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Interview: Filmmaker discusses the interpretations of ‘The Shining’

Interview: Filmmaker discusses the interpretations of ‘The Shining’

April 15
23:11 2013

Preston Barta

Film Critic

Many films have dramatic interpretations, but none are as abounding as Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic “The Shining” (1980).

In filmmaker Rodney Ascher’s sweeping essay film “Room 237,” we hear from many film theorists who believe they have decoded Kubrick’s hidden messages.

“The Shining” has long been a topic of discussion, especially in UNT film classes. However, once audiences watch “Room 237,” they’ll never look at “The Shining” the same way. So, proceed with caution.

The North Texas Daily chatted with Ascher about his documentary and why people are so fascinating with Kubrick’s work.

When were you first taken with “The Shining,” and did you notice some of the things that the theorists in “Room 237” did?

“I first saw the film when I was a kid, when it first came out. I’ve watched it countless times since then. But to answer your second question, no, I am a much more literal guy than the interviewees. I had trouble picking most of that stuff out. When I first heard about the Native American themes, it was hard for me to understand much of it. So, I had to read up on it. [Laughs].”

Do you think there are any films today that are on that same level, that challenge us intellectually?

“I might say Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master.’ It’s a film that I really enjoyed. However, its last act, I didn’t quite understand some of the implications. But I like Anderson enough to assume that the problem is within me and not him, so I need to see it a few more times and read what some other smarter folks than me had to say about it.

The same thing happened with David Lynch’s ‘Mulholland Drive.’ I threw my hands up and had no idea. But after I did someone homework and saw how people were making sense of it, it became much clearer. What do you think are some of the new ones?”

I actually was also going to say “The Master.” I would also have to say “Shutter Island,” “Inception” and Danny Boyle’s new film “Trance.” You pick out different meanings every time you watch each of those films.

“Oh, cool. I am a big fan of Boyle’s, so I’ll have to check that one out.”

Yes. It’s good. Anyway, back to your film. What lead to the decision of not interviewing anyone who was a part of “The Shining”? Did you just want an outsider’s perspective?

“Yeah. Well, on the one hand, I started a documentary years ago that I wound up abandoning because its topic was too broad. There were so many places that I could have gone, but I wound up not going anywhere.

When developing ‘Room 237,’ we asked if we wanted to track down some of the actors, camera operators and filmmakers. But, ultimately, we decided not to because we liked the idea of what happens when a challenging piece of art leaves the hand of the artist and falls into the lap of an audience.”

You also don’t show the faces of the people whom you interview. It mainly shows clips from “The Shining” and other Kubrick films. What lead to that decision?

“I did a short a year or so before I did this in that style, and I really liked the implications of it. But that short was made next to nothing. I recorded people on Skype because there was no way that I could afford to fly across the country to talk to people. And I think it really had some interesting effects. So, I wanted to experiment with that and explore it further.

If you talk about ‘237’ as a documentary, it’s kind of an unusual thing to do. However, if you look at it as an essay film, it’s a perfectly natural way to work. We wanted to show people what people were talking about.”

After making this film, what’s the one thing that will stay with you?

“I think it’s the idea that shots are like words. When you rearrange them, they can say different things. It’s interesting when you break things down to the component parts because their meanings can change.”

“Room 237” opened Friday, April 12.

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