Tuesday, April 2, 2013

From My Cold Dead Hand - Room 237 (2012)

For any regular readers of this blog, you know I love The Shining. It's my favourite all around horror movie and one of my favourite movies period. So when I caught wind of the documentary Room 237, I was in like sin. Two things I love together at last: over-analyzing things and The Shining. So when Room 237 was released on March 29th on iTunes, I cleared my schedule and rented it like I'd never rented anything before... with my Visa.

And then it started. And then it kept going. And my attention waned. I couldn't look at another food can or poster in the background of a scene and believe that the whole movie centered around it. It's oddly disorienting because the film talks to 4 or 5 different people about their opinions of The Shining but you never see them. Their disembodied voices float over stills and clips. I couldn't really keep track of who was who and what they were getting at. At all. It was like a really shitty version of The Shining. Like the one with Steven Webber.

What director Rodney Ascher seems to forget is the most basic of story telling and argument building: build your argument with concrete facts explaining how they related the object as a whole then bring us to a conclusion. But nope. It was a lot of pointing at things in the background or subtle nuances that go unnoticed for a few viewings (i.e. typewriters changing colors, objects appearing and disappearing within the same scene) and then just pointing them out.

LOOK! That poster about skiing represents a Minotaur (if you squint and aren't wearing your glasses)!!

LOOK! Stanley Kubrick's face is in the clouds in the opening shot!!!

LOOK! Kubrick faked the moon landing because of that dot in the sky in the footage of the Apollo landing!!

LOOK! A figurative erection!

Um... that's really great you guys, but (as Jack Skellington might say) what does it mean?! Build your argument about how The Shining exposes the film landing and build it into the overall meaning of The Shining. Tell me about what impact these traits of masculinity have on the story and how it influences the meaning of the overall movie. Don't just point out things. Four year olds do that, but they are waaaaaay cuter than you.

The one interesting part of Room 237 was when Juli Kerns (I believe) was discussing the layout of The Overlook Hotel and how none of it adds up or makes any sense. I would have loved a more detailed discussion on how the architecture changes as the movie progress and what cause and effect that has on the story.

Room 237 is a pretty colossal failure in terms of both content and execution which is almost impressive when you consider the source material. If you put any of these experts in The Overlook Hotel they'd be stuck there for decades as the most boring ghosts ever: "Look at this thing Danny! And this!... Forever ... and ever... and ever..."


  1. I had no idea so many people obsessed over this movie enough to warrant a documentary(?) about their theories. Do other Kubrick films get the same treatment?

    1. There are some parallels made with 2001 but otherwise I think most of them could warrant a documentary like this. When I was in university I took some film studies classes and there was an advanced level film class all about Kubrick. Everyone who took that class looked like they wanted to cry his work was so dense and multi-layered.

  2. Expectations dashed. I was hoping that this would be more of a study of obsessions with Shining-obsessed people as an anchor, but it sounds like it's basically a dull 101-level academic paper turned into a movie. Maybe The Asylum will do a version about the Steven Webber version that will be more fun.

    1. I would pay so much to see a documentary made by Asylum.

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  4. Room 237 is about its subjects obsession with The Shining (and Kubrick’s oeuvre) but not so much The Shining itself. For Shining obsessives, their various analyses are a textual body separate from The Shining itself. It’s a critical, or more accurately, mystical corpus that has become self-reflexive. My local theatre recently dedicated a weekend to Room 237, The Shining, The Shining Forwards Backwards and Q&A with Rodney Ascher. The Shining Forwards Backwards obviously has nothing to do with intentions of the original Shining’s creators. It’s a new work inspired by a previous work. So let the debate begin about its merits. But I know that the above triple bill was an amazing cinematic experience. It made me further appreciate cinema as a medium. It made me further appreciate The Shining and all the people involved in its creation, not just its director. It made me proud to support my local nonprofit theatre.

    So my experience of Room 237 was positive, but your criticisms are legit. Some of the praise the film received is likely due to critics having an experience similar to the one I described above and then confusing said experience with Room 237’s intrinsic qualities. The entire film could have been tighter. Not showing talking heads was deliberate on Ascher’s part, and it gives the film a dream-like quality, but also renders it a soggy mish-mash. All the interviewees ideas could have presented in a more organized manner. Ascher’s previous work was all short form. I’m not convinced he had a handle on long form storytelling.

    Keep up the good work on Faculty of Horror. I love that show.