By Shane M. Dallmann
I was quite happy to see that our local arthouse not only brought us this documentary that I really wanted to see but did NOT restrict it to one showing per night (which would have denied me access and forced me to resort to on-demand yet again).
Of course, I was (yet again) the ONLY one in the theatre. I guess they have a point. But I’m grateful for the big screen experience because, sad to say, I never did get to see THE SHINING on the big screen. Nothing but HBO and the old VHS rendition for me. I even avoided the DVD when someone started complaining about the letterboxing issues. But that’s another story for another time.
Back in the day, I was alerted to a magazine article in which film buff Bill Blakemore dissected Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING as a meditation on the genocide of the American Indian. That article was met with plenty of scoffing along the lines of “Yeah, and I can prove that FRIDAY THE 13TH was actually about the Black Sox baseball scandal.” To which my immediate reaction was “Are you just being a smartass or can you really DO that?” Nobody’s got a monopoly on “the truth,” and Blakemore’s article at least had the courage of its convictions and was an extremely interesting read.
It has now been thirty years since I read that article (!!). But now Blakemore and numerous contemporaries have all been given the opportunity to relate their SHINING findings in Rodney Ascher’s brand-new documentary ROOM 237.
It’s all there from the “Indian” reading to the “Holocaust” reading to the case that THE SHINING was actually Stanley Kubrick’s confession regarding his personal faking of the Apollo 11 moon-landing footage (not to mention his personal “F.U.” to Stephen King). There’s the obsessive Overlook map created strictly from painstaking attention to the geography of the hotel as indicated by the sets and cinematography (including the triumphant reveal of Mr. Ullman’s “impossible” window). There are the subliminal images that some swear exist; and there are the continuity errors that actually conceal profound truths according to others. There’s even plenty of amusing/intriguing juxtaposition when THE SHINING is simultaneously run backwards and fowards. And the documentary doesn’t judge. You’re free to take or reject anything you like–it’s just consistently fascinating stuff where I come in.
Oh, but not everyone agrees with me (so what else is new?). I don’t have Roger Ebert to ‘banter’ with anymore, but I’ve still got my buddy Mick LaSalle at the S.F. Chronicle! AFTER I saw ROOM 237, I noticed that he had given it a negative review. And I said to myself “If it’s just because he doesn’t believe in what anyone’s saying about THE SHINING, that’s not fair.” Yup, that was pretty much it. Okay. I don’t expect LaSalle to personally recognize footage from Lamberto Bava’s DEMONS (1 and 2) used to represent the viewing experience, nor to cheer when Bobby Rhodes gets a close-up in the process. (In addition to footage from pretty much every film Kubrick ever made for comparative purposes, ROOM 237 also incorporates surprise footage from all sorts of seemingly unrelated movies: THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, CAPRICORN ONE and LOOKER to name just a few!) But his case, of course, is that all of the theorists are crazy, boring, or otherwise full of it, and that Ascher should have treated them with disdain and made the film a documentary about… well… kooks.
Aw, come on. Mick knows that I’M not crazy (I have this in writing 🙂 ) and I’ve been known to dabble in such theorizing for films of considerably lower pedigree. Yeah, I’m one of the precious few who liked HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION at all–because I found some amusing observations about pop-culture cultists woven into the slasher rehash. A pointed line of dialogue inspired me to find an Iraq War parallel in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING. Don’t agree? Fine with me. But I don’t consider my time wasted by such poking around, and I’m not “wrong” just because you don’t see it my way. And ROOM 237 maintained my interest from the very beginning (Ascher’s homage to the 70’s Warner “snakes” logo) to the very end (his take on the Screen Gems “S From Hell,” which I understand was the subject of his previous documentary, which I would really like to see now).
Oh, and THE SHINING? Needless to say, I wanted to watch the film again from beginning to end (it HAS been a while), so that’s exactly what I did. With the new Blu-Ray version. And while my original intention was to see what else I could divine based on the inspiration of others? The fact of the matter was that the movie itself had never been scarier to me. I mean… wow, does it WORK.
Thanks for the excuse, Rodney.