The Makers of Room 237

Oliver Lunn

There’s been no shortage of great documentaries this year (Searching for Sugar Man, The Imposter etc.), but there’s been nothing quite like Rodney Archer’s Room 237, an intriguing, and sort of hilarious, deconstruction of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, from multiple view-points.

Archer, along with producer Tim Kirk, employs various narrators – or more accurately, conspiracy theorists – to talk about each of their ‘readings’ of the film, whether that’s seeing the film as Kubrick’s confession to being involved in faking the moon landing, or simply seeing the great director’s face in the puffy clouds at the outset of the film. Yep, these guys bring a whole new meaning to the idea of ‘seeing film differently’.

GFW: So how did this project come about?
Rodney Archer: Internet addiction. Tim emailed me one day…
Tim Kirk: I found one of the theories online, the moon landing one.
RA: We both probably had a similar reaction: "this is very interesting!"
TK: And then our second reaction was like, “are there more of these?"

And you just contacted the Kubrick geek behind it?
RA: Yeah, you know, sometimes one person would lead to another.

Did you always want to make a documentary about The Shining?
RA: No. I always loved The Shining but… it wasn’t like, “hmm, what can we do on The Shining that’s interesting?” Tim just found an interesting article analysing the film.

How many times have you guys seen The Shining?
TK: At least 15 times, yeah.
RA: About the same. We always ask people at screenings; it’s one people always seem to go back to.

Some of the characters who narrate the film seem a little eccentric. What were they like?
TK: We didn’t meet any of these people during the filming. Rodney had phone conversations with them and they would speak into the recorder. We’ve met a few since but I would describe them as passionate [laughs], rather than eccentric.

Do you not think some of the readings seem a little bit out there? Like, for example, when the guy says he sees Kubrick’s face in the clouds!
RA: Yeah, I think people are gonna take it how they’re gonna take it, but I’d never say that because someone looks at a movie differently than I do that that’s silly or anything. I always loved that deconstruction of ‘Like A Virgin’ in Reservoir Dogs [laughs].

When you heard their interpretations were you ever like, “oh, that’s what that’s about”?
RA: Sometimes we had to read deeper into it. You hear about the faking of the moon landing and then you think, “ah, The Shining is Kubrick’s confession.”

Do you think the film was Kubrick’s confession to being involved in faking the moon landing?
RA: I think if I said that flat-out it might unduly influence the way people watch the movie.

OK, so you do have an opinion but you can’t reveal.
TK: Do have an opinion on this? [looks at Rodney and laughs]
RA: Well, with all the opinions floating around in my head it’s hard to know which one’s actually mine!

Fair enough. Which was your favourite reading of the film?
RA: My favourite has always been when they start to overlap, like the moon landing ends with a look at the Apollo 11 mission pads which prominently features an eagle – an eagle is featured in Geoffrey Cox’s ideas about World War II, and I didn’t think that those two ideas would converge; I thought, “isn’t that interesting? And what does that mean?”

Do you see the film as an analysis of The Shining, or is it more about the nature of film-going itself and the different ways people see films?
RA: It’s closer to the latter, but certainly in order to get there we had to do some specific work on The Shining itself. We watched it once together when we were setting out and then we began to watch it a scene at a time, and we’d zoom into the wallpaper patterns and these tiny little details.

And what about the use of the scenes in Eyes Wide Shut? They work so well with this. 
That was a lucky thing that came later. People have made a lot of connections between those two films, like one guy compares what they say about families, another compares the impossible geometry of the Overlook Hotel with New York City as presented in Eyes Wide Shut, where Tom Cruise takes a taxi cab, basically, to directly across the street [laughs]. Also, I think there’s a 237 address on one of the storefronts in Eyes Wide Shut.

What’s your favourite Stanley Kubrick film?
RA: It’s often the last one that I’ve watched, though I might go, if forced, for Dr. Strangelove.
TK: I think it’s a toss-up between The Shining and Paths of Glory.

Are there any other films you’d like to delve into in this way?
RA: Competitors might be John Carpenter’s They Live, which is pretty interesting politically in the United States right now. Maybe Mulholland Drive. Any others Tim?
TK: It has to be a filmmaker that Rodney and I can live with for two years, you know?
RA: I might return to David Lynch because his working style is so different.

So you’d like to live with David Lynch for two years?!
TK: I think so [laughs].

'Room 237' is released in Canada on March 29.

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