I couldn't believe my eyes and ears.
Sitting at home, watching a DVD screener of the documentary “Room 237,” I began with a bit of eye-rolling and ended with my jaw on my chest.
This is a movie about a handful of fans — five, to be exact — who are obsessed with Stanley Kubrick's 1980 horror movie “The Shining,” which is based on a Stephen King book. It's showing at the Dundee Theater.
The fans come up with some pretty bizarre theories about the real, hidden meaning behind “The Shining,” each independent of the others. Each of them has watched the movie scores of times, sometimes stopping it frame by frame to study things you and I would never notice on first viewing.
King hated the movie. Critics widely panned it. Jack Nicholson chewed a fair amount of scenery in it.
It became infamous for, among other things, a scene in which Nicholson (playing a character named John) swings an ax through a door at a hotel. Behind the door, John's wife, played by Shelley Duvall, cowers terrified.
As Jack sticks his face through the hole in the door, he grins maniacally while delivering the campy line: “Here's Johnny.” He's mimicking the way Ed McMahon used to introduce Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”
But these überfans are not laughing. They are dead serious about what they see when they watch “The Shining.”
Bill Blakemore, a television correspondent and author, says the movie is about the genocide of Native Americans. He cites designs and artifacts in the hotel where the movie was shot, plus large cans of Calumet baking powder prominently displayed in the background of a couple scenes. The can bears the image of an Indian chief.
John Fell Ryan sees subliminal imagery everywhere — in the clouds, in the carpet, and so on. Sexual imagery.
Geoffrey Cocks, a history professor, sees an allegory about the Nazi Holocaust and Hitler's concentration camps. His evidence includes a German-made typewriter Nicholson uses, eagle imagery and the prominence of the number 42 throughout the movie. The extermination of Jews began in 1942, he says. Hey, Room 237 — 2x3x7 equals 42.
Novelist Juli Kearns sees references to a minotaur and his maze everywhere. It's based on ancient Greek myth, she says. The hotel itself is a maze of hallways and rooms that Kubrick scrambles in physically impossible ways, she says. Cue diagrams of floor plans, matched to a little boy's trike journeys down long hallways.
My favorite is author-filmmaker Jay Weidner, who is sure that Kubrick filmed a fake Apollo moon landing that television passed off as real, then felt guilty about duping the American people. Kubrick made “The Shining,” he says, to come to terms with that. Did you know the moon is 237,000 miles from Earth? And what about those cans of Tang in the hotel pantry? And the pattern in the hotel carpet is the same as that of Launch Pad 39A, where the Apollo rocket took off.
New York magazine gave seven full pages to an article about “Room 237” last month. I'm still scratching my head about that one.
To me, this movie is about how people can attach personal spin and hidden meaning to any book or film if they study it enough times, are prone to conspiracy theories and have imagination. This is a movie about obsession.
I know Kubrick was a really smart guy and very much into symbolism and imagery. I also think it's possible to overthink something.
At my age, it's becoming ever more clear that life is short. There have to be better ways to use your time than overanalyzing “The Shining.”
But if we're going to overanalyze, could we pick a better film?
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Bet I'm not the only one excited that Omaha director-screenwriter Alexander Payne's new film “Nebraska” will be finished in time to be in competition at the Cannes Film Festival (May 15-26). Payne must be working hard to put the finishing touches on his sixth feature, shot mostly in his home state last fall. It's not unusual for a movie to take six months or more in postproduction. Scenes in Montana and South Dakota weren't done shooting until mid-December. The movie still is expected to open in the United States next fall.
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Omaha film historian Bruce Crawford reports that “Star Wars” director George Lucas paid an undercover visit to Omaha last November, when Crawford screened Lucas' “American Graffiti” at the Joslyn Art Museum. Crawford's special guest that night was “American Graffiti” cast member Cindy Williams, whom Crawford says Lucas once dated. Lucas watched the screening from the balcony, and Crawford didn't find out he was there until he'd already left.
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Oscar-winning cinematographer Mauro Fiore (“Avatar”), who calls Papillion home, landed in Boston just a couple of hours after the bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Fiore's wife, Christine, said her husband's hotel was just one block from the bombing, and he spent some time in lockdown. Fiore was in Boston talking to director Antoine Fuqua. Fiore is cinematographer for Fuqua's next film, “The Equalizer,” starring Denzel Washington.