Picturenose welcomes writer, screenwriter and all-round film expert Paul Morris with his thoughts on Rodney Ascher‘s dissection of Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining (1980).
There are little boys who love nothing better than passing a lazy summer’s day pulling the legs off spiders – then there are those who like to watch others remove the limbs of said unsuspecting arthropods. The nine disembodied guests gathered around a mike in Room 237 are certainly in the voyeur category.
Room 237 is a conspiracy theory in miniature, or rather in the minutiae wherein they claim lie the hidden messages in Stanley Kubrick’s horror – I prefer psychological – classic The Shining (1980). If you believe the nine ‘experts’ in this insanely detailed work these messages have been breeding faster than a colony of rabbits that has stumbled upon a packet of Viagra. They are, it appears, to be found in every frame, and someone has to be obsessed enough to check every frame, making the film last days rather than its original running time of 146 minutes.
Room 237 is as billed as a documentary but it feels more like a film school test set by a permanently sozzled professor who didn’t quite cut it in Hollywood. Director Rodney Ascher is clearly teacher’s pet. It has the feel of early 1970s commercial films, for some small city attempting to attract first-time buyers to its corner of the dust bowl: in other words, the budget didn’t quite stretch to images that always match or enhance these nine voices of God.
It has been described as “head-spinning” and it has that effect as we are bombarded with the evidence of the secret intentions of one of Hollywood’s most maverick – to put it mildly – filmmakers. In this film the devil in so much in Jack Torrance but in the detail, and there’s lots of it. At times it’s positively hallucinogenic. I had to pause it and take a breather after I watched a very, very slow zoom in on a poster until the camera found a fuzzy image of a skier – you’ll have to watch it to find out the significance of that blurry character.
You have to really buy into this malarkey from the off or you’ll find yourself shouting at the screen ‘Come on!’, ‘Seriously!’, followed by umpteen ‘For real!’s. Kubrick was renowned for being difficult – more, I think, a power struggle with producers than anything to do with creative juices – but the notion that he planted so many little secrets on his set is dubious, not to say ludicrous. I directed my own humble low-low budget feature some time back and the set designers could have dumped a blood-soaked thoroughbred’s head in my hospital bed scene and I wouldn’t have spotted it, such is the frantic nature of no money filmmaking.
The nine different earnest views of what the film is really about range from the genocide of Native Americans to the Apollo 11 moon landing (yes, that old turnip again), rather than simply a very well-made film based (loosely) on a bestseller by Stephen King – “an entertainment”, as Graham Greene used to call some of his novels. I can picture these creative conspiracy theorists staring at the back of the cornflakes packet in the morning until it reveals its true meaning.
A friend of mine took his Granny to the cinema, to see Star Wars (1977). Driving her back home he asked: “So what did you think of the film?” She replied: “It’s a bit far-fetched.”
PS. It’s heartening to know that director Ascher admitted to not believing any of these theories. Thanks for the ride, Rodney.