Monday, September 30, 2013

Horror Thoughts ‘13—Room 237 (2013) **½

NR, 102 min.
Director/Writer: Rodney Ascher
Featuring: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner, Buffy Visick

For those of you unfamiliar with Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “The Shining”, Room 237 is the room in the haunted Overlook Hotel, where a beautiful woman, who then appears as an old crone in the mirror, seduces the caretaker. It is a room that supposedly holds the key to the hotel’s supernatural power. It is now also the title of a documentary that examines the many different theories that have grown throughout the years about the film’s hidden meanings.

“Room 237” is interesting. I’ll give it that. I’m not as sure as to what its purpose is intended to be. It presents many different kinds of theories from faceless and blatantly credentialess “experts.” Some of its theories are interesting and may have some basis in fact. Others are so absurd that it’s hard to reconcile the fact that the writer/director Rodney Ascher doesn’t attempt to question any of them.

Why doesn’t he show us the talking heads to go along with the theories? I can understand that a talking head is such a documentary cliché that a director can be admired for avoiding them. Ascher does a good job filling the movie with images from a great number of other films that relate to these theories about “The Shining”. He has a great eye for spying the most visually spectacular images from all the films he cites. But, I have the sneaking suspicion that the real reason he doesn’t show us the talking heads is because he doesn’t want us to judge these conspiracy theorists on their appearances. I’m guessing some of them look as crazy as their ideas.

There is one point where Ascher seems to be trying to make a point about one of these people’s far fetched theories. The speaker is examining a tracking shot in the movie frame by frame, explaining that everything was planned by Kubrick and how not even the minutest detail was included by chance. His seems to be contributing his thoughts by a recorded phone call. Then, in the background of the audio we hear his child laughing and the speaker says, “Can you hear my kid? Just a second.” At which point some background noise can be heard and the sound of the kid disappears. Then the guy is back talking about every detail Kubrick has laid out on the screen. The only reason I can think of that Ascher would have kept the audio of the kid in the soundtrack is to prove that the speaker is incorrect. Not everything is always planned.

Many of the theories presented show absolutely no understanding about how films are made. The presenters seem to think movies are born out of the director’s magical ability to place anything he wishes on the screen. While Kubrick had a reputation as a tyrant who took take after take until he got exactly what he wanted, and despite his high IQ, there are aspects of filmmaking that just make it impossible for Kubrick to have done some of the things these fanboys credit him with.

Then there’s the longtime rumor about Kubrick directing the staged footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Even were the footage staged, has anyone considered that Kubrick would have been the last director the U.S. Government would’ve hired for such a stunt. Kubrick, who was well known as an anti-authoritarian maverick who was difficult to work with. Really? And Kubrick is trying to use an adaptation of Stephen King’s second novel about how a kid escapes his abusive father as a place to confess to his involvement? The argument that the fact that Kubrick changed many details of the book being proof that he was pointing out the illusion of the moon landing is so weak it would’ve gotten you kicked off the high school debate club even though you were the only memeber.

There are some interesting observations here. I liked the notions about Nazi Germany; and the allusions to the poor treatment of the American Indian are well known enough now that they’re pretty much fact. In fact, they are some of those in the novel as well, so I’m not sure Kubrick can take sole credit there. I also liked the experiment of overlaying the images of the film backwards and forwards for a screening. That reminds me of the time my friends and I synced up Jane’s Addiction’s album “Nothing’s Shocking” with George A. Romero’s film “Night of the Living Dead”. It worked out real swell and made a great soundtrack for the images. Does it prove anything about Romero’s intentions with the movie, however? Well, no more so than having a film’s images overlaid forward and backward on top of each other do.

I wanted to like this documentary, because I’m such a fan of Kubrick and “The Shining”. Unfortunately, I don’t think the filmmaker has an opinion of what he’s presenting. Either that or he buys pretty much all of it hook line and sinker. There is the one sign that he may have doubts; but if he does, he doesn’t make them clear enough. It is not the documentarian’s job to be a totally unbiased observer. A stance must be taken with any piece of filmmaking. Most of the stances taken in “Room 237” are a little out of left field. I wish I knew if the filmmaker agreed with me.

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