Saul Bass’ posters for ‘The Shining’ that Stanley Kubrick rejected
The Shining, the 1980 horror film directed by the great Stanley Kubrick, is famously based on Stephen King‘s 1977 novel of the same name.
The film, co-written with novelist Diane Johnson, tells the story of Jack Torrance [played by Jack Nicholson], an aspiring writer who is attempting to recover from a serious bout of alcoholism. In the search of new work, Torrance accepts a position as caretaker of the isolated ‘Overlook Hotel’ which is located in the Colorado Rockies.
The stipulation, however, is that the job role is off-season which means Torrance and his family would be seemingly trapped in the hotel amid a severe winter.
“Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) becomes winter caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel in Colorado, hoping to cure his writer’s block,” the film’s official synopsis reads. “He settles in along with his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and his son, Danny, who is plagued by psychic premonitions. As Jack’s writing goes nowhere and Danny’s visions become more disturbing, Jack discovers the hotel’s dark secrets and begins to unravel into a homicidal maniac hell-bent on terrorising his family.”
After completing the film, Stanely Kubrick taps back into his attention to detail and recruited famed graphic designer Saul Bass to work as a collaborator with the film’s official poster. Bass, who had previously worked with Alfred Hitchcock on his iconic films Vertigo and Psycho, went back and forth with Kubrick to land the perfect visuals for The Shining with what seems like a relentless drive for the perfect poster.
After getting the brief from Kubrick, Bass sent over five different designs for his perusal, explaining: “I am excited about all of them, an I could give you many reasons why I think they would be strong and effective identifiers for the film” in an accompanying letter.
Speaking about certain designs, Bass added his comments such as “It’s provocative, scary and emotional” before signing it off with his own quite unique signature.
Despite Bass’ initial excitement around his designs, Kubrick remained less impressed by the direction of some of the creations. While the filmmaker’s reaction was not heavily reported at the time, the rejected posters were eventually unearthed a few years ago and went on show at an exhibition about Kubrick’s workout the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
In the first rejected image, Bass offered a black and white hand which appears to be holding a child’s bike coming out of the snow. In reaction, Kubrick wrote: “Hand and bike are too irrelevant,” before adding that: “title looks small” and that it “looks like ink didn’t take on the part that goes light.”
The title tended to be a recurring issue and, on a separate piece of work, Kubrick again raised it by saying that it was “hard to read” despite it being raised to a larger size. Kubrick continued to say that one design “looks like a science fiction film” which he was understandably keen to avoid.