Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Rodney Ascher's ROOM 237: a Kubrick feast and fest for fans of The Shining

What fun (for awhile, anyway) is ROOM 237, which, after playing a bunch of fests around the globe (including our own 50th NY Film Festival), finally opens theatrically tomorrow here in Manhattan. This odd, often delicious deconstruction of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, is the work of one Rodney Ascher, who in his press notes, tells us that, as a kid, he ran out of the theater playing The Shining, 20 minutes after sneaking into that theater to view it. For a kid, it probably was scary. Ever since, Ascher has been obsessed with the movie. What we see here in the fruit of that obsession.

TrustMovies first saw The Shining during its initial run in Queens, along with a sneak preview of Dressed to Kill. (Or it might have been the other way around: he can't remember now which film was the sneak preview.) In any case, talk about memorable double bills! He does remember how impressed he was with the De Palma film; with the Kubrick, not so much. And when he saw The Shining again, maybe 10 or 15 years later, he found it even less effective on any level, or as any kind of genre movie.

Kubrick stooping to make a genre film? This may be the point. Or part of it. According to the fans/theorists whose ideas fill Room 237 (the title of which comes from the infamous room at the Overlook Hotel in which the family stays), there's a lot more going on in this movie than mere cheap scares (on a quite expensive budget).

Still, how you react to Room 237 will depend in large part on how you react to the Kubrick oeuvre as a whole. If you're a die-hard fan of his work, I can't imagine your missing this film under any circumstances. If you're one of those people who feel that Kubrick was a hit-and-miss movie-maker (but certainly more hit than miss), you'll most likely be wired to view it. Even if you've found The Shining to be one of his least successful endeavors, you may find yourself surprised at what Mr. Ascher (shown at left) and his small crew of interpreters mange to uncover. Such theories you'll see and hear! Along with those hidden (in plain sight) symbols you'll discover! And the strange messages you'll manage to de-code! Or not.

As the movie moves along, theories of fake moon landings (above) and Indian genocide may hold you fast. After all, those cans of Calumet must mean something).

Even the theory about the Holocaust should carry some weight. (That shot of Jack Nicholson embracing the body three shots above may bring to mind, showers, naked Jews and the Final Solution.)

However, by the time you get to the subliminal images and Barry Nelson's symbolic hard-on (above), a nincompoop alert will probably be flashing. And when you learn what happens when you project Kubrick's film forward and another print in reverse -- at the same time! -- you may be ready to cry uncle. (Die-hard Kubrick/Shining fans will not, but most of the rest of us will.)

One thing this alternately funny/surprising/depressing movie did make me realize: The Shining never really worked that well on its stated, conscious level as a scary movie because its director was far too preoccupied with its subtext, or gave over too heavily to his unconscious, or cared little for film continuity (the last is most unlikely). Yet it is when cinema (or novel or any kind of art) meshes naturally and simultaneously on both the conscious and unconscious levels that you get the really good stuff. Kubrick must have known how this sort of thing. But perhaps he didn't care -- or was simply too tight-assed to produce that kind of spontaneous art. (Jack Nicholson, above, left, does this automatically, but his work is not enough to save the movie.)

So The Shining gets nowhere near that level of art. But, as Room 237 very gamely proves, as a puzzle and/or exercise for enthusiasts, the movie may be very nearly non-pareil. Mr. Ascher's film, released via IFC Films and running a little long at 102 minutes, opens this Friday, March 29, in Manhattan at the IFC Center and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.  The following week it will open in six more cities, and from there further across the country in the weeks to come. You can find all currently scheduled playdates here.

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