CATEGORIES Movie NewsThe documentary "Room 237" is not only a fascinating look at Stanley Kubrick's 1980 masterpiece "The Shining," but an examination of how we see and interpret movies and the often bizarre levels to which we obsess about them.
The theories discussed in the film come from five people -- Bill Blakemore, Jay Weidner, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan -- heavy thinkers and ordinary movie fans who try to prove that the movie is really about the massacre of Native Americans, the Holocaust, or a faked moon landing. Those all may sound ludicrous, but each "expert" has pored over the film for cryptic clues and coincidences that support their theories. After a while, they start to make some sense, especially when you hear that Kubrick had met with subliminal advertisers to learn their techniques before making the film.
Moviefone sat down with the men behind "Room 237," director Rodney Ascher and producer Tim Kirk, to discuss why they chose not to get the blessing of the Kubrick estate, the significance of the number 42 and what Kubrick himself might have thought of the movie.
How did you first come up with the idea to make this movie?
Ascher: When Tim posted this incredibly deep, metaphorical analysis about "The Shining" on my Facebook wall. Kirk: I was just stumbling through the Internet one night and anything that says "The Shining," on it, I'm going to look at it. I read an essay that Jay Weidner had written about his take on the film. So I sent that to Rodney and next thing you know, we're looking for more and just talking about it nonstop. Ascher: We knew that people had seen all kinds of interesting symbols and number play and word play in "The Shining," but this was a whole new direction. We set out to see what else was there and were kind of thrilled and a little intimidated by how much has been generated and how recent a lot of it was.
Could you have made this movie without the internet?
Ascher: Oh God, no. The Internet is the way a lot of these people have published their ideas for "The Shining." I'm sure it inspired a lot, because without the Internet, they wouldn't have read other people's ideas and been inspired to go further. I think YouTube video comment threads are places where people are able to watch the same scene again and again. It enables this kind of close reading because you're able to spend more time with the film. Digital culture absolutely made this movie possible. Kirk: It also made this phenomenon possible, it certainly accelerates an obsession or a study.
How did you track down all the various theorists who narrate the film?
Kirk: Mostly through the Internet. Tracking down [ABC News reporter] Bill Blakemore was surprisingly easy. I was trying to find an email for him because he's a top reporter and he handles some pretty sensitive subjects; I think there's a bit of a a firewall around his email, but "Kubrick" seems to be the word that opens that wall. He got back to me very quickly and we were able to set up an interview. Ascher: Someone told me that a guy in Brooklyn was doing these amazing screenings of the film forwards and backwards [at the same time], so I found the theater and the guy. He did it because the other "Shining" analyst, "Mastermind," [who did not participate in "Room 237"] suggested that the movie was designed to be played backwards. He's not the first person to say that "The Shining" in some ways is "2001: A Space Odyssey," in reverse. At a very basic level, its evolution of mankind versus descent into savagery.
You were already working on this when the backwards/forwards screening was happening?
Ascher: Yes, isn't that interesting? Why is everyone thinking about "The Shining" right now?
Some of these theories are pretty out there. Do you subscribe to any of them yourself?
Ascher: I believe in all of them. Any one of these ideas, the closer you look, the more credible it seems.
But do you, as Jay Weidner suggests, see Kubrick's face in the clouds at one point? Because I didn't see it.
Ascher: That one's hard. He describes it as being very difficult, so I was happy to let it be as difficult as he described.
How many times had you seen "The Shining" before you started this project? Were you already obsessed with it as well?
Ascher: Obsessed might be overstating it but I was always a Kubrick fan and "The Shining" was always one of my favorites. Maybe 12 times. Kirk: Maybe 12 to 15. Ascher: Bill [the Native American theorist], said he'd only seen it five times, which is kind of surprising considering how clearly he can remember all these little moments. He's an incredibly sharp guy.
You chose to illustrate your points in the film with clips from other movies, like "Schindler's List," so you never see the people you're interviewing. Why did you decide to use that approach?
Ascher: Well, this is a movie more about ideas than individuals and there's something about how we're all kind of adrift in this culture of the movies. You can see the same shot in different contexts and it was interesting to allow people to see other shots from other films differently.
Was it hard to get permission for all these film clips?
Ascher: It took a while. Kirk: We had a crack clearance team that went through a really long process. The film wasn't made with the cooperation of the Kubrick estate and that was a decision that we made pretty early on. We didn't want to talk with people who were actually involved in the making of the film or who felt they could give some definitive, real-world answers. As much as we might want to know that, our job was really to be as persuasive for each of these people as we present them.
What do you think Kubrick would make of "Room 237?"
Ascher: It's presumptuous for me to try to crawl too far into his head, although I'd like to think he'd be happy that his movie is still talked about and engaged with and debated 30 some years on. It seems like he had a pretty good sense of humor, so I like to think he would have taken it pretty well. Kirk: I've read that he really enjoyed it when people would tell him what the end of "2001" meant. So I would hope he'd get a kick out of it. Ascher: He would probably have some cutting remark that would immediately make us feel like idiots.
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