This past week saw a quite, eh, “special” documentary debut at Sundance – Rodney Ascher’s Room 237.
I’ll let the blurb explain it…
Have you ever seen a hidden message?
In 1980 Stanley Kubrick released his classic horror film, The Shining. Loved and hated by equal numbers, the film is considered a genre standard by many loyalists, while other viewers dismiss it as the lazy result of a legendary director working far below his talent level. In between these two poles, however, live the conspiracy theories of ardent fans who are convinced they have decoded The Shining’s secret messages regarding genocide, government conspiracy, and the nightmare that we call history.
Rodney Ascher’s documentary, Room 237, fuses fact and fiction through interviews with the fans and scholars who espouse these theories, and reworking the film’s scenes forward and backward. Room 237 is about more than people who like a famous movie; its vision encompasses original intent, fair use, analysis, and criticism. It investigates what it means to be a fan—why do we need to find deeper meanings in film, and how do those insights change our lives?
The Shining has been my stock answer for “favourite film of all time” for about a decade now, but who knew that there was this level of fan interest in the film. Last November it was announced that a feature documentary was in the works, Room 237, named after the fabled room in The Overlook Hotel.
This whole fascination with Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic really only came to my attention last summer when Irish Times film-critic Donald Clarke’s Screenwriter blog featured a fascinating post, “Spacial Awareness in The Shining“, the main highlight of which was the video from Liverpool film-maker Rob Ager…
This week this New York Times article “Cracking the Code in ‘Heeere’s Johnny!’” brought to my attention the rather amazing work of the writer Kevin McLeod, or “mstrmnd” as he prefers to be called. If you have half a day to spare and a tinfoil hat at the ready, dive into his site at mstrmnd.com.
Reviews of Room 237‘s screenings at Sundance are now coming in and it seems like a pretty fun way to spend 102 minutes. Was it all his way of revealing his participation in faked moon-landings? A metaphor for the Holocaust during WWII? Who knows. It sure seems like fun to speculate though.
The wealth of archive footage from The Shining and other sources mean it’s unclear whether we’ll ever see it. There are even questions over whether Warner Bros would ever allow a commercial release for the film considering it could be interpreted as half-homage and half-pisstake, but with any luck it will manage to make the rounds on the festival circuit including a stop at Toronto’s Hot Docs later this year.