Sunday, March 31, 2013

Room 237

Obsessing about movies is healthy.  I hope so at the very least.  But then there are some who take this natural and quite healthy obsession into uncharted territories.  Room 237, a playfully insane rumination of the hidden codes and agendas of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, goes well and above the realm of uncharted obsessiveness.  It's easy to get hooked, especially coupled with the sparsest of backstory of the famed auteur and his storied reputation.  Kubrick was a stylist, innovator and a meticulous showman whose exacting visual prowess pervades all of his work-- there could never for once be something in his films that was a mistake, right?  And on the surface of things, The Shining was his most linear work-- an adaptation of the Stephen King bestseller starring Jack Nicholson-- made and financed with the pretense of mainstream accessibility a few years after Kubrick threw everything to the wall for the ambitious, if lowly attended, period drama Barry Lyndon.  One piece of commentary that Room 237 articulates with clarity and verve is a sense that perhaps Kubrick was drained, or furthermore, even bored with filmmaking as he approached The Shining, and he just wanted to make the whole thing more interesting for himself.  And theories abound as to how we are supposed to read the whole damn thing.

It's interesting to note that The Shining, now regarded as a modern horror classic, received very mixed. if not down right, bad notes upon its release-- it even received two Razzie Nominations in their inaugural year including one for, shutter to think, Worst Director.  The puzzle and mystery of The Shining, an obsessive-worthy film if ever there was one, is that on most respects, the film isn't exactly scary, but an endlessly fascinating and utterly loopy labyrinth of a picture that twists itself in so many directions that had it not been so endlessly fascinating, likely would have completely fallen astray.  Stephen King was famously not pleased with the adaptation, which fair to say shares only the barest backbone of the novel.  Room 237 as a documentary is intended mostly as a lark, I assume.  Director Rodney Ascher assembles a rotation of talking heads who decipher and read the hidden clues and meanings of the film, but those heads are never seen.  It's all voice-over as segments of The Shining are played (usually ultra-slow, frame by frame); it plays like a warped and thoroughly entertaining, conspiracy theory-laden special episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  It doesn't much matter that the commentators themselves feel mostly anonymous, the film powerfully plays to a cinema-obsessed cult of geeks and weirdos whose impression is left as nerds freeze framing their well worn VCR cassettes in their parents basements.

What's fascinating is what they come up with.  Kubrick, allegedly, took a great interest in the visual cues of suggestion that were commonly used by advertisers in the late seventies and early eighties, which may have signaled playful gags and setups of subliminal messaging.  Something like this certainly feels valid when you consider the mastery filmmaker at work, often for years at a time.  Every motif, hung piece of art work, color scheme, character movement must have been exactly choreographed.  Right on...I'm on board that Stuart Ullman walks in front of his desk to greet Jack Torrance and an exactly positioned paper weight on his desk gives the impression that he has a hard-on.  Well played.  The trick and thrill and allure of Room 237 is the way it sucks you in on the onset, just as the madness ups the ante.

Perhaps The Shining really was a grand metaphor for the genocide of the Native Americans, or a pointed commentary of the Holocaust (a subject that Kubrick apparently wanted to tackle as a subject for a film dead-on, but never did.)  Or best of all, and this where the full-tilt warped mechanics of Room 237 go all in, is the theory that The Shining was Kubrick's apologia for staging the moon landing.  It's the sort of conspiracy theorist gone batshit, aha moment that makes for grand entertainment.  The trick and further allure of Room 237 is that the arguments are compelling and crazy enough that you turn your head and buy into it, just for the quick quivering moment you might start to think...could this all really be true?

Of course, rational sense comes back shortly thereafter, but that's it's trick, it's odd Kubrickian Da Vinci Code power-- an idea transfixing and out-of-this-world enough that it can tease your senses into accepting it as reality.  Some of the commentators in Room 237 may well be certifiable, but that it's so easy to accept their seductive theories makes a case in the hopeful evolved status of film geekdom.  For one thing that is an absolute certain after an experience like Room 237-- The Shining is a nutty makes no sense and it is almost a necessity to bring whatever you would like to the table as there isn't quite a wrong answer.  And while many of its peculiarities may well be simple continuity errors, or such mundane things like that, what would be the fun in that.  Room 237 is a nuthouse, funhouse celebration of cinema, and obsessive-worthy in its own right.  A

Room 237 is currently playing in New York and will expand throughout the coming weeks.  It is also available on VOD and iTunes.     

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