“Room 237“ is a movie about a movie. For 102 minutes, director Rodney Ascher dissects Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” pairing footage from the 1980 horror classic with analyses from critics, historians, and conspiracy theorists who explain why they believe its story of a writer’s blocked author slowly losing his mind in an old hotel is actually about the genocide of Native Americans or Kubrick’s role in faking the Apollo 11 moon landings.
It’s a novel approach to criticism — or perhaps a novel approach to a critique of criticism — and fittingly, given the fact that the commentators in “Room 237” have seen “The Shining” dozens if not hundreds of times, an exceedingly watchable documentary (even before its official release, I’ve seen “Room 237” three times and would happily watch it a fourth). It’s so good it makes you hope that others take up its format (or at least its concept of feature-length critical documentaries) and apply it to other movies. And by other movies, I specifically mean these five, which I think are tailor-made to deep and extensive investigations. In no particular order, here are…
Five More Films Worthy of ‘Room 237’-Style Critical Documentaries
1. Rashomon (1950)
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Not only is “Rashomon” worthy of a documentary like “Room 237,” it would make the ideal subject of a documentary structured like “Room 237.” The idea of multiple perspectives on a single event is woven right into the fabric of Kurosawa’s masterpiece; combining five or six seemingly contradictory voices into a single, conversational doc would be the perfect way to not only examine “Rashomon” and its impact, but to do so in a way that remains faithful to its spirit.
Until Someone Makes It, Watch: Robert Altman introduce the Criterion Collection edition of “Rashomon.”
2. Star Wars (1977)
Directed by George Lucas
There’s already been at least one feature length documentary devoted to “Star Wars” fandom — 2010’s “The People Versus George Lucas” — and countless fan commentaries, fan re-edits, fan fictions, fan analyses, Lucasfilm-produced puff pieces, critical articles, historical essays, philosophical books, and long-form video reviews about the saga from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Honestly, there’s probably too much “Star Wars” criticism out there already, but it would be nice to have one definitive audiovisual text that could serve as the ultimate critical examination of what is arguably the most influential and popular piece of fiction of the last fifty years. Applying “Room 237″‘s format of disagreeing talking heads to “Star Wars” would prove a nice thematic tie-in to the ongoing war between Lucas and Jedi obsessives over the “correct” version of the films.
Until Someone Makes It, Watch: “Star Wars Begins,” a “filmumentary” by Jamie Benning that combines clips from the movie with archival interviews, behind the scenes footage, bloopers, alternate takes, and trivia.
3. The Big Lebowski (1998)
Directed by Joel Coen
Dismissed in many circles upon its initial release as a follow-up trifle to its predecessor, “Fargo,” the Coen Brothers’ “The Big Lebowski” has grown into one of the filmmaking siblings’ most beloved works. And in spite of its seemingly frivolous plot and comedic tone, there’s plenty for a critical documentary to parse: exploring the reasons for the film’s enthusiastic cult, placing “Lebowski” in a larger context of the Coens’ filmography, and looking past the jokes to get at the movie’s commentary on classical detective stories.
Until Someone Makes It, Watch: “Abide: The Cult and Culture of ‘The Big Lebowski,'” a short film about the film’s enthusiastic fanbase.
4. Primer (2004)
Directed by Shane Carruth
This film would turn the near-obligatory “Primer” post-game — where you spend the next 90 minutes after you watch this 77-minute time travel extravaganza reading various online explanations of its plot — into part of the official viewing experience. Since Carruth’s film is so short, pairing it with a brief documentary that pulls apart its intricate chronology — and examines and clarifies its themes about the business world and masculinity — would make for a very manageable and illuminating 140-minute double feature.
Until Someone Makes It, Watch: A diagrammatic YouTube video that attempts to make sense of “Primer”‘s tightly knotted timelines.
People seemingly never tire of the story of Norman Bates, his wicked mother, and their dumpy old motel. Gus Van Sant remade the film in 1998 shot-for-shot, and A&E just launched their new television series prequel to the film, “Bates Motel.” Something about this material still strikes a chord with viewers, and it would be fun to watch a documentary that tries to uncover why while examining the Bates mythos, revealing its origins in real life cases like serial killer Ed Gein and the novel by Robert Bloch, and comparing each generation’s unique interpretation of this boy and his unlikely, undying best friend.
Until Someone Makes It, Watch: Tom Snyder’s audio interview with Stephen Rebello, author of the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho,'” which inspired the recent film “Hitchcock” starring Anthony Hopkins.
For more on “Room 237,” check out Criticwire’s interview with Ascher from last year’s Fantastic Fest.