Here we are, back again at the New York Film Festival. I missed a little bit of time due to a dental issue that needed taken care of, but I’m back now with a look at one of the most intriguing movies that’s playing at the fest. Among the other titles that have recently screened, we have ‘Caesar Must Die’, ‘Celluloid Man’, ‘Lines of Wellington’, ‘Memories Look at Me’, and ‘Night Across the Street’, but I’m going to be focusing on and talking about ‘Room 237′. It’s a documentary focused on the many different interpretations that people have about Stanley Kubrick’s film ‘The Shining’. I was looking forward to this movie more than anything not named ‘Flight’, ‘Frances Ha’, or ‘Life of Pi’, so suffice to say I sat down yesterday pretty excited to experience this doc. What did I think? Well, let’s find out…
Room 237 (**1/2)
More a visual representation of a college term paper on ‘The Shining’ than a fully formed documentary on a film that many look at in different ways, ‘Room 237′ has no shortage of interesting points, but often it doesn’t add up to enough. Director Rodney Ascher uses the theories of 5 aficionados (Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, and Jay Weidner) of the flick to suggest a number of different readings into Kubrick’s film. Ascher doesn’t seem to have a specific reading into the movie, but rather just wants to show you some people look at the flick and how this isn’t just a straightforward horror film. There’s something unusual about that, but the execution is just not quite as complete as I would have liked it to be.
Among the ideas put forward, ‘The Shining’ could be seen as a commentary on the brutality and murder of the Native American society, a look at the German extermination of European Jews during the Holocaust, a form of proof that the United States (with Kubrick’s help) faked the moon landing, or even a film with a lot to say about sex. There are also less specific readings that just want you to take not of certain interesting techniques in the film, like how the many dissolves in the movie bring about some imagery that gives the film some subtext you might not initially notice or how playing it forwards and backwards at the same time reveals some noteworthy things. Some of the readings hold more water to me than others, but all have some level of legitimacy to them. That being said, they all could easily be shrugged off as hokum as well, so it all depends on how you interpret ‘The Shining’. That’s actually kind of the point, but I just wish it was more convincing.
The way that Rodney Ascher makes the documentary is noteworthy and actually interesting in and of itself. There are no talking heads, so when the experts talk, you only hear them over images of the film, often ones that are repeated, in fact. This has the effect of making them seem more qualified than they might actually be. Some of the theories are laughable, so by hiding the men and women and making them seem more “official”, you’re more inclined to believe them. My issue is that I feel like that’s a ploy to get you to by what they’re selling. Again, it feels like a presentation a classmate of mine would have done in film school as opposed to a theatrical release. The documentary is often interesting, but a bit of a letdown for someone like me who was really looking forward to it.
I’ll be talking a bit more about this doc next year when it comes out in the early spring of 2013 and I give it a full on review, but for now let me say that this is a documentary worth seeing, but also one that’s not a complete package. You’ll be able to decide for yourself in about 6 months, so be on the lookout for ‘Room 237′, but heed my advice in terms of its quality!
-We’re only getting started with our coverage of the New York Film Festival, so stay tuned for looks at all of the big premieres in the next week or two. Clayton and I are excited to be bringing it to you, so I hope you’re all excited to read it as well…
-Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!
Tags: documentary, New York Film Festival diaries, Rodney Ascher, Room 237, the 50th New York Film Festival