Subtitled ‘Being an inquiry into The Shining in 9 parts’, Rodney Ascher’s diverting documentary features a group of obsessives ranging from eccentric to out-and-out whacky expounding upon their theories about the Stanley Kubrick film in voice-over. Those are illustrated by an artfully assembled montage of graphics and manipulated clips from the film, together with well-chosen odds and sods from Western cinema in general and Kubrick’s oeuvre in particular, in a manner reminiscent of Adam Curtis’s work. Ascher does his damnedest to make it visually and aurally interesting, and lets his chosen voices speak without judgement.
Most of the speakers were disappointed by their first encounter with the film, but went back to it on VHS, on DVD, on Blu-ray, watching it over and over, convinced that a cinematic master with an IQ of 200 couldn’t just produce an overly mannered misfire, no, there had to be more to it than that. They started to map the geography of the Overlook hotel, read the posters, props and set decoration for clues, and assume that continuity errors must be there for a reason. The result suggests that what The Shining was really about was, well, take your pick: the Holocaust, Greek myth, American ‘Manifest Destiny’ and the genocide of the native population, and, my personal favourite, Kubrick apologising for his part in the faking of the moon landings by Apollo 11. This is Great Movie Mistakes as seen by people who don’t believe in mistake, chance or coincidence, and how much you enjoy it is going to be dependent upon how long you’re prepared to indulge their company – 102 minutes is a stretch.
But it says something about the reputation of the man and his cinema that this film, and doubtless hours more like it could be made. I can happily believe that he read the book Subliminal Seduction about hidden messages in advertising and interviewed Madison Avenue executives about how they worked. Maybe some of the weirdness in The Shining was the result. Who knows? But in his massively extensive research and attention to detail, the Kubrick of legend was just as obsessive as any of the contributors to this film. If, y’know, slightly more hinged.
As one of the unseen says at one point, ‘Kubrick is thinking about the implications of everything that exists!’