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With: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Rodney Ascher
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 102
Date: 19/04/2013

Room 237 (2013)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

All Work and No Play

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Many documentaries have been made about the movies, but none of them are quite like the new Room 237, which opens this week in Bay Area theaters.

Room 237 is a work of criticism, scholarship, obsession and paranoia -- all devoted to one movie: Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.

Director Rodney Ascher interviews five subjects: journalist Bill Blakemore, professor Geoffrey Cocks, author and playwright Juli Kearns, performer and musician John Fell Ryan, and hermetic scholar Jay Weidner.

They all have one thing in common: an unhealthy obsession with The Shining. Most of them discovered, or re-discovered, the movie in the early 1980s on VHS videocassettes. Given the power to freeze-frame, rewind, and fast-forward, all of them began seeing odd discrepancies in the movie.

To illustrate, director Ascher provides generous amounts of Shining footage, shown forward, backward, slo-mo and freeze-frame, narrated by the theorists.

A single shot of the Overlook Hotel's kitchen provided the basis for one theory. Several cans of Calumet baking powder, positioned in specific ways, led to the proclamation that The Shining is really about the slaughter of American Indians.

Another theory zeroes in on Jack Torrance's German-made typewriter and the number 42 and concludes that the movie is really about the Holocaust.

Ms. Kearns apparently analyzed the entire floor plan of the hotel and determined that certain rooms shown onscreen simply could not have existed.

Mr. Ryan cooked up the performance art idea of running The Shining simultaneously forward and backward, superimposed, and untangling the weird, coincidental images that emerged.

Finally, the movie deals with the long-held conspiracy theory that Kubrick helped fake the 1969 TV footage of the moon landing, and then placed clues about his involvement in The Shining.

The catch, and the reason it works so well with The Shining in particular, is that Kubrick was known as a fastidious perfectionist.

Details like the changing color of a rug or a missing chair might have been mistakes, but the director's legend insists that he did not make mistakes.

Indeed, hardcore movie buffs will no doubt find themselves believing in at least some of the ideas presented here, even if others come across as entirely crackpot.

Either way, Room 237 is completely enthralling, and suggests exciting new ways of reading movies.

Like Burden of Dreams to Fitzcarraldo, Room 237 could become an essential companion piece to The Shining from now on. Once seen, it will be impossible to think about one without the other.

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