J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

NYFF ’12: Room 237


The demarcation between unconventional online commentary and outright crackpottery is thin and porous.  Five enthusiastic experts on Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining swerve back and forth over that line like a politician at a sobriety check in a documentary examination of the film and those who over-analyze it.  People truly say the darnedest things about the 1980 horror classic in Rodney Ascher’s Room 237 (trailer here), which screens as part of the 50th New York Film Festival’s Cinema Reflected sidebar.

We never see Ascher’s five experts, but seriously, that is probably just as well.  Several claimed to have been initially underwhelmed by the film on their first viewing, but started teasing out strange hidden meanings in the years that followed.  Yes, Kubrick was known for his painstaking attention to detail, but some of Room’s disembodied voices often seem to be obsessing over continuity errors healthy viewers would never notice.  At one point, Ascher holds a freeze frame, double-dog daring viewers to see the subliminal portrait of Kubrick the auteur supposedly imbedded in the opening credit sequence.

Some commentators are truly masters of the logical quantum leap, arguing amongst other things, The Shining is an allegory for the Native American genocide due to the presence of Calumet baking soda.  Yes, the Overlook Hotel is well appointed with Native American themed paintings and such, but that is not unusual for a mountain lodge in Colorado.  Indeed, we know full well it was built atop a Native burial ground, generating all kinds of bad karma, in a manner predating Poltergeist.  Nonetheless, perhaps Occam’s razor suggests the spirits are just restless.

Still, some of the mysterious analysts make some intriguing points.  Most notably, Juli Kearns mapped out every shot, proving the physical impossibility of the Overlook as the audience sees it.  In effect, the hotel is just as much a labyrinth as the notorious shrubbery outside, but a malevolent, ever shifting one.

Room 237 is an amusing but affectionate tribute to cult film geekery.  Ascher’s approach is simultaneously subversive and nostalgic, similar in tone to The S from Hell, his short film homage to Screen Gems’ hideous logo.  His strategy to eschew talking heads also works rather well, relying instead on the visuals of The Shining, as well as other related films, such as the master’s Eyes Wide Shut.

One would not exactly call Room 237 convincing per se, but it is quite provocative and engaging, in a scruffily eccentric kind of way.  Somewhat tricky to classify, it debuted at Sundance as part of their vaguely experimental New Frontiers track, was acquired by IFC for its Midnight line, but quite logically screens during NYFF as part of the Cinema Reflected sidebar.  Recommended for all serious cult film fans, it plays this Thursday (10/4) and next Monday (10/8) as the 50th New York Film Festival continues.

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