the pink smoke panel
Adam Endres: The Creepers, The Shining super-aficionado.
Marcus Pinn: Pinnland Empire, shameless Terrence Malick apologist.
John Cribbs: closet Stephen King completist, The Pink Smoke co-founder.
rodney ascher, 2013
"The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning."
~ Stanley Kubrick
Watching Room 237 is an interesting experience. At first it's fun because I get to watch intelligent people with valid expertise on film and art talk about The Shining, one of my favorite movies. It quickly becomes irritating as people offer the most absurd and stretched-out theories about the most trivial details in such an astonishingly self-assured way. And then I start to become annoyed with the boring way in which the actual filmmakers are making the movie, cutting to the stupidest shots of other movies and keeping moments of a man leaving to tell his child to be quiet while in the middle of an interview. Eventually I come around to enjoying myself again as they point out things that are actually interesting and make some decent points. But then in the end it just falls flat again. Room 237 is an moderately entertaining movie about a fun topic, but time would be better spent watching The Shining, which I guess is what Room 237 is ultimately about.
Don't get me wrong. There are many things that were very awesome in Room 237, things that blew my mind. Having watched The Shining more than any other film, it was crazy to have things pointed out that I never noticed before: the typewriter is a different typewriter by the end, there is no TV cord, the missing chair (which I actually think is intentional). I never noticed the hexagonal pattern change when the ball comes in! That really was cool and made me feel stupid and not very observant. But I got over that fast as I listened to these people spout on about really moronic shit.
Hey, Julie Kearns, did you ever think that the skiing poster was there because they are in Colorado where people ski? Oh wait, nope, it's definitely a minotaur. What?!
Hey, John Fell Ryan, I agree that it is fucking weird that Jack is reading a Playgirl, but the actual articles in that issue are not an important aspect to the film and you sound like an idiot.
Hey, Jay Weidner, if you think a paper tray is supposed to be a huge dick coming out of Stuart Allman then you are probably repressing your own homosexuality. And Kubrick's face is not in the fucking clouds. And fuck you for saying that Barry Lyndon is boring. I think you are fucking boring, Jay.
The fact that "Room No 237" has the same letters as the word "moon" means absolutely nothing!
It's not weird that when Danny is riding his Big Wheel you can see the railing of the lounge or the stained glass windows. It actually makes perfect sense. If you know how buildings work, then you know that rooms and hallways tend to be adjacent to each other. Of course the hallway is connected to the other rooms in the same hotel! Why is that even worth pointing out?!
The window in the office is not that weird. Sorry.
Not every fucking dissolve and cut are so conceptual! Sometimes a filmmaker makes a cut or dissolve where shapes and colors match up just because it looks nice!
The red Volkswagon is not a fuck you to Stephen King. How about the simple idea that now the family is in danger and car is the color of blood. That one seems rather simple to me.
The fact that there are 42 cars in the parking lot doesn't mean a fucking thing!
Suitcases don't mean the Holocaust! They are at a hotel! Of course there are suitcases!
237 is not the studio where Kubrick shot the moon landing. The number 237 already appeared in Dr. Strangelove.
The Shining is a movie about the breakdown of the family structure, both societal and domestic. It is about how the repression of past violence can linger and how that very repression leads to more violence. Families break down. Atrocities have occurred. Mr. Halloran tells Danny that "they are just like pictures in a book. It isn't real." And, yes, the past is gone and it isn't real anymore, but if you ignore the past and act like it never happened, then it can come back to haunt you.
Really, all the people being interviewed make The Shining what they want it to be for them. They put their own ideas and own lives into it and make it what they want. We all do that with any experience we have. Room 237 has the chance to make this point in the end, but it falls short. It just kind of fizzles away instead.
All this being said, I did enjoy watching this movie. The way in which I enjoy people telling me how great Harry Potter is, or Adaptation, or anything by M. Night Shyalaman. I enjoyed hating listening to these people talk about The Shining. Although some of their ideas were poignant and valid and well thought out, I hope I never meet any of them. They were able to entertain me for one and a half hours and get me super excited to watch The Shining though, and that is a good thing I suppose.
The genocide of Native Americans and the general denial of such being a central theme and overarching idea. I think this is one of the main things this film is actually about, trying to connect emotionally to past horrors. "The past impinges." "The nightmare of history." "History has many passages." "Learn about the past and get out."
The idea that superimposing the film forward and backward on itself means anything.
I'm glad Room 237 goes out of its way to point out the shadow of the helicopter on the snow white mountains.
The first time I saw The Shining on the big screen, back in the late 90's at the Norma Jean Movietime Cinemas in Albany in attendance with one Mr. Adam Endres, I was shocked to see that glaring blotch on what is otherwise a flawlessly executed opening shot. It was like noticing a smudge on an Albright - isn't Stanley Kubrick supposed to be one of the most maniacally meticulous filmmakers of all time? Hadn't I read that he'd demanded over 100 takes of the film's simple final tracking shot into a wall? Isn't that him yelling at poor Shelley Duvall in the Making of The Shining documentary for being too "fakey?" Didn't he once order 200 pairs of expensive, historically-correct underwear for the extras in a ballroom scene of Barry Lyndon (or was that an anecdote about Max Ophüls?) Isn't he the posthumous subject of Jon Ronson's fascinating article/accompanying documentary Stanley Kubrick's Boxes, about a man so discontent with ordinary stationary that he sets off to create his own "perfect box?" I can't imagine him designing one with a blemish the size of that helicopter shadow.
None of the interviewees of Room 237 offer a theory as to the offending presence of the helicopter. Like that, just maybe, The Shining is really the story of William Girdler, the hack horror director of Exorcist-clone Abby and Jaws-clone Grizzly. Girdler's film The Manitou, released two years before The Shining, was also based on a bestselling horror book published three years before that, both films have a title with "The" followed by a seven-letter word (that's right: 2, 3, 7!) Manitou is about an old Native American shaman reincarnated via tumorous growth on a young woman's neck in order to exact revenge on the white men who invaded North America and exterminated its indigenous peoples (feel free to apply all Bill Blakemore's notes on The Shining's visual references to the genocide of the American Indians to this argument). The film starred Tony Curtis, who worked with Kubrick on Spartacus and had previously starred as a Native American in The Outsider directed by Delbert Mann - hence, Kubrick's decision to change the name of the previous caretaker in King's book from Charles Grady to Delbert Grady. Tony Curtis may in fact be the same Tony as the one who lives in Danny Torrance's mouth: if you'll allow me a little indulgence, this isn't a literal mouth but undoubtedly a reference to the mouth of the Manitou River in Minnesota which drains into Lake Superior, Kubrick clearly stating how he feels "superior" to his former collaborator in terms of where their two careers diverged. William Girdler was killed in Manila in 1978...in a helicopter accident.
I submit that my assessment is no more dismissible than most of those brought forth in Room 237, a movie that says more about its subjects than Stanley Kubrick and his film. The doc's interviewees are all scholars and intellectuals with credentials and publications to back them up, and they accordingly view Kubrick's film as if it were hanging on a wall in the Prado. [If I was saying this in Room 237, the movie would now cut to that last shot of the picture of Jack Nicholson hanging on the wall.] They're not wrong to give Kubrick the benefit due a Great Artist - where they don't seem to see the bathroom for the Dopey sticker is in the assumption that Kubrick is an infallible genius with total command (and concern) over every minute aspect of his production. But the Roomies' reverance for the late director gets in the way of sensibly reading the film for what it really is - the psychological breakdown of a family told as a haunted hotel story - in favor of explaining away plot banalities, the negligible placement of props and flagrant continuity errors. I could apply the same random readings to Mallrats, except no one would buy that Kevin Smith was consciously aware of what Mallrats was really about (commerce...media...video game hockey).
A common theme of the participants' theories as to the elusive meaning of The Shining is guilt: guilt over the genocide of the American Indian, guilt over a common ignorance of history, guilt over being involved in the fake Apollo moon landing and lying to your wife about it. But the real guilt behind all these stretching theories is the subjects' enjoyment of what they see as a dumb horror movie on the surface; each one is essentially asking, why would the great Stanley Kubrick want to make a cheesy ghost movie? One Roomie posits that Kubrick was "bored" by his own brilliance, that like Alexander finding no new cinematic worlds to conquer he decided to challenge himself by sneaking a bunch of subliminal images into a Stephen King adaptation and unleash it upon an unsuspecting public who foolishly thought they'd be seeing a movie about a psychic kid and his filicidal father. What other explanation could there be for a celebrated auteur to include a hokey scene with skeletons and cobwebs in an empty ballroom? Naturally, there must be a deeper meaning.
What they appear to overlook (heh) is the notion that Kubrick actually cared enough about King's story to explore its surface ideas: Jack Torrance's need to belong somewhere, Wendy's breakdown over her family being torn apart, Dick Hallorann's love of shiny naked women with giant afros (fortunately, unscary hedge animals that come to life is not something Kubrick felt the need to explore). I admit, the shot of the crushed red VW really does seem out of nowhere in the film. I buy that it's somehow linked to the Torrance's own yellow VW, although I agree with Adam that it probably isn't a visual "fuck you" to King - Kubrick clearly just reworks King's ideas to suit his own interests. King's book is itself a reworking of Shirley Jackson's classic The Haunting of Hill House, also the source of an exceptional film adaptation.
The big question that drives Jackson's novel and Robert Wise's movie is whether the threatening ghosts are real or merely a combination of corporeal hoaxes and the protagonist's fragile mental state. The movie is infinitely watchable for signs to unlock its tricky ambiguity, and it's the same for Kubrick's Shining: in Room 237, someone points out that the freezer door being unlocked is the only event that can't be chalked up to mass hallucination, suggesting either a self-destructive drive on Wendy's part or a patricidal urge on Danny's. That stuff's interesting, can we talk more about that?
Apparently not, unless it indirectly links to the impossible window, Bill Watson's skin color, or trajectory of Danny's tricycle rides. Of course Kubrick had a great eye for composition, what with his background in photography, but just because he could fill a frame didn't mean everything he put there (or left out, like a chair in the background) had some greater purpose. Too often, the Roomies' interpretation of insignificant details feels - appropriately enough - like spotting the ghost in the background of Three Men and a Baby.
Ten years ago, I went to a Robert Altman appearance at the theater Chris Funderburg used to program following a screening of his film The Company. If there was one living filmmaker I wanted to answer one specific question, it was Altman, and I got my chance during the Q & A. What I asked was something along the lines of this:
"Mr. Altman, the background action that takes place in your films is mesmerizing; it's every bit as interesting as what's going on in the foreground, if not more so. Do you have a specific method of directing background action?" (I hope it didn't come off that nerdy...it was probably much worse, and punctuated by several "ums" and "uhs").
His answer: "No. I have nothing to do with the background action of my films."
For me, this was a fairly dispiriting answer. The background action of Altman's movies is a large part of what makes them so...Altman-y. I realize the question itself is kind of vague and the answer potentially complicated (if it's answerable at all), so Altman may have very well just been dodging it. But more likely I was just giving Altman, a man renowned for a commanding authorship over his films, too much credit when there isn't a filmmaker in history with that much authority over every aspect of their picture (well, maybe Kurosawa...and even he let the occasional boom mike slip into a shot). But that speaks towards Altman's, and Kubrick's, greatness - that people assume everything you see on the screen has to do with his elaborate vision. May the ghost of Stanley Kubrick haunt my dreams and prove me wrong...more likely, he would shake his head irritably at the ideas brought forth by the folks in Room 237.
(Robert Altman discovered Shelley Duvall - everything's connected.)
That said, I do agree with one Roomie's sentiment that "author intent is only half the story." Obviously, what an audience member takes from a film is what gives it substance beyond the initial viewing. Isn't reading further into Of Unknown Originthan George Cosmatos ever intended the whole reason this site exists? You gotta love a documentary where people just talk about one movie the entire time, and so many of the forwards/backwards superimpositions really are beautiful, even if it's just stretching the film's earlier visual of the giant janitor sweeping up the snow in the hotel exterior-to-interior dissolve, and their coming together doesn't suggest anything beyond your standard Dark Side of the Moon-type coincidences.
Jay Weidner's analysis of rocket ship shirt-wearing Danny's walk to Room 237 over the "launchpad carpet" as a way that Kubrick confessed to his wife that he was involved with simulated footage of the Apollo moon landing.
I agree with Adam: a big pile of luggage doesn't make me think of the Holocaust. I don't care if Kubrick was an intellectual Jew obsessed with Nazis, it doesn't come across in the movie at all. Eagles don't make me think of Nazis. The number "42" only technically appears once, and if Kubrick wanted to make us think of that year why does the July 4th ball from the final picture take place in 1921? And leave Thomas Mann out of this.
And how come nobody in Room 237 brings up the dog giving the guy head? Don't we deserve to find out what that means? Does it have anything to do with Wag the Dog, in which a Hollywood big shot named Stanley helps shoot fake footage of a war in Albania for the U.S. government? Or is it just some weird, freaky-ass shit?
My initial viewing of Room 237 was pretty similar to Adam's. I remember loving it at first. As soon as I was done watching it, I remember taking to Facebook as well as texting specific movie buddies in order to spread the word about how great the documentary is. These days I'm more conflicted. I still think it's great, but in a much more humorous way now. Room 237 is like that really good friend who means well but is very annoying at the same time. I'm willing to bet that Julie Kearns, John Fell Ryan and Jay Weidner are all THAT type of friend within their respective group of friends. I bet some nights John Fell Ryan's friends all get together for movie night and intentionally don't invite him because they aren't in the mood to hear an over-analysis of Paul Giamatti's hatred of merlot in Sideways.
I hate conspiracy theories along with most of the annoying hippies that are associated with spreading them. Relax; I'm no right wing conservative. Far from it. I just find that conspiracy theories often belittle or downplay major events and the pain they sometimes cause people. 9/11 wasn't an inside job and there's no microchips being planted in newborn babies. The theory about 9/11 being an inside job just stems from misguided, yet totally understandable George W. Bush hatred (nobody wants to admit that). GW may be the worst modern president ever. There's 8 years worth of factual evidence to legitimately hate that man. Why stir up some Tom Clancy-level conspiracy just to discredit someone when there are tons of factual reasons that already do that?
Take Room 237 for example - are we really supposed to associate a certain brand of typewriter that Jack Nicholson uses in a few scenes with the fucking holocaust?? I guess the reason I was able to tolerate the conspiracy theorists in Room 237 is that they didn't come off like annoying hippies. Instead the seemed like rather sad yet intriguing individuals. Who were these faceless interview subjects over-analyzing this movie? Every review I read never goes any further than listing them as "scholars." Scholars of what?! Who were these random people more qualified to talk about a movie that's followed me from childhood in to adulthood? I couldn’t agree more with John in that Room 237 is more about the people who over-analyze The Shining than the so-called hidden messages (...or errors) found Kubrick's classic horror film.
To a certain degree I see a small bit of myself in them. I know what it's like to think about something so much until it gets out of hand. Take a recent theory that's been floating around in my head...
Last month, Quentin Tarantino released his ten favorite movies of 2013 and it caused a bit of a stir in that there were still three months worth of movies left to see. Filmmakers get the opportunity to see movies long before they come out thanks to personal screenings and pulling jury duty on various film festivals, so it isn't too farfetched that Tarantino had already seen every major film before the general public got a chance to, which explains why he had his top 10 list ready so early. But personally, I found it odd that Tarantino's list didn't include Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, which is one of the years' best reviewed films and most mentioned among early Oscar contenders. Why would Tarantino include Kickass 2 and The Lone Ranger in his top ten over a coveted film like 12 Years a Slave?
I'll tell you why. Before 12 Years a Slave was even released, there were reports that it was going to rival, if not surpass, Tarantino's 2012 slave "epic" Django Unchained. Maybe Quentin got tired of McQueen's film stealing his movie's thunder for so long that he indirectly dissed it by not acknowledging it in his top ten list knowing everyone else under the sun would be including 12 Years a Slave in their top ten. I know that sounds a bit childish but it gets even deeper...
It's no mystery that Tarantino and Spike Lee have had animosity towards each other for almost two decades. Lee has gone on record numerous times saying that Steve McQueen is his new favorite director. 12 Years a Slave also stars former Spike Lee collaborator Chiwetel Ejiofor, who appeared in She Hate Me and Inside Man. Does Tarantino's hatred for Spike Lee go so deep that he went out of his way to ignore a great film just because it's directed by someone Spike Lee is a fan of?
Or... maybe it's the fact that 12 Years a Slave also stars Michael Fassbender, who had personal problems with Tarantino's close friend and producer Lawrence Bender during and after the filming of Inglorious Basterds (Fassbender was banging Benders' ex at the time). Perhaps Tarantino felt the same kind of ridiculous white guilt that the faceless interview subjects in Room 237 felt. Maybe after all this time that big-jawed nerdy spazz of a movie director (I'm talking about Quentin Tarantino for those that have never seen him before) finally felt the guilt of making entertainment out of the Holocaust (Inglorious Basterds) and slavery (Django Unchained) and couldn't handle a non-entertaining, mostly historically accurate film on a deep historical subject (12 Years a Slave) so he treated it like it didn't exist.
What does any of this have to do with The Shining or Room 237, you ask? Chewital Ejiofor appeared in 2 Spike Lee movies. Michael Fassbender appeared in 3 Steve McQueen movies and Quentin Tarantino direct 7 movies (if you don't count Grindhouse). 2-3-7. And I'm sure at some point Tarantino rented The Shining out to various people during his time as video store clerk.
You see how easy it is for me to string together theories and make simple speculations about all things movie related? Admit it - some of you are seriously taking my little Tarantino/12 Years a Slave theory seriously right now. I should have been one of the interview subjects in Room 237. Like its interview subjects (and probably Tarantino), I've seen The Shining countless times and have also read the book.
I was too young to notice a shadow of a helicopter or any of the other so-called hidden messages/mistakes the first time I saw The Shining because I was very young. You see, The Shining is my earliest movie memory next to The Neverending Story and Rambo: First Blood. And what's funny is that, upon my second viewing of Room 237, I came to the conclusion that if you really wanted to, you could make the same kind of documentary on the two aforementioned films or just about anything else if you found the right nameless fanatics able to articulate and over-analyze the placement of a chair in the background of a scene enough times (now I have a vision of a creepy slow motion shot played in reverse of the luck dragon with creepy music playing over it).
I really don't mean to sound so cynical because I genuinely do like Room 237 very much. It was in my top 10 of 2012, and the way the documentary treats film imagery (comparing images side by side, looking for hidden messages that may or may not be there) isn’t far off from what I try to do on my own film site from time to time. There's clearly a lot of care and thought (sometimes too much thought) put in to the documentary and there are some intriguing theories.
The over-analysis of the Bill Watson character. Ever since I saw this in Toronto (where Chris left in the middle of the movie) I've gone back to watch that one scene he's in multiple times and I gotta admit that if I were a weed smoker I'd totally buy in to the theory that Bill Watson, a random Overlook Hotel employee with a slightly darker skin tone than anyone else in the film, represents the spirit of the Native Americans who were massacred and buried underneath the hotel.
All the Holocaust stuff. A lil' farfetched in my opinion
HA! I forgot all about the Minotaur skier, Adam! Great stuff.
Also I gotta agree with overlooking the dog blowjob scene. These people can over-analyze the pattern of a carpet but totally omit one of the great, unexplained, scenes in cinema history?
I agree with John and Marcus: how the fuck did they all skip over the blowjob scene?!
I never realized how much Bill Watson fucking rules until now.
Not every fucking thing that Kubrick does is conceptual or intentional. It just doesn’t work that way. Sometimes it is just artistic beauty and nothing more and there really isn’t all that much to look into. There is a Vincent D'onofrio quote I will leave you with:
"(Kubrick’s) best piece of advice was that being real is one thing, but being interesting is better."
Room 237 is a somewhat unique viewing experience and part of me wants to see more of it (although not taken as seriously). Don't you guys think Room 237 would make for an interesting ongoing series in the vein of Mystery Science Theater? You round up "scholars," cinephiles and conspiracy theorists and have them over-analyze films like Akira, Dark Crystal, Repo Man, Alice in Wonderland or any other film with a unique devoted cult following. Could you imagine the same type of documentary made about Repo Man?? There's way more errors and mistakes found in the background of that than in The Shining. There's tons of cryptic dialogue in the script and it was made in Regan-era early-80's so I'm sure someone could conjure up theories about crack-cocaine, Iran and nuclear war (I guess the nuclear war angle in Repo Man is fairly obvious tho, huh?)
I wish the people who were involved in the making of The Shining that are still alive (Nicholson, Duvall, Lloyd, etc) could watch Room 237 and give their thoughts. Could you imagine a special edition DVD with a split screen viewing option where you could watch the film and the expressions on the faces of Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall as they watch the crazy theories explained in Room 237? Wouldn't that be great?
Another thing that Room 237 validates is that The Shining is now more synonymous with Stanley Kubrick than it is with its true creator, Stephen King. To this day there's still a bit of animosity between King and the deceased Kubrick. Is The Shining the most notorious writer/director feud since William Friedken & William Peter Blatey? Has Stephen King given his thoughts on Room 237? What do you think his take on the movie would be?
I think I read somewhere that King declined to comment on Room 237. Not sure if it has anything to do with the deal he made to get permission to do the Shining mini-series with Mick Garris (he allegedly agreed to stop bad-mouthing Kubrick's movie in public) - probably it's more that he doesn't want to endorse the idea of Stanley Kubrick being a genius who was too good for his story. But I think we should all remember that the Mick Garris mini-series exists, and that King fully endorses it, living hedge monsters and all.
When are we getting a doc over-analyzing Maximum Overdrive? It's secretly about immigration, AC/DC and how Stephen King - having conquered the plains of cinema - was bored.
Marcus really nailed the personality of the Roomies, and explains why I ultimately feel sympathetic towards them: I'm always worried that people aren't inviting me to their movie parties for fear that I'll blab uncontrollably throughout the film about stuff nobody else cares about.
I should also mention that the reason I asked Adam to join Marcus and myself for this panel is that, other than knowing he's a huge Shining and Kubrick fan, he once proposed the most compelling insight I've ever heard about the movie: the fact that none of the characters exit the frame under their own power until the very end, when Wendy and Danny escape in the Snow Cat. The characters are trapped, not just geographically in the snowbound hotel, but inside Kubrick's unrelenting lens. I've never sat and paid attention to the film closely enough to see how consistently Adam's theory sticks, but every time I happen to catch part of the film on tv it seems close enough, and makes for a much more palpable origin for the film's inescapable tension that undoubtedly compelled the Room 237 talking heads to over-analyze it in the first place.
~ 2013 ~