×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Room 237’

One of the great movies about movies, "Room 237" takes permanent residence in the icy labyrinth that is Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining."

With:
Voices: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner.

One of the great movies about movies, “Room 237” takes permanent residence in the icy labyrinth that is Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” — and in the mind of anyone compelled to see pop art as worthy of obsession. Tailor-made for the era of YouTube (and of intellectual property debate), Rodney Ascher’s clip-laden docu is film criticism by mouse click, lingering over the visual details of Kubrick’s horror classic in the company of five haunted cineastes heard in voiceover. That these fans’ revelations run the gamut from ingenious to inane does nothing to diminish the pic’s aptly Kubrickian study of human flailing.

(Docu)

Among other things, Ascher’s playfully inquisitive docu contemplates the relationships between the late Kubrick’s 1980 provocation and the Holocaust, the televised depiction of the Apollo moon landing, the genocide of Native Americans, and, uh, numerology. But the greatest mystery here may be whether Ascher’s analytical assemblage of studio-film clips — not just from Warners’ “The Shining,” but from the bulk of Kubrick’s oeuvre, as well as everything from “Schindler’s List” to “Jesus Christ Superstar” — can earn Stateside theatrical release within U.S. fair-use law. Befitting its inspiration from online file-sharing, “Room 237” could well end up circulating primarily through illicit download.

Cueing the “Shining” Blu-ray disc as needed, Ascher runs scenes from the film forward and (literally) backward in order to annotate the alternately incisive and screwy theories of his fixated subjects — journalist, professor, musician, playwright and so-called “conspiracy hunter.” If nothing else, “Room 237” illustrates the benefits of digital video to film scholarship and the appropriateness of Kubrick’s work to remote-control jiggering, as the legendarily fastidious auteur left virtually nothing to chance while designing films that invariably demand and reward multiple viewings.

First to speak is journalist Bill Blakemore, who recalls being struck by early “Shining” posters in Britain touting the “wave of terror that swept across America,” even though the film hadn’t yet opened Stateside. Surmising that the referenced wave is something even more horrific, Blakemore explicates Kubrick’s unfaithful adaptation of Stephen King’s novel as an allegory of the slaughter of American Indians. Evidence includes the fact that the film’s Overlook Hotel is said to have been built on Indian burial grounds, and that its subtle use of Native images is symbolic.

Professor Geoffrey Cocks, author of “The Wolf at the Door: Stanley Kubrick, History and the Holocaust,” identifies the typewriter of Jack Nicholson’s murderously crazed Jack Torrance as a German model and notes the prevalence in the film of the number 42, asserting that Kubrick used it as a reference to the year in which the Nazis implemented the Final Solution.

Playwright and author Juli Kearns pores over the Overlook’s architecture as revealed through Kubrick’s elaborate Steadicam shots, constructing detailed maps and concluding not only that certain aspects of the hotel’s space simply couldn’t exist in real life, but that the genius director intended it that way in order to give the movie a subliminally supernatural charge.

Musician and blogger John Fell Ryan offers that he once hosted a dual-projection screening of “The Shining” in which a reverse-running version of the pic was superimposed on the proper one. Ascher repeats the trick as Ryan points out variously spooky bits of inverse symmetry, such as the way in which Kubrick’s opening helicopter shot resembles a twisted postcard when wedded to the film’s concluding image of Torrance circa 1921.

If the docu’s most convincing commentary is Ryan’s, including his acknowledgement that an all-work-and-no-play addiction to “The Shining” has made him a dull boy, author Jay Weidner’s rambling ruminations on the Overlook’s Room 237 are the most enjoyably farfetched. For Weidner, “237” corresponds to the soundstage where Kubrick supposedly shot bogus moon footage in 1969 on orders from NASA.

With Ascher’s brilliant editing subtly teasing the participants for their sillier comments, there’s a sense in which “Room 237” mirrors Kubrick’s film as a work of genre satire. Certainly the docu, like “The Shining” itself, has much to do with the past’s power to haunt those in the present and future.

Handsomely produced and never less than hugely entertaining, Ascher’s film is catnip for Kubrickians and critics both professional and otherwise. Additionally, in the spirit of documaker Mark Rappaport’s pioneering plays with old Hollywood clips (“Rock Hudson’s Home Movies”), it’s a low-budget but priceless articulation of the virtues of fair use.

As it appears onscreen, the film’s full, “Barry Lyndon”-esque title is “Room 237: Being an Inquiry Into ‘The Shining’ in 9 Parts.”

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Room 237'

Production: A Highland Park Classics production. (International sales: the Film Sales Co., New York.) Produced by Tim Kirk. Directed, edited by Rodney Ascher.

Crew: Camera (HD), Ascher; music, Jonathan Snipes, William Hutson, the Caretaker; sound, Ian Herzon; animation, Carlos Ramos. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (New Frontier), Jan. 26, 2012. Running time: 102 MIN.

Cast: Voices: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner.

More Scene

  • Anne Hathaway Modern Love

    Anne Hathaway Talks Mental Health Awareness, Playing a Bipolar Woman on Amazon's 'Modern Love'

    In Amazon Prime’s upcoming “Modern Love,” Anne Hathaway sheds light on an important facet of living with mental health issues, playing a bipolar woman who struggles with dating. “We’re all becoming more sensitive, wiser and more cognizant of gentility, and especially emotional gentility. I think those conversations are starting to happen. And I think the desire [...]

  • Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron.

    Charlize Theron Could Win Second Oscar for Playing Megyn Kelly in 'Bombshell'

    Charlize Theron walked on stage before a screening of “Bombshell” at West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center on Sunday night and announced to the crowd, “I’m about to s— myself.” The Oscar winner had good reason to be nervous. The screening of the Jay Roach-directed drama about the fall of Fox News boss Roger Ailes was [...]

  • Charlize Theron speaks at the GEANCO

    Charlize Theron Talks 'White Privilege,' Growing Up During Apartheid in South Africa

    Charlize Theron, during an onstage discussion with her “Gringo” costar David Oyelowo about philanthropy at Thursday’s annual fundraiser for Nigerian children’s educational and health program GEANCO, said she was a beneficiary of “white privilege” while growing up in Apartheid-torn South Africa. “I obviously am a white person who benefited from my white privilege,” Theron said [...]

  • Lyliana Wray, Sam Ashe Arnold, Miya

    ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark’ Revival Team on Living Up to the Series’ Legacy

    The 2019 revival of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” centers around the Carnival of Doom, a place that star Jeremy Ray Taylor (“It Chapter Two”) describes as “beautiful on the outside, but…in the middle of it, there are definitely dark secrets. Variety caught up with the young star during a carnival-themed celebration at Row DTLA [...]

  • Charlize Theron'The Addams Family' film premiere,

    Charlize Theron Speaks Immigration, Diversity in ‘The Addams Family’

    They’re creepy, they’re kooky, and they’re an allegory for immigration in America.  Charlize Theron discussed the changing face of the nuclear family and her animated film, “The Addams Family,” with Variety at the movie’s recent premiere at the Century City Mall in Los Angeles. “When you think of [the Addams] being around since the sixties, [...]

  • Emma Stone attends the Los Angeles

    Emma Stone Talks 'Cruella' Transformation, New 'Zombieland' Sequel

    Despite inevitable comparisons to Glenn Close’s iconic turn as Cruella de Vil in 1996’s “101 Dalmatians,” Emma Stone teased that her take on the infamous villain in the upcoming “Cruella” movie will be very distinctive. “It comes long before her story,” Stone told Variety at the premiere of “Zombieland: Double Tap” at the Regency Village [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content