Monday, April 8, 2013

Film Review: Room 237 (Rodney Ascher) 2013

Room 237

If there was any (mainstream) filmmaker that deserves a documentary dedicated to deconstructing their enigmatic back catalogue it is Stanley Kubrick.  Famously reluctant to explain his work, as well as being meticulous with his pre-production research and production direction, his films reflect the work of a true auteur and are unanimously agreed to be deserving of critical analysis, of which all of his films have been subjected to by academics for years.

Room 237 is a film that relies heavily on postmodern film analysis in order to understand cinema.  Rather than trying to reach a definitive meaning for Kubrick’s horror masterpiece The Shining it offers five contradictory theories without prioritizing any one of them.

The documentary is almost entirely made from clips from The Shining with a voiceover from one of the five amateur theorists explaining their interpretation of the film.  Sometimes the scenes are slowed down enough to linger over every frame and other times graphics are used in order to explain something (such as the layout of the hotel and its ‘impossible windows’) but mostly the entire narrative is a re-edit of The Shining with a new voiceover.  His other films, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Barry Lyndon are mentioned as well, but only in passing.

Kubrick was the master of depth of field and one-point perspective filmmaking, which means that everything in each of his frames is always perfectly in focus (as shown in this excellent video below). 

As beautiful as this looks, it is the starting place for almost of the wild theories contained in Room 237 as audiences have obsessed over the placing of every prop and the potential symbolism of every element of the mise-en-scene.  This makes for fascinating watching due to the caliber of the source material, but would be far less interesting if applied to different filmmakers.  The reclusive nature of Kubrick is clearly a factor in the reason for the obsession by the people featured in the voice-overs.

The moments when the film is slowed down to explain a single frame is reminiscent of Douglas Gordan’s 24 Hour Pyscho.  Like that art project, Room 237 forces the viewer to slow down and watch the film in a different light constantly thinking about the process of filmmaking and film consumption.  For that reason this film is a success – not necessarily due to the theories themselves, but in what you are made to think and feel as a viewer whilst you are listening to them.

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