Go to Table of Contents of the analysis (which has also a statement on purpose and manner of analysis and a disclaimer as to caveat emptor and my knowing anything authoritatively, which I do not, but I do try to not know earnestly, with some discretion, and considerable thought).
I have previously posted on Alex Colville''s painting of the yellow VW, which has The Shining written all over it, but Kubrick did not use that painting in the movie, instead using several other Colville paintings instead. As we know, the VW was red in King's book, and this painting might seem to explain why Kubrick changed it to be yellow. But I think there is more to it than that. But I was only able to reach that possible understanding through Eyes Wide Shut.
The yellow VW is the source of a great joke in the film. As if we don't know already how little a VW can carry, we follow it all the way up the mountain in the opening, and then we are acquainted with how cramped feeling is the interior when the family drives up on closing day. It is a tiny car, but when Stuart asks Jack if their luggage has been brought in, Jack gestures to the luggage in front of the door and we see a good size hill of bags and bags and bags and even Danny's Big Wheel. It's an impossible amount of luggage for that car. The VW could never carry anywhere near that amount, and we get a good joke over it. The viewer can't rationalize that they used perhaps a little trailer attached to the car because Kubrick also shows an aerial view of the car that day and we know that's not the case. So, the viewer ends up thinking that this is just a visual joke, or the magic of cinema in which anything can happen.
Now, to Eyes Wide Shut, which Kubrick had been planning for years, and had apparently purchased the rights to the book somewhere back around 1969 or so after Wolfgang Gluck's nice screen interpretation of it.
It took me a couple of readings of Schnitzler's book before it hit me that the answer to the question of the magical VW was there. Schnitzler gives a long account of Albertine's dream the night of Fridolin's adventure at the party, and much of the story in that dream doesn't make it into the movie, we can only know it from reading the book. As Albertine relates her dream, she describes in it how Fridolin goes about collecting for her all the jewels and fine clothing he can acquire and puts them in a yellow bag that expands so this magical dream bag will hold anything he puts into it. In the dream, he is desperately trying to win her love and in the dream she is mocking him for it, which pains her deeply upon waking.
That right there is the little yellow VW that could--it could hold all the possessions of the Torrance family, even Danny's Big Wheel. The yellow magic bag in Albertine's dream that holds everything you can put in it.
In Eyes Wide Shut, there is no such bag but I think Kubrick manages to work a reference to it in with the hiding of the mask. When Bill returns the night off the party, we see that off the living room to the screen right of the fireplace is his office. He enters it. This view of the office is different than what we saw when earlier that night Alice had asked him if he wanted to wrap presents. We'd had a view of the office then, without knowing it was his office, and in it we had seen an easy chair with a painting above it. After the party at Somerton, Alice dreaming in the bedroom, there is instead a credenza where before there had been an easy chair. Bill unlocks the credenza, and conceals the Rainbow bag holding his mask and costume in it, removing an expandable file from the cabinet in order to do so. That Rainbow bag becomes problematic. The mask somehow escapes from it and later ends up on Bill's pillow. We never know how but people tend to reason that Alice somehow found the mask, though it was locked away, and put it there. I have a post up on how Kubrick manages this visually, for if we compare the scene of Bill putting up the bag in the credenza, and the one in which he finds the mask on his pillow, there are visual alignments so that we have, the night of his return from the party, Bill already placing the Rainbow bag on his pillow. This may sound peculiar, but Kubrick has Bill himself placing the mask there through, I think, a kind of spatial/psychic logic by means of framing and superimposition.
The expandable file reminds also of The Killing. The morning of the robbery at the racetrack, Johnny goes to a luggage shop, located next to a maternity shop, and purchases a briefcase. He hides in the briefcase a duffel bag as well as a mask. After he's let into the back area of the racetrack clubhouse by the cashier who is also in on the heist, Johnny goes to the empty employee's locker room. He puts on the mask. The duffle bag? He takes that from the briefcase and uses that for the loot he steals, discarding the briefcase.
The rigid briefcase isn't expandable, the duffle bag is. This may seem like overthinking it, but I believe the maternity shop next to where he gets the bag comments on this expansion and contraction, like a pregnancy. The briefcase, like that VW we see, is rigid, it can't expand, it couldn't carry all the loot Johnny is going to carry out. He uses instead the expandable duffel bag hidden within it. The VW couldn't carry all that baggage, but it is like Fridolin's yellow bag that can hold all of the clothes and jewels he gathers for Albertine, and is also like that concealed duffel bag that will be able to hold the loot while the rigid briefcase can't.
Oddly enough, that luggage shop where Johnny purchases the briefcase that holds the duffel is located across from a shop called Playmates. Here we have another association made with the scene in The Shining where we see all the luggage that has come out of the magically expanding VW, for Jack is reading a Playgirl magazine when he is approached by Stuart.
Kubrick didn't purchase the rights to Traumnovelle until 1969, which is long after the making of The Killing. I had previously written in my analysis on The Killing associations between the briefcase and duffle bag with the VW that had nothing to do with the Traumnovelle novel and I still consider that there may be some validity to those associations and that Kubrick later found the yellow bag in the Traumnovelle novel to complement them, or it may be that Traumnovelle was already on Kubrick's radar. I don't know.
But, as far as The Shining goes, this is why I think Kubrick changed King's red VW to a yellow VW. Alex Colville's painting of the yellow May Day VW is significant and important, but to me it ends up complementing the yellow bag in the Shnitzler dream novel that Kubrick was already planning to film.
For more on the yellow VW, see, The Alex Colville Painting That Doesn't Appear in The Shining But Is Written All Over It.