did you get involved as an assistant editor in The Shining?
I got the job to edit Vivian's (Kubrick) documentary on the making of The Shining (which is on the current DVD and also announced to be on the remaster as well), and little by little, I hung out with the editors until I became part of the team editing the film.

What did the editing team consist of, and how was the work divided?
Ray Lovejoy was the editor, and then there was Gill Smith as 1st Assistant, and I was 2nd Assistant.  It's an interesting situation, because over X-Mas 1979, Ray cut his hand with a beer can or something at a party. It got very infected, and he had to go to the hospital. Gill then left the production temporarily to attend to a family matter, and Ray came back. All I noticed was his hand (laughs). Ray had a long meeting with Stanley as to who will do the actual cutting, and I was there.

So Lovejoy supervised the editing and you then took over the task of physically cutting the film?
Yes, after they had been cutting for almost 8 months! I cut about the last 30 minutes of the picture with Stanley.

How long did it take?
I began the 1st week of January (1980) and by April, the film was cut and mostly complete.

How did your involvement with the music editing occur?
(Composer) Wendy Carlos was hired to do the score, and some of it still exists in the film (the Dies Irae over the opening title credits and various heartbeats and effects). But something happened and Stanley came to me with a challenge in early April (the film opened May 23 in the U.S.). There was no score, and he asked me if I could edit together previously recorded music and create the soundtrack. He said, "can you handle it?" And I said, "sure!" (laughs).

What was it like working with Kubrick?
He was very specific with ideas and details. I remember laying in the Penderecki piece when Jack is chasing Danny in the snow at the end, and Stanley kept saying, "beef it up!" (laughs).  We wound up laying three or four additional Penderecki pieces over the original and I remember telling Stanley that the music critics would nail us for doing that. Stanley said no one would ever notice, and he was right - to this day I haven't heard anyone complain!

I find the soundtrack to be a work of 'montage art'.  I have collected separately on CD many of the pieces you used, and am always surprised at how you created a cohesive, powerful soundtrack from bits and pieces of previously recorded music.
It's great to hear enthusiastic comments about this job, which I'm still rather proud of after 20 years! I was responsible for the precise timing and most of the exact pieces of music used for every single music cue in the film. I did it all absolutely on my own, with no assistant. The only other person involved was Stanley himself, who would probably have spent more time with me on it if he hadn't been so busy dubbing the picture - I did most of the music laying/editing while they were doing the 'pre-mixes'.

A memorable cue is when Jack bounces the tennis ball off the Overlook's walls, and then goes to the model of the maze.
That was actually one of the music cues I was proudest of. I think Stanley may not have wanted me to start the music until Jack looks down at the maze model, but I discovered this fabulous rubbery, bouncy bit of the Bartok. I think, looking at my notes and the score it was about bar 31 of the Più Lento of the Music for Strings Percussion and Celesta. The whole thing was in fact synched from the bouncing ball and the swing of Jack's arm. I just inched it this way and that way until it felt just right, and I remember being almost beside myself with excitement when I first got it to work. Such was the nature and quality of the music that I couldn't cut it, although I may have tightened it by a few frames - I can't remember. We definitely had to lengthen the shot of Jack looking down at the maze to make the music fit the rest of the scene.

I also love the cue where Jack and Danny are in the bedroom, and the question and answer dialogue between them is punctuated by the rising and falling violin glissandos in the music. When there's a question, the violins go up, and then they go down on the answer - much like the cadence in our voices when we ask and answer a question. How did you manage to work that one out with a piece of pre-recorded music?
That's the contribution I'm proudest of in the whole movie! Stanley really liked the Bartok and I suddenly had this crazy idea that it must just work phenomenally well with that dialogue scene. So I just did it. I seem to remember working most of the night on it, because they were dubbing the music of that reel first thing in the morning. But to make it fit, if my memory is right, I had to cut out about 15-20 frames of the music with two very subtle cuts, and then we had to lengthen at least two of the cuts of Jack and Danny, and I think the very last cut to get the final chord to come right on the title Wednesday. Ray agreed to this, first thing in the morning, which was great. Then I took the tracks over to the dubbing theatre and actually met Stanley just outside. He was initially appalled when I said "I'd laid music over that scene" - "oh we can't have music there" - but I just begged him to listen to it.  I'd deliberately laid it on a separate track as a so-called optional extra. I remember saying very simply something like "please just listen to it, because I'm sure you'll like it." And he did, and he did! I remember feeling absolutely over the moon about this.

What were other challenging cues?
Jack and Grady in the red bathroom with the 'ironic' juxtaposition of the band music in the background with the dialogue. Very, very difficult. Took absolutely hours. I remember spending most of the night, again, 'conducting' the music in the cutting room to get the rhythm right with the dialogue. Another one was Jack locked up saying "go check out the snowcat and the radio", and I used a bit of Polymorphia and managed to sort of synch it up with him drumming his fingers on the door. Also, Shelley running upstairs and seeing the dogman - that was Penderecki Utrenja, complete with that incredible choir. I feared I might have 'gone over the top' with this, but fortunately Stanley loved it. And Danny hiding in the maze and Jack appearing and calling "Danny!", and then using these massive chords from Utrenja - BOOM-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM.  I remember I nearly blew my mind when I first laid that.

There is one cue in the film that disturbs me from an editorial standpoint. When Danny turns a corner and encounters the two girls in the hallway, the music cue hits just before we see the girls. It has always bothered me that it precedes the action and gives away the scare a fraction of a second too soon. I'm reminded of the sequence in Jaws where Richard Dreyfuss' character inspects the hull of a boat underwater, and a mutilated head pops out of a hole in the boat. To this day, this sequence stands the hairs on my neck. I finally went back to figure out why, and realized that what they did was insert the musical sting a fraction of a second AFTER you see the head. It's almost like a drum snare 'flam' where you hit the snare with both sticks, one slightly behind the other, and you get a thicker impact from the slight delay of the two sticks. I'm sure you placed your cue exactly where you wanted it, but what are your thoughts on this one?
Interesting that you should have noticed the rather 'peculiar' way I cued the music there. Actually, I hope, you'll find most of my music cues are not exactly conventional. I can't stand it when the music - as in most Hollywood movies - mimics exactly what you see on the screen. Like crude underlining. Not enough emotion? Simple, just underline it with music. Dramatic action? Just copy the action precisely with the music to make it seem more 'dramatic', etc. It's very difficult for me to answer this precisely or intellectually. I did it that way because that was the way that felt right to me in the end. What I do know, hand on heart - I can still remember it - is that I did it the obvious way first and it was nothing like as powerful. The music simply reacting/commenting on exactly what you see - oh shock horror/OH SHOCK HORROR. Whereas, what I did, I hope, throughout the scenes with Danny on the bike was something more visceral and rhythmic. Trying to make this feel more like a direct experience, like you are really experiencing this now, for real. No comment with the music; it's happening to you. You come 'round the bend with this great swoosh of wheels and music and POW! Note that the main musical impact still comes on the image of the two girls - take another look! There was also the enormous practical problem of making a whole piece of pre-composed piece of music work with the scene. My music charts show that I did actually take some liberties here, but the one thing I will never do is mess with the original 'phrasing' of the music. It has to work with the film or it'll never work. What you can never do is change the whole phrasing of the music. And here all the stuff with Danny looking through the gaps in his fingers was an integral part of the whole scene. One whole big musical/visual/emotional 'phrase'. Also here, deeper point: it's as if the music has something to do with the psychology of the hotel, and not Danny. The 'psychic' hotel is here taking control of Danny and has got him in his grip. The music as fate - like the big chords I had on most of the date captions (Tuesday, etc.) - almost like the single toll of a bell. A doomsday of judgment coming ever closer. That was my idea, incidentally, and Stanley seemed to really like it.

What are some other 'unobvious' cues?
Perhaps the most extreme example is Jack arriving at the bar and discovering there's no drink. I kept on moving that back, later and later, because somehow that very slow reaction worked better and better the later it was.  And then the big "all work, no play" scene: "how do you like it?" And Jack's fist going down on the table on the second beat. Or Jack walking down the passage to the Gold Ballroom, waving his arms about. People have often praised me for how well synchronised that music is with Jack, but actually it's not! There's just one sync cue, I think on about his third arm movement. Strangely enough, that's just why I think it works.

Editorially, this reminds me of a Frank Zappa musical experiment, called "xenochrony", which he used in a few of his compositions: unique rhythms and polyrhythms are found in the layering of two or more unrelated audio events on top of one another. Thematically, the cue you mentioned works quite well also.
The music - again, of the hotel - and Jack are two different entities, and they're only occasionally completely 'in sync'. So the net effect, I think, of that scene is of Jack's frustration/impotence, etc. It's a bit like he's wading through treacle as he approaches the Gold Ballroom, which has this enormous psychic presence - at least, that's what the music tells you. Like he's going the wrong way, against this gigantic negative magnet.

Well, it's amazing you did such an outstanding, detailed piece of work on such short notice!
As I say, I could talk for hours about this, certainly by far the most satisfying job I ever did in the film industry.  I have really, really good memories of working with Stanley, and we seemed to get on incredibly well. We were both just really enthusiastic about the music. But on just a slightly sour note, one or two of my colleagues - who shall remain nameless - actually made a point of coming up to me and saying "great movie, but a bit wrecked by the music." I kid you not! In fact it wasn't until recently that I got on the Internet and discovered that there was actually this great bunch of Shining music enthusiasts out there!  Incidentally, for anyone who’s interested, there’s a website ( with my rough working charts of the last two reels, complete with Stanley's annotations in blue biro, from a trial run-through in the dubbing theatre. And, again, I kid you not, despite the fact that it's got Stanley's own annotations on it somebody on the Shining Forum has already dismissed it as trivia! Strange old world!

Were you involved with WB's upcoming remastered version of The Shining DVD?  I've read there are plans to do a new transfer, approved by Kubrick's estate, and that there will be a new 5.1 mix.
Thanks for telling me about this. I had not heard that WB were planning to do a DVD re-mix of The Shining. I was impressed by the re-mix of A Clockwork Orange (theatrical re-release) last year (2000), so I hope they do an equally good job on The Shining. But no, I have not been involved at all, so I will be very upset if they spoil the original mix in any way.

Since the original soundtrack mix I'm familiar with is monaural, I was just curious if in fact your original edited master was something other than mono at one point, and now WB is going back to this source.
Stanley had a bad experience with the Dolby Stereo or surround process in the early '70s - I think for A Clockwork Orange - and his films after 2001 up until Eyes Wide Shut were in mono. Now the really embarrassing thing is I just can't remember - it's just so long ago - whether the music tracks I edited for The Shining were stereo or mono.  Considering I was the person who got the tracks transferred onto 35mm mag stock, and had to do this many times during the editing process, it is really quite bad that I can't remember something so important. Of course, if all the music tracks were mono they are going to have an immensely difficult task making a stereo version, because the music editing I did was extremely intricate and complicated, particularly on the last two reels. At best I think they would only be able to re-create a rough approximation of my work. But I do actually believe that the tracks I cut were stereo and it only ended up as mono in the dubbing theatre. Certainly the 6-plate Steenbeck I was using was stereo, and much of the time I was using stereo headphones to avoid driving people mad while I was listening to short fragments over and over again. But some of the tracks were definitely mono. All the thirties dance music, Midnight the Stars and You, etc. were mono. But I'm not sure that it will matter much if it stays that way. Of course all the modern recordings, like the Bartok and Penderecki, were stereo, and I'm pretty certain I had a straight stereo transfer of those done when I ordered them up. If that is the case, then of course their job will be very easy - that is assuming that my original music tracks still exist. They could have all been ditched by now, in which case, as I say, whoever has to re-edit it will have a mindbogglingly difficult task - and will probably be rather impressed by the work I did!

The Amateur Home Theatre site
© 2001 Felix E. Martinez. All rights reserved
Permission for reproduction on ArchivioKubrick granted by the author
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Gordon Stainforth
Argomenti correlati
. Music charts: gli appunti di Stainforth e Kubrick per il missaggio della colonna sonora di Shining.
. Making The Shining: il documentario della figlia di Kubrick dal dietro le quinte del film, commentato da Gordon Stainforth.
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