DVD Movie Review: Room 237 (2012)

1682657-poster-1280-room-237-unlock-doc-enlists-kubrick-obsessives-to-decode-secretsDull boys

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.

102 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Room 237 (2012)

room-237-documentary-full-trailer-2013Room with a view

Conspiracy theories and opinions run amok in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, Room 237 (2012). In great detail, Ascher interviews nine contributors who have spent years analyzing and deciphering Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece The Shining (1980). From people who simply try to piece together the illusionary hotel’s surroundings to messages Kubrick may have been secretly trying to tell his audience, each contributor to the story has a different approach to the genius of Kubrick’s vision.

We are all aware that Kubrick is regarded as a genius director simply for being possibly the most manic and controlling director of his time. Therefore, people assume every detail, from a missing chair to a ski poster in the background, has meaning the director deemed was required. Every colour, sound, frame and (Jack Nicholson) eyebrow is open for analysis.

In Room 237, each conspirator grasps for a reason to make The Shining an even better film. Several of the commentators stated, that upon their initial viewing of The Shining, they had just seen a classic film, but sensed something was missing. It took another few, or sometimes hundreds, of viewings to pinpoint what they couldn’t comprehend in their original viewing. This is when the conspiracy theories and, sometimes even, plausible opinions begin to surface.

As noted in the documentary, Kubrick took certain liberties to instill his own vision into Stephen King’s novel. He changed aspects involving so many key aspects of the original book, that you can understand why King was upset. Therefore, again due to Kubrick’s controlling reputation, it’s each of these changes that the commentators rely on most when making their claims. Some conspiracies are not so far fetched, like the hotel’s layout being in such a way that it cannot be possible. There are also some ideas or theories that are borderline mental. For instance, that Kubrick was responsible for directing the original moon landing and he plants, time and time again, hints in the film to prove it. Room 237’s director uses these commentator’s voices mostly for voice-overs allowing the audience to actually witness the instance in the film that is being described. To great affect I might add.

One by one, another contributor greets us and discusses what they believe Kubrick was trying to communicate. Was Kubrick trying to say the child was molested or was he simply trying to sneak comedic bits into the foreground so it’d look like Nicholson was aroused? These details are all brought up with convincing proof, spun around and around, until you’ve lost your room key and forgot which floor you are on.

As a whole, the sum of the parts makes the documentary an interesting viewing. Especially for the portions when they go into such detail by showing the hotel’s halls and mazes and the research Kubrick put into the film. However, once it begins to lean heavily on a couple of wild conspiracy theories the film begins to lose some luster. Personally, I think those that create these conspiracy theories, such as the current Boston Massacre theory or the fake moon landing (to only name a couple), are people who either cannot accept the truth or they have an ulterior motive.

Overall, the one thing that is not debatable is that The Shining remains, and will forever be, one of the greatest horror films of all time. For so many people to continue to vest so much energy into the film after all these years only proves it worth. I’d recommend watching The Shining prior to watching this documentary, then again after the documentary. Maybe you’ll see something nobody else has.

102 mins.