Filmmaker Rodney Ascher entices viewers into 'Room 237'
SFBG Both your 2010 short The S From Hell and Room 237 are about hidden meanings and subtexts. What draws you to those themes?
RA The S From Hell started because I read about these people who had a childhood phobia of the old Screen Gems logo, and I had a flashback to myself at the age of three. Although my experience wasn't quite as intense, I had a similar strong, confused reaction to that thing. And I've watched The Shining again and again, and have been obsessed with it, even if I haven't come close to deciphering it. So it may be that — although I barely appear in these movies — there's an autobiographical quality to this, that I'm recognizing aspects of myself in what these folks are doing. But maybe it's not best for me to try to analyze Room 237 too deeply!
SFBG The Shining isn't the only film used to illustrate Room 237. How did you decide what else to use? I spotted clips from Lamberto Bava's Demons (1985), for example.
RA It was kind of instinctual. I tried to [gather] movies from a similar time or place to The Shining, but in all respects, I'm making a connection between The Shining and these other films. Sometimes it might be very literal, sometimes it might be personal to my own history.
In a big-picture sense, I think we're talking about the ways movies get into our heads. Bill Blakemore, one of our interviewees, has a great phrase where he compares The Shining to a dream, and Stanley Kubrick's process of filmmaking to dreaming — that you condense everything that's happened in your life up to that point, and then it comes out in dreams, in some kind of strange new version.
Demons is a movie about the line between what's happening on the screen, and what's happening in the audience, getting very blurry. So for people who are familiar with Demons, the connection might play very clearly; but for people who aren't, they're still seeing a really stylishly shot scene of people in a theater in the early '80s who are struggling to understand this very baffling movie they've been presented with.
SFBG Room 237's sound design is very distinctive. Can you talk about how that came together?
RA The sound design is by Ian Herzon, an amazing guy who was able to create this heavy, atmospheric mix. It was important to me that Room 237 played more as an immersive experience than as a dry piece of journalism. In a weird way I wanted it to be kind of a horror movie in itself. And Ian has worked on some of the Resident Evil movies, so that was a style that he was comfortable with.
The music is by William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes, who specialize in [horror themes]. Jonathan plays in a band called Nilbog, which performs, like, music from Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Suspiria (1977) live in concert. Their studio looks like a museum of analog synthesizers. So when I was discussing the music I wanted for the film, and I was talking about the early '80s, Italian synthesizer scores, or John Carpenter music, or Tangerine Dream's score for Sorcerer (1977), we spoke the same language very quickly. I love the way the synth scores have this trance-inducing, meditative effect. They sometimes have even quasi-religious aspects to them, which seemed kind of appropriate, since we're looking at The Shining the way some people interpret the Bible.
SFBG What is your reaction when you hear people say, "After seeing Room 237, I'll never watch The Shining the same way again?"