Fantastic Fest 2012
By Don Simpson | September 23, 2012
Director: Rodney Ascher
I can actually narrow down the precise moment that I decided that I wanted to write about cinema. It was a post modern film criticism class in which our professor discussed Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Until that class, I had never realized the full potential of the cinematic medium to convey messages and philosophies. The experience was mind-expanding and I began to wonder just how many films contained so many well-developed layers of meaning.
As we crawled through certain scenes frame-by-frame, various images and words were pointed out to us. Our professor’s credo was that there were no absolutes regarding the meaning of the signifiers, so he left the puzzle up to us to discuss among ourselves. Is The Shining about the Holocaust? Is it about the slaughter of Native Americans by European pioneers? Is it about facing one’s past, specifically white man’s burden? Is it about the faked Apollo 11 moon landing? Is it about repressed homosexuality and/or sexual deviancy? Is it about all of the above?
That professor was also my adviser and the chair of my thesis committee; so, by proxy, I have retained the belief that the meaning of art exists just as much in the mind of the beholder as it does the creator. Something else that I took away from that class is the notion that not all of the signifiers within a film are consciously created by the director. Of course someone like Kubrick would have picked up on these unconsciously included signifiers during his review of the dailies as well as during post-production, so we can fairly comfortably assume that they remain in the film for specific reasons (budget restrictions? red herrings? jokes?). Though I would have loved to sit down with Kubrick for a guided frame-by-frame analysis of The Shining, I find it much more interesting to find out what the audience thinks about it.
This is the one and only strong suit of Room 237 — its ability to show how several people can watch the same scenes from The Shining and get drastically different meanings. How meaningful are the presumably purposefully placed props, such as the Calumet Baking Soda cans, German typewriter(s), Playgirl magazine, the Skiing poster, the office window, Danny’s Apollo 11 sweater, the crashed red VW bug, and the patterns on the rugs of the Overlook? Is there any significance to the number 42 or 237? Did Kubrick design a set that was noticeably fake? I had heard a lot of these theories before, but there was one new (to me) one that truly blew my mind: that The Shining works forwards and backwards, like a mirror image of itself.
It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway), Kubrick has made a canon of films that are unlike anything else. His films exist on an intellectual level otherwise unknown to the world cinema. Delving into a Kubrick film is a life-changing experience that challenges us to pay very close attention and carefully study every minute detail.
As you may have noticed, I have basically avoided any direct discussion of the documentary Room 237 and as you probably guessed that has been a very purposeful decision. Rodney Ascher’s directorial approach and structure is frustrating, but primarily I am annoyed and distracted by his over-reliance on footage from other Kubrick films as a means of recreating events in order to avoid having to cut away to talking heads. No exaggeration — it seems like any time an interviewee recounts a story in which they were walking down a street, Ascher cuts to scenes from Eyes Wide Shut in which Tom Cruise is walking down a street. The first time its charming, the fifth time it is ridiculous…