Interview: Doc Director Rodney Ascher Talks Zany Stories Within 'Room 237'
One thing is for sure- when it comes to the work of late great Stanley Kubrick complex would be a total understatement. Everything from "2001: A Space Odyssey" to "Eyes Wide Shut" have been the subject of much dissection and speculation for fans craving more insight into the mind of one of the most secret and prolific filmmakers of all time. A new doc titled "Room 237" (out April 5 from IFC Midnight) explores yet another film that hidden meaning fans have been discussing for years – The Shining. And whether it’s talk of small cast members playing a bigger part of the whole strange picture or evidence that Kubrick himself faked the original moon landings, there re many theories sane and insane examined within. We got a chance to chat one-on-one with "Room 237" Director Rodney Ascher all about the zany stories told in the film, his thoughts on the infamous moon landing controversy and whether or not commentaries have taken some of the mystery out of filmmaking today. Put on your thinking caps, here’s...
Where do you first hear about stories like the zany one heard in "Room 237?"
Rodney Ascher: This project really came together almost from the moment that my friend Tim Kirk tripped over this long online symbolic analysis of "The Shining" that he found. He was reading Jay Weidner’s ideas about the illusions of the Apollo Space Program and he said that to me and almost immediately we were like this is going to become a film of some sort or another. It took a while – almost a year batting around, researching and developing but as lifelong Kubrick fans. Folks always found "The Shining" wonderful but unsettling and the idea that a lot of the stuff might be hidden in there seemed very plausible. We were also surprised and interested by the fact that a lot of the work and theories had just been happening in the last couple of years. Although "The Shining" was made in the late 1970’s to 1980 suddenly it seemed like a time bomb ready to explode in the 21st Century.
What do you feel was the craziest of the theories and in turn which did you find the most believable?
RA: Well, the craziest theory is that it’s just a horror movie about three people stuck in a haunted hotel. It’s hard for me to pick one over any of the others. Certainly they’re all coming around to the fact that The Shining is some sort of hyperlinked, incredibly compressed document.
Why did none of the experts agree to tell their tales on camera?
RA: It’s wasn’t that they didn’t agree to do it, that’s just the style I was working in. I did a short a few years before where I illustrated people visually and had only recorded their audio and I really liked it worked and made it seem more of a trip into someone’s head then a straight up documentary.
Do you believe Kubrick faked the moon landing?
RA: (Laughs) Well, I do know that if one was going to fake the moon landing you could hardly have picked a better person to do it. Having already recently shot that scene on the surface of the moon for 2001 and having consulted with NASA in the making of that film he’s also somebody who knew how to keep his mouth shut. You never saw him on the couch on the Johnny Carson Show making wisecracks.
But what do YOU think?
RA: I like to leave a little ambiguity (laughs) going on all the time...
Damn - you’re like Kubrick!
RA: But I would say every idea that people talk about, trying to prove or disprove any of them categorically seems incredibly complicated. And there’s always room to say yes, but no, but maybe. Even if you’re one of those small groups who don’t believe he faked the moon landing, doesn’t mean that there couldn’t be illusions to the space program in this movie.
Was there ever any discussion about going right to the source to get the actual answers like Christine Kubrick or even actor Barry Dennen who played Bill Watson?
RA: Very early on we decided not to do that. But what seemed to be an excitingly narrow, but maybe surprisingly deep thing to pursue was the question of what happens when the film leaves the filmmakers hands and the audience is left with this puzzling piece of work. And if Kubrick were still around he wouldn’t have given any answers. So for a thousand reasons, but the most concrete one was trying to keep our focus super narrow on the side of how does the audience dissect these things.
Well, if I ever meet Barry I’m asking him!
RA: There was an Empire Magazine article that was pretty long and it’s got a long article on "The Shining" and Barry has a little side bar. But he seems pretty mute about the whole thing.
In a world where nearly every film has extras and commentary tracks is it healthy to show all the tricks of the trade or was Kubrick on the right track by keeping fans guessing?
RA: I know David Lynch seems to agree with Kubrick. I think it was only recently that he broke down and allowed for there to be chapter breaks on his films. (Laughs) But a commentary track is one of the last things he would ever do. But I really enjoy some – Paul Verhoeven’s commentary tracks are some of the best. Hearing him confirm that "Starship Troopers" was in some ways a conceptual joke he confirms my understanding of the movie, which is satisfying. If the movie is good enough it’s hard for the filmmaker to ruin it – unless he goes back and makes some special edition where he changes everything!
What’s next for you?
RA: There’s actually a record that I helped put together based on some archival material that was presented to me and it should be coming out over the summer and slowly starting a couple of new documentary projects.
"ROOM 237" OPENS IN LA APRIL 5 FROM IFC MIDNIGHT.