Reviews

With or Without 'The Shining', There's Less to 'Room 237' Than Meets the Eye

The audience serves as a sounding board for every batshit crazy idea ever thought by anyone who ever thought them.


Room 237

Director: Rodney Ascher
Cast: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner, Buffy Visick
Length: 102 minutes
Studio: Highland Park Classics
Year: 2013
Distributor: MPI
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
US Release date: 2013-09-24

"In 1980, Stanley Kubrick released his masterpiece of modern horror, The Shining. Over 30 years later, we’re still struggling to understand its hidden meanings. Rodney Ascher’s wry and provocative documentary Room 237 fuses fact and fiction through interviews with both fanatics and scholars…"

So reads the back cover summary of the documentary, Room 237, an initially attractive piece of independent filmmaking which breaks down Stanley Kubrick’s classic recreation of Stephen King’s horror novel, The Shining. There are plenty of films, new and old, deserving of a feature length scholarly analysis, and The Shining is no exception. Though I’m not a devotee of the Kubrick cult (other than Eyes Wide Shut), his whacked out haunted hotel film from 1980 sure begs for further thought than, “Oh. It’s really not as scary as when I was 12.” Unfortunately, the thoughts provided by Room 237 come from inconsequential sources unjustified by the film that barely hold focus, let alone unveil hidden secrets.

First, let’s address the “hidden meanings” we’re all “still struggling to understand.” Ignoring for a moment that this is a completely subjective opinion and not a fact, the promise of anyone discussing “hidden meanings” in a popular horror film from a now-deceased auteur is hook enough for most film fans. Yet Room 237 bats a little under .500 when it comes to feature-worthy ideas. What starts off as a film theory course soon morphs into a series of lectures from Mel Gibson, a conspiracy junkie who actually gets one prediction right in the film, Conspiracy Theory (1997) and has to stave off a concerned government so-and-so played by Patrick Stewart. Only in Room 237, the odds are heavily against anyone being on the nose with their loony assumptions.

Perhaps the most interesting breakdown in Room 237 comes in the form of a can of Calumet baking powder. The product famously features a depiction of Native American with full headdress, and Bill Blakemore, one of director Rodney Ascher’s narrators (none of his subjects appear on camera, speaking only in voiceover), contends that its appearance represents the false promises made by European settlers to the Native American population upon their “discovery” of the “new world”. This goes along with an overarching belief regarding The Shining as an allegory for the genocide of Native Americans. There’s enough evidence presented for this theory to justify its existence and even consider to consider while rewatching the film.

The same cannot be said for theories about the film’s overt sexuality, including a lengthy breakdown of Jack’s interview scene amounting to a completely inane climax; a less than fully fleshed out discussion about a minotaur; and how watching the film forward and backward simultaneously unveils hidden meanings in how scenes and compositions overlap. All of these hypothesis hinge on Kubrick being such an over-the-top control freak he’d scare David Fincher off the set. Kubrick holds the Guinness World Record for the longest constant movie shoot for Eyes Wide Shut (15 months), and he is undoubtedly obsessive. Yet a few of these specifics are a little too thought out. I really can’t believe Kubrick edited his movie so scenes would match up when you watched them forwards and backwards at the same time.

The only theory with some real meat to it--something juicy out there that's sourced well enough to make you consider it, at least briefly--is the long-standing conspiracy theory contending that Kubrick helped fake the moon landing and The Shining is his confession. If you can accept the idea that Kubrick (and thus, the American government) faked the moon landing (one giant leap, for sure), Jay Weidner can convince you that Kubrick had a hand in it. Just when you think the evidence is a little too circumstantial, Weidner pulls out his trump card: Danny’s Apollo 11 sweater. Though his assertions are later forcibly contended by Kubrick’s “right-hand man”. Leon Vitali in one of the disc’s bonus features.

“Secrets of ‘The Shining’: Live from the First Ever Stanley Film Festival,” is a 50 minute recording of Ascher, Weidner, Vitali, and Mick Garris, the director of “The Shining” miniseries, discussing the film. When Weidner’s contentions are brought up, Vitali adamantly denies the claims. He says the sweater was just a sweater. They needed one. He wore one. There’s nothing more to it. He claims many of the “hidden meanings” are simply continuity errors. This healthy debate is what Room 237 could have been, and it would have been far more compelling had it created controversy surrounding its conspiracies. Instead, the audience serves as a sounding board for every batshit crazy idea ever thought by anyone who ever thought them.

All of this could work if the film gave us any indication toward who was crazy and who was legitimate. Objectivity is a dying art in documentaries, so I feel funny for chiding Ascher for using too much of it in Room 237. Yet the film doesn’t work as a neutral piece, allowing the viewer to decide for himself what to believe and what to ignore, partially because the “fanatics’” opinions simply shouldn’t be heard. They’re a tremendous waste of time, an expenditure Ascher could have spared us with a bit of wily editing. Methinks someone got a little lost in Room 237, and it cost us all (two hours of) our lives.

If you’ve got a masochistic streak in you, the Blu-ray edition of Room 237 sports 11 deleted scenes in addition to the aforementioned footage from the Stanley Film Festival. They’re simply recordings played straight from Final Cut Pro, but consider that these are the theories they didn’t use before viewing. Also included is a three-minute making-of the score mini-doc, trailers, and commentary with Kevin McLeod, an online essayist who writes extensively about The Shining.

Other than the film festival footage, the only standout feature is a Mondo poster design discussion with its creator, Aled Lewis. The artist walks us through the various symbols he incorporated into the poster one by one, all of which are cleverly hidden in plain sight. It’s a rare occurrence in which a special feature trumps the feature film itself, and it certainly happened here. While Room 237 lacks the essential “wow factor”, Lewis’ succinct poster dissection isn’t lacking at all.

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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