Go inside The Shining...really inside
Loves: Good documentaries, conspiracy theories, Stephen King
Likes: The Shining
Hates: Pretentious film study, Barry Lyndon
Their thoughts are presented without comment in Room 237, director Rodney Ascher's documentary, featuring audio interviews with five theorists who go unidentified outside of their names. Their explanations are heard as examples from the film (along with a host of other sources) play, creating a visual essay about the supposedly hidden themes in the movie. It's an entirely one-sided affair, as there's no rebuttal to these ideas, which are presented individually at first, before swirling together to explore more specific topics in the film. The thing is, most of these theories, from the movie making veiled references to the genocide of the Native Americans and the Holocaust, to the presence of subliminal messaging and clues to the faking of the Apollo moon landing, are a bit out there. Though Kubrick was a perfectionist, he was certainly not infallible, so not every pixel requires an all-important value to be assigned to it. But that certainly will not stop these devotees.
It doesn't get much more obsessive than when Kubrick's own intentions are tossed out as essentially meaningless in deference to their own points of view. If you're going to claim that every little detail was placed precisely by Kubrick as clues to a greater meaning for the film, you can't then say his intentions aren't as important as the audience's perception. This angle, which is explored while looking at different ways to watch the film (in very physical terms) and which has definite meaning thanks to the modern remix culture and muti-platform film delivery, isn't delved into nearly deep enough though.
By leaving the subjects on their own, with an occasional visual clue that maybe the director doesn't quite buy a theory, Ascher lets the subjects hang themselves, as they often refer to ideas that are essentially meaningless. Even if Kubrick, who was as obsessive about details as the subjects are about The Shining, placed all these little clues and ideas into the film, like the chair that goes missing between cuts or the numerology the subjects find all over the place, what does it matter? That's the thing about all these theories: outside of the Apollo moon landing one, which would be a rather massive matter, these ideas don't change much about how one would view the film. They are just interesting little urban legends, like watching The Wizard of Oz while listening to Dark Side of the Moon. That doesn't take away from the quality of Ascher's ability as an essayist, but much of what's here are amusing postcards from the edge; mostly-crackpot ideas best left for a film-studies class or a room full of stoners to pore over.
For a film that's almost entirely about voices (despite the intrinsic supplemental value of the imagery), the thing about the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that strikes you like an axe to the heart is the film's incredible score, which pays homage to everything great about the music in The Shining (along with other Kubrick films, as well as other movies from the same era.) Utilizing the surround field to move the music around you to excellent effect, the track is less effective with the somewhat thin voices of the subjects, though you won't have problems making out what anyone says. A score-only track would have been quite the experience.
There's more focus on that score in "The Making of the Music" (3:28) which offers an excellent music video that shows the work (including some cat labor) that went into crafting the film's score, including the unique range of instruments that were used to create the movie's haunting music. A fun piece all around.
The 50:19 "Secrets of The Shining: Live from the First Annual Stanley Film Festival" is a panel featuring Ascher, director Mick Garris (The Shining miniseries), Jay Weidner (a subject in Room 237) and Kubrick's long-time friend Leon Vitali, with Badass Digest's Devin Faraci acting as host. God bless Vitali for deflating the theories, right to the face of one of the theorists, in this fun, informative featurette, which is a boiled-down examination of the ideas in the film, only with a few authoritative sources chiming in.
A selection of 11 deleted scenes are presented (which can be played in one 23:51 reel.) These scenes are just audio with the video of a Final Cut Pro screen playing the clip, so it's one of the odder sets of deleted scenes, but there are some interesting moments, including discussion of the difference between the International and American cuts of the film and one subject sharing Kubrick's concrete denial of part of his theory. I will admit, it's a bit hard to watch these without visuals.
One of the coolest extras is "Mondo Poster Design Discussion with Aled Lewis" (3:01) in which the artist explains all the hidden symbolism in the ingenious poster he designed for Mondo's poster of the film, incorporating all the film's theories into a gorgeous image.
Wrapping things up are several versions of the film's trailer, which is eyecatching and brilliantly attuned to the movie.
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