Rodney Ascher Interview
Rodney Ascher Interview
Rodney Ascher, director of Room 237, a documentary about the impact of and theories surrounding Kubrick’s classic film The Shining, talks to View’s Matthew Turner about the intricacies of horror films, music and editing, as well as the weird and wonderful ideas film fanatics have about Kubrick’s classic chiller.
How did Room 237 come about?

Rodney Ascher

Well, through Facebook, first thing. A friend of mine, Tim Kirk who went on to become the producer of the movie, posted some deep, wild analysis of The Shining on my Facebook wall. And so immediately I was saying, 'I wanna make a movie about this’. And I know that there are other schools of thought about this movie, you know because I have read Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist‘s Maze by Thomas Allen Nelson, who did a lot of numerology studies, and I think I might have remembered when Bill Blakemore’s article about the Native Americans had been circulating for a while, so I said, 'I love this stuff’. But I don’t want to just do this one, let’s see how much else is out there. So we started to explore, and very quickly we realized we were on the edge of a very, very high cliff, and that there’s a whole world of people that had been engaging and interpreting; The Shining makes super, super deep play, you know, so it was a world that I was thrilled to explore for a while.
So how did you take that idea and turn it into the film that you did? Because you could easily have used the style of talking heads or all that sort of stuff.

Rodney Ascher

Well, I’d done a short a couple of years before, about people who had a childhood phobia of a TV company logo. And that was done all via phone interviews, which was mostly because I didn't have any money. It was just a 10-minute short that I wanted to do because I was interested by the idea. But I found the exercise really interesting and that without any talking heads, it sort of put the movie into this world of idea space; it didn't feel like a documentary, it felt like some voyage into the human mind, into the world of memory.

So I thought that might well be technically a simple way to do it, but like a really interesting challenge. So I would mail each of these people a digital audio recorder and talk to them on the phone and then ask them to put the recorder back in the box and mail it back to me. You know and then it just became a really interesting challenge to find imagery to illustrate what people were saying. You know sometimes this can be very literal, this is what they are describing, and this is what we’re seeing. But what I found to be the most rewarding exercise was finding a character from the movie and seeing how far I can stretch it. Like saying here, this guy is a surrogate for Jack Nicholson, now he’s a surrogate for the speaker, now he’s a surrogate for Stanley Kubrick.

Can the audience project those different ideas onto the same shot? And it became pretty clear that people are very imaginative and they don’t need to see exactly what you’re hearing spelled out. In fact, it can become very boring when what you’re hearing and what you’re seeing is exactly the same. So trying to stretch how far I can show something different but kind of related to what they were seeing, you know, was a game that I got very interested in playing.
How did you approach the various theorists themselves? Were they happy to be involved or did any of them take a little bit of persuading?

Rodney Ascher

The only one, everybody else was happy to be involved, who was a little bit wary was Jay Weidner, who talks about the subliminal stuff and the moon landing. And I just needed to explain to him where I was coming from and that, you know, I wasn’t planning on debunking his idea or having any experts come in with contrary opinions, which happily enough is the truth.

My intention is there are a lot of people who are writing really interesting things about The Shining and let’s hear what they are, and go from there. So most of them I would approach by email and chat with them on the phone, and they were all like me, you know, The Shining is one of their favourite topics (laughs). I’ve spent since 9.00am this morning talking about The Shining and I’ve not run out of steam or interest yet!

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Content updated: 16/02/2019 17:45

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