blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Room 237 (2012, Rodney Ascher)

If you told me Room 237 exists because someone wanted to test out how far the “Fair Use” part of copyright exception went… well, okay, I wouldn’t believe it because obviously there’s the other terrible stuff going on and you’d do it better if you were just trying to bring “Fair Use” to the Supreme Court or something. It’s amazing Warner Bros. didn’t sue (or wasn’t able to sue). It’s also amazing Tom Cruise didn’t sue for the film using him as an avatar for one of the interviewees.

Room 237 is probably a bit more of a trip since we’ve learned—in the mainstream culture—more about conspiracy theorists and how the conspiracy takes off and what not. So it’s identifiable in all of the interviewees, whose bad ideas about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining accompany the uninspired montage of shots from various films (mostly The Shining, obviously, but also the TV version). Director, uncredited writer, and (of course, naturally) uncredited editor Ascher doesn’t push back or have any presence in the interviews until the very end and then only for (tepid) effect. Otherwise, he just lets the various people monologue, leaving one to worry about the historian’s work in that field, ditto the reporter, who’s got some of the silliest “legit” takes. There’s a moon landing was fake guy (but, wait, the science existed to get us there, it’s just Kubrick shot the landing stuff because matte painting or something). There’s one interviewee who talks a lot about compulsively drawing maps, who doesn’t mention her profession, which is nice. It’s worse to realize these people could be promoting all their bad movie watching epistemologies, their fails in critical thinking, understanding of confirmation bias, and, I don’t know, just general bad taste. The only potentially good take is from the cartographer about the maze and the minotaur and Theseus. But it’s got a silly opener on it so it never actually resonates as an observation.

Ascher’s not interested in whether or not these people’s ideas are accurate. One of the interviewees talks about countless examples and his best one is profoundly bad. Ascher’s got the technology to examine the film and, outside occasionally highlights to showcase the interviewee’s iffy (at way best) take, never does it. You learn more from one five minute Kogonada video essay about Kubrick’s filmmaking than you do from the entirety of Room 237, which raises another question. Is Ascher just trying to embarrass all these people for the sake of attention? If so, he could’ve edited them more amusingly.

Technically, the best thing about Room 237 is the high definition original footage Ascher presumably ripped from his Blu-ray since Warner Bros. didn’t give it to him. You can still see the quality in that restoration work, something the interviewees wouldn’t have had for most of their studies of the film Seriously, Room 237 is an argument against home video. Actually, more an argument against film in general.

What else… the music from William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes could be a lot worse and the superimposition stuff (running Shining forward and backward in a composite shot) is kind of neat because you see how Kubrick shot the film. Though it’d work with all sorts of superimpositions, not just the front and back.

I get it takes a lot to work up a defense of The Shining but Room 237 isn’t just disingenuous, it even manages to do a disservice to the crackpot ideas it showcases.

Stick around for the end credits though—teaser: Ascher was able to get real clips from one copyright holder and it’s a very unexpected one.

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