Shine on You Crazy Diamond: TIM GRIFFIN ON RODNEY ASCHER'S ROOM 237
Griffin, Tim, Artforum International
BY SO MANY MEASURES, Room 237 is a diminutive film. Directed by Rodney Ascher (reputed for his 2010 short, S from Hell), it is restricted in scope to the interwoven commentaries of five devotees of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 classic, The Shining, whose day jobs range from ABC correspondent (Bill Blakemore) and history professor (Geoffrey Cocks) to experimental musician (John Fell Ryan), playwright (Juli Kearns), and professional "conspiracy hunter" (Jay Weidner). The remarks of these aficionados are laid over corresponding clips from Kubrick's film, in addition to occasional passages from the director's other works and pertinent media footage from the beginning of the twentieth century on. Collectively, the perspectives voiced in Room 237 are rambling and disheveled, regularly shuttling from personal epiphanies experienced when first watching the film to obsessive ruminations across the decades about The Shining's hidden meanings, overlooked idiosyncrasies, and, finally, rightful place as an artistic touchstone transcending the commercialism of its populist genre. In a film ostensibly intending to deconstruct a work by modern-day cinema's most notoriously meticulous maker, one person's scholarly analysis can give way to another's midnight-movie munchies in the flash of a single frame.
It is precisely this discordant spectrum of voice-overs, however, that makes Room 237 such an intriguing film, since it seems ultimately less engaged with The Shining than with The Shining's viewers--and, arguably, with the very conditions for viewership today. True enough, Ascher's picture rehearses familiar lore surrounding the making of Kubrick's film. For instance, the director, inspired by Stephen King's eponymous novel, dispatched a band of researchers to the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado (which prompted King to write his book), to gather comprehensive historical information about the building--as well as about the surrounding region's checkered path to statehood--as the material basis for what would eventually be a deep foray into a psychologized American landscape. Strewn amid this account as well are hoary anecdotal tidbits, such as a request by Oregon's Timberline Lodge (where Kubrick set his adaptation) that the director change the number of his film's most haunted room from 217 to 237, lest superstitious guests refuse to stay in that suite in real life. The Shining has always had an air of legend about it, reaching well beyond the projection booth's light. But with Ascher's polyphony of perspectives, even such generally accepted stories are cast into doubt, rendered the stuff of hearsay and repression, unsettling the basis for nearly any comprehensive interpretation of the film. Grounded arguments such as Blakemore's, that the film allegorizes the genocide of American Indians as white settlers made their way across the continent--the journalist bolsters his case by pointing to the original movie poster's tagline, "The wave of terror that swept America"--find themselves woven into Weidner's claim that the film constitutes a veiled admission by Kubrick that he had faked "NASA'S" footage of the first lunar landing. …