Movie review: 'Room 237' looks for signs of Kubrick's genius

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The "experts" interviewed in "Room 237" are either geniuses or -- to use the technical term -- nuts.

They dissect "The Shining," Stanley Kubrick's 1980 adaptation of Stephen King's novel starring Jack Nicholson as an aspiring novelist who takes a job as an off-season caretaker at a Colorado resort. The film is famous for a crazy-eyed Mr. Nicholson declaring, "Here's Johnny!" and swinging an ax into the bathroom door.


'Room 237'

2 stars = Mediocre
Ratings explained

  • Rating:

    No MPAA rating but R in nature.


In his first feature film, director Rodney Ascher interviews a journalist, a professor, a musician, an artist and "an erudite conspiracy hunter" about the clues and messages they claim are hidden in virtually every frame of "The Shining."

They see signs in the use of the number "42" -- associated here not with Jackie Robinson but World War II -- in a background skiing poster that one woman thinks shows a minotaur, in the Calumet Baking Powder cans in the hotel kitchen larder, in the Apollo 11 sweater a little boy wears.

They suggest the movie is really about the Holocaust or genocide of Native Americans (that image of the Indian on the baking powder!) or how Kubrick helped to fake the Apollo moon footage, for starters.

The New York-born Kubrick, who moved to England and lived there for nearly 40 years, is not around to talk about "The Shining." The reclusive perfectionist died in 1999 at age 70, and when scholars or fans mention his work, "The Shining" usually isn't at the top of the list.

Neither is his adaptation of Thackeray's "Barry Lyndon," a movie that supposedly bored him so much he began reading about subliminal seduction and applying its principles on film, this documentary suggests.

"Room 237," which takes its name from one of the hotel rooms, makes no allowance for coincidence or continuity errors or convenience, as with the choice of a German-brand typewriter. Everything is fraught with meaning here, which is amusing but laughably so; you may find yourself thinking or muttering, "Puh-leeze!"

From a practical standpoint, you hear the interviewees -- Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan and Jay Weidner -- rather than see them, which makes knowing who is talking difficult.

Although amusing in a wackadoodle way and interesting just for the clips of Kubrick's movies, the documentary dispenses with any chance to set the record straight by talking to Stephen King or Mr. Nicholson or Shelley Duvall, who played his wife, or Danny Lloyd, who portrayed their son.

The New York Times tracked down Kubrick's longtime assistant, Leon Vitali, and he watched the movie and said: "I was falling about laughing most of the time. There are ideas espoused in the movie that I know to be total balderdash."

The sweater Danny wears with the rocket ship? Knitted by a friend of the costume designer. Those Calumet cans? Authentic to pantries and favored for their bright colors.

Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar and a typewriter is just a typewriter.

Opens today at the Harris Theater, Downtown.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.


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