This is another documentary which deals with the practice of filmmaking, but where Side by Side was expository, this is more a work of filmed criticism, the engagement of fans with the film medium and its creators.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining is, I think, a brilliant work, and have reviewed it as such on this very site. But I never would have suspected such levels of careful consideration as Room 237 presents. I suppose it’s a documentary, or maybe a work of filmed film criticism, yet if I’m not sure the information it presents is always believable, or amounts to much in the way of genuine critical insight, it’s certainly interesting.
The film takes the form of a series of clips, mainly of course from the Kubrick original, as well as archival footage, still photographs, and clips from other movies, to illustrate the arguments of a number of (unseen) contributors who each has their own interpretation of Kubrick’s film. All are, of course, enjoyable and well presented — they’d scarcely make it into a film otherwise — but they certainly run the gamut of believability. Most notably, one is insistent that it’s a coded story about the genocide of Native Americans, based entirely it seems on the placement of a particular brand of corned beef can in a couple of scenes set in the walk-in freezer. Another does a similar job linking The Shining to the Holocaust (something about the number 42; it’s all pretty shaky). And then of course there’s the faking of the Apollo moon landings, which Kubrick was obviously behind, and it’s all proved here.
Along the way, as it happens, you do get some interesting facts about Kubrick’s own obsessiveness in making his films. I have to disagree with the commentator who claims Kubrick’s previous film, Barry Lyndon (1975), is boring: it is not. However, with all the discussion of the effort that the filmmaker went to with his props, and his sets, and the details of the brand of typewriter (German, with an eagle motif), or the patterns on the carpet, you find yourself at times willing to go along with the theorising, wild as it may get. And suddenly these little errors — such as the way that the tennis ball which is rolled towards Danny on the carpet through the lines of its pattern (seen in this documentary’s poster) becomes entrapped by the shifting carpet patterns in a subsequent shot — seem pre-ordained and part of Kubrick’s wider vision, whatever indeed that may be.
You may not be convinced of any of these theories (I wasn’t entirely), but it certainly gets at the free-wheeling and dedicated nature of committed movie fandom. Room 237 in many ways doesn’t even require you to have seen or enjoyed The Shining (though it probably helps). It gains most of its interest and power from being an ode to the true love of the film fan, and as a testament to the insight that can be gained from giving films a really thorough scrutiny — far deeper, I have to admit, than I ever manage in any of my reviews.
Director Rodney Ascher; Length 102 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Sunday 12 January 2014.