The Sundance Review Revue: ROOM 237
In the last couple years, technology has totally changed the world of film criticism. Affordable, easy-to-use editing software has empowered critics to become filmmakers themselves. You can see their work on YouTube, blogs like Press Play, and in movies like Sundance ’12 selection ROOM 237, a film entirely about another film, Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING.
Directed by Rodney Ascher, ROOM 237 examines the subculture of SHINING obsessives (“shiners?” Let’s call them “shiners”). You might think THE SHINING is about a family man driven mad by a winter trapped in a haunted hotel. But the scholars, film buffs, and crazy fans Ascher interviews say that’s just the surface — beneath the bare bones of a story provided by Stephen King’s famous novel lies all sorts of stuff. Some of them claim the film’s really about Native American genocide. Others think it’s all an allegory for the Holocaust. Still others think — get ready for this — that the film is one long admission of guilt on the part of Kubrick about the role he played in faking the Apollo 11 moon landing. Which I can totally see! But ever since that bad acid trip in ’07, I can see a lot of weird stuff, so I might not be the best judge.
On paper it sounds like a project that might be better suited to a video blog, but the critical response to ROOM 237 at Sundance has been borderline obsessive. As New York‘s Bilge Ebiri wrote in his personal blog They Live By Night, “it’s not a film about conspiracy theories; it’s a film about movie love.” “Room 237 becomes a maze of references to other movies,” he added, “so that at times the entirety of film history appears to be engaged in a call-and-response with itself. And that’s what movie love is all about – an engagement with the art where the films all exist in a kind of continuum with each other… the film expresses, better than any movie I can think of right now, the feeling of being lost inside the world of a film, and by extension being lost inside the world of film.” Ebiri also picked ROOM 237 as the best film at Sundance this year.
Devin Faraci from Badass Digest chimed in with more praise of his own. He also noted one of the things that makes ROOM 237 smarter than your average talking head documentary — the film is made up entirely of clips from other films, most by Kubrick. “When someone says they got a phone call, Ascher uses a clip of a telephone being picked up in PATHS OF GLORY. When someone says they were in the backseat of a car, Ascher uses a clip of Tom Cruise in the back seat of a car in EYES WIDE SHUT. The use of clips is funny and cool – it’s the sort of touch that rewards the kind of film nerd who would want to watch a documentary like this in the first place,” he wrote. Faraci also compared the film to THE SHINING’s famous hedge maze, “with each intellectual turn a mystery.”
The Sundance press corps had a lot of fun with this movie, probably because as a member of the Sundance press corps, you can relate to being crazy about a movie (someday — someday! — someone will release AAAAAALL RIGHTY THEN, my six-and-a-half hour dissection of ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE and its relation to the firebombing of Dresden). Shawn Levy from The Oregonian called ROOM 237 “batty and disarmingly sober.” Kenneth Turan from The Los Angeles Times said it’s “as strange as they come.” Which, I guess given the subject matter, counts as high praise.
The only problem I see with ROOM 237 is, y’know, seeing it. Copyright laws haven’t exactly kept up with the march of technology, and because Ascher’s SHINING investigation is wall-to-wall film clips it’s going to very hard — if not downright impossible — to give ROOM 237 any kind of large scale commercial release. You’ll need to keep your eyes peeled for this thing at local festivals or museums. It sounds like it will be hard to find, but worth the effort. Twitter, you take over, because I’m starting to feel like I’m working too much. And all work and no play makes Matt a dull boy…
“ROOM 237, a documentary about insane subtext in THE SHINING, is so fucking crazy that you can’t help but adore it. A gem. #Sundance” — Germain Lussier, /Film
“ROOM 237: THE SHINING as seen as a work about, and worthy of, obsession. Film as Film Criticism and as Criticism of Film Criticism.” — James Rocchi, MSN Movies
“Room 237 was fascinating. A must-see for Kubrick fans and anyone remoter interested in film. Watching The Shining again ASAP. #Sundance” — The Film Stage
“ROOM 237 is a brainy blast. Best movie-lover’s movie at #Sundance. (and not just for Kubrick fans–take it from someone who’s not) #sff12” — Jason Bailey, Flavorpill
“ROOM 237 is huge film nerd fun, an expertly assembled trip down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories around Kubrick’s The Shining.” — Katey Rich, Cinema Blend
To find more Sundance screenings of ROOM 237, go to Sundance.org.