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Stanley Kubrick's Producer Jan Harlan Says 'The Shining' Doc 'Room 237' Is "Idiotic"

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by Kevin Jagernauth
March 31, 2014 12:24 PM
37 Comments
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The Shining

Within the walls of The Playlist, we don't always agree on everything. While I found Rodney Ascher's "Room 237" to be a pretty terrific, fascinating and funny look at the wild ways Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" has inspired tin foil hat types, others don't agree. Around the office, another colleague says it's a "trashy conspiracy theory fanboy movie that illuminates nothing." And he has found a kindred spirit in Kubrick's longtime producer Jan Harlan.

Speaking at the Bermuda International Film Festival, Harlan was asked about "Room 237," and he made no secret of his dislike for the doc. "Ah, so idiotic. Of course I did. There's nothing to like. It's just dumb. I mean [the filmmaker] obviously waited until Kubrick died," he said. "This happened to him in many cases, also this whole story about him doing a fake moon landing. This was only possible after he was dead. People come like worms; they creep out and take advantage of a guy who can't sue from the grave. At any rate, I don't worry about things like that."

In my opinion, Ascher's film is more of celebration of how one film can inspire so many wildly different (and crazy) interpretations, and doesn't necessarily put stock in them. But if you're looking for some kind of insight into the making of the movie or Kubrick's intentions, you surely will be left cold.

Thoughts? Is Jan Harlan on the money or missing the point? Tell us below. [via Indiewire]

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37 Comments

  • Garvey McPherrin | May 8, 2014 3:11 AMReply

    Check out who Jan Harlan's uncle is…a famous Nazi filmmaker (Veit Harlan - Jew Süss - 1940). The world is complicated, why not ponder at possibilities? It amazes me how detractors predicatably call inquisitive people "nuts" & "foilers" at the drop of a unique question. 95% of us folks know nothing of the world through school, books, and media. There is not enough reasons to rule theories out. Besides doesn't it make "The Shining" more fun? Harlan could have at least had an educated response, but instead chose a boring childish response, with no wit, or salute to film fans who are studying his brother-in-law's work.

  • Just A Fan | April 7, 2014 8:50 PMReply

    Regardless of the accuracy of Room 237, I'm always skeptical when I hear a collaborator make public comments about Kubrick's intentions or what his reactions would be today. Frederic Raphael, screenwriter of Eyes Wide Shut, seemed so affected by Kubrick's distant and private creative style that he wrote an entire book about it called Eyes Wide Open. I doubt many people who worked with Kubrick actually knew what his real intentions were. I'm not saying anything about the credibility of the theories in Room 237. I am saying that people claiming to have been close enough to Kubrick to know his true intentions are probably self-aggrandizing just a bit.

  • Sam | April 1, 2014 10:18 PMReply

    I think he hit the nail on the head with Room 237. Kubrick was most certainly a Jew. After watching this Doc I'm convinced that Kubrick was very much a typical Jew. So it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest to see all this weirdism and perverse sexual innuendo and allusions to the Evil of white Gentiles. These are the things that most Jews think about all the time, never once even considering the ultimate evil of their own tribe.

  • James | April 1, 2014 5:16 PMReply

    I agree, I don't think that room 237 is to be taken in any way as serious in relation to the theories explored, instead I think it is quite apparently about the love of film, how intelligent is this producer anyway? And he believes eyes wide shut to be better than 2001, clockwork orange and the shining.

  • Trent | April 1, 2014 3:40 PMReply

    Morgan, I agree with you that Room 237. It just contributed to my love of The Shining. I thought that it was completely outside of The Shining, and highlighted how obsessive we can all be about certain movies, how some of them get under our skin and never go away. Room 237 isn't even a documentary - there's nothing that is being documented, and there's nothing objective about it. It's an essay film. I don't understand Harlan's dislike for the film - I didn't think there was anything defamatory about The Shining or Kubrick - I don't think this came about only because Kubrick has passed away, but rather that the Internet has brought to the surface these kind of collective obsessions and put us all in touch with each other. In 1998 and 1999, fresh off Kubrick's passing, I just don't think these theorists could have been easily found. Additionally, the Internet encourages this kind of obsession, so that's why it was made now and not 14 or 15 years ago. I also would have expected someone in his position to understand how a perfectionist like Kubrick could make films that incite this kind of behavior in film fans. For this reason I very much enjoyed Room 237.

  • Morgan Yam | April 1, 2014 2:24 PMReply

    He'd have much more creed if he didn't consider EYES WIDE SHUT his favorite Kubrick film. By any standard--including those of the nut jobs in ROOM 237--that was an absolute abomination. All I could think was that old man Stanley was looking for a reason to ogle beautiful naked women. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

  • Trent | April 1, 2014 3:33 PM

    I'm a massive Kubrick fan and I think EWS is his masterpiece. If you think it's Kubrick's way of ogling beautiful naked women, then this is how you saw the film as well, which is to say you missed the point entirely. Without a hint of sarcasm, I must say: I'm really sorry you missed out on EWS. I hope you see it for what it truly is some day. Cheers.

  • Morgan Yam | April 1, 2014 2:25 PM

    That was "CRED," dammit - spell check!

  • zeldy345 | April 1, 2014 1:42 PMReply

    Who still cares about an author/director's "intentions?" Have you missed the last 40 plus years of critical theory?!

  • simon sharp | April 1, 2014 7:16 AMReply

    I watched Room 237 and thought it an interesting doc. My main thought while watching it was 'have any of these voices read the book?". After watching I bought the book which explained a lot about Kubrick's motivations. Especially the Native American symbolism. In the book King has Danny fixated on a comic book with deadly Native Americans hiding in the shadows, hiding in plain sight of the cowboys. Instead of filming this Kubrick cleverly had this imagery constant throughout the film (food cans, posters, tee-pees). Thus deadly Native Americans hiding in plain sight. As for Room 237's explanation of the 7UP cans. Haven't these people ever heard of PRODUCT PLACEMENT. Chiefs!

  • BROTH | April 1, 2014 4:40 AMReply

    Room 237 does not contribute anything to a deeper understanding of the movie, although I think it is a fascinating view into the human psyche (how our mind look for even the worst excuse of an evidence to support our theory). My problem with the movie is mainly the form and dramaturgy. It's very monotonous.

  • spassky | April 1, 2014 2:01 AMReply

    After constantly being reminded to watch it (even being reminded by the know nothing bartender at johnny brendas who didn't have any insight whatsoever into its meaning) I watched and thought it was a horribly constructed documentary/film. It did nothing but remind me of the emptiness of film criticism.

  • K. Bowen | March 31, 2014 9:27 PMReply

    Watched The Shining on Sundance Channel Friday ... I suspect there's something to the Native American genocide interpretation expressed in Room 237. To what extent and effect are the questions.

  • Daniel | April 1, 2014 2:48 AM

    Well, it's the least far-fetched of all the interpretations because the film addresses it more directly, but it's still something of a stretch to place it at the center of the filmmaker's intent.

  • Elias | March 31, 2014 5:42 PMReply

    I felt repulsed by Room 237. I just plane got up and walked out of the London film festival screening in 2012 with the director and one of the 'theorists' present. Strong reaction, I know. It even surprised me but I genuinely had no choice. I made an excuse to my wife and nephew and just walked out. Why? I hold The Shining in a seriously high regard. Higher than I realised. This doc took swipe after swipe at the movie. It had nothing to offer by way of insight into The Shining. I thing I wanted to see fans break the movie down and discus the merits of Kubrick's choices and decisions but the relentlessly petty pedantry of the people chosen to feature felt like they were shitting on one of my most cherished films. I was unable to divorce the subject of the doc, the obsessive people, with the material they were obsessing about. I got up and left to keep the images intact in my mind and not cut to shreds by random unfunny theories with super slo mo and zooms into irrelevant corners of the frame. "oh Stanley Kubrick never had irrelevant corners in his frames" Bullshit. I like to look behind the curtain too but in this instance I felt it tipped over into mockery. Disrespectful.

  • alphabet | March 31, 2014 4:27 PMReply

    I agree with Harlan. You Playlist folk pushed Room 237 pretty hard, and I was psyched for it... and then was really, really disappointed. This is a YouTube conspiracy flick that Kubrick would have blocked from wide release were he around. While I can appreciate that ultimately the doc becomes about unique perspectives and obsession... it still gets dreadfully boring, and is borderline offensive in it's slapdash use of repurposed Kubrick footage. The best part of the Blu-Ray is the Q&A panel from a screening - where Kubrick stalwart Leon Vitali continuously expounds the same viewpoint as Harlan - that the film is mostly ridiculous idiocy.

  • Slen | March 31, 2014 3:38 PMReply

    Not only is the content of the film just mental cases with inane theories, the production behind it is awful. It feels like an amateur film school student film meant for YouTube. Can't even edit audio properly.

  • az | March 31, 2014 2:56 PMReply

    Just saw this quote from Harlan and it's got me so pissed I'm on a comment rampage. "The Shining was a walk in the park, because it's easy, you can do whatever you like. Nothing has to make sense, it doesn't matter you can do what you like." You'd think if you'd pulled off a great cinematic con trick you'd be smart enough not to call the fans, who I assume have lined Mr Harlan's pockets, idiotic. So the anointed cinematic Master was doing nothing more than pissing in the wind, at huge expense and indulgence. I had my suspicions, it seemed like he got his ass bit when Clockwork Orange alarmed him; you shouldn't f**k around with a powerful visual medium and not expect to get burnt. Feels like Emperor's New Clothes, but it's Harlan and the Kubrick estate that have shouted out 'the king's naked'. I wouldn't be so pissed at the news his films were empty if they weren't so goddam boring to boot, that must be around 14 hours of my life I'll never get back.

  • superbsubpar | April 3, 2014 4:32 PM

    I'm a fan of Kubrick. But I totally get your point. I do think both the Shining and Eyes Wide Shut are very overrated and most of the credit they receive is due to the name of the director. If they had been made by some unknown director I'm sure they would not have been as praised. And yes that quote is pretty lame but it speaks more to Harlan's pretentiousness than Kubrick's. Kubrick was the artist and no one can really ever know his true artistic intention. Harlan is just an artless businessman, so who cares about his opinion.
    I thought Room 237 was horribly made but I appreciated the different insights on The Shining. Subliminally I had picked up on some of those ideas in the many times that I watched the film. But it was fun and funny to here such interesting theories laid out so elaborately. It made me want to watch the movie again after long giving up on it. I do think that Kubrick had a very refined and completely unique way of delivering messages and I do hope that there is more to both of those films than I've been able to grasp at this point.

  • az | April 1, 2014 3:09 AM

    Humility for the vast majority? Screw you! Don't give me that dictatorial bullshit. If you really want to go there the vast majority haven't a clue who Kubrick even is. However, pissing contest aside, the reason for a comments section is discussion for varying points of view and opinion, so you'd have been better served to have thrown The Killing, Lolita and Paths of Glory in my face than waste of space uppity insults, I'd have given you those three as clear evidence of a impressive talent committed to story telling, before the sheep blindly anointed Kubrick king of kings, gave him a blank check and consequently destroyed his critical faculties.

  • droop | March 31, 2014 5:38 PM

    Pffft, eyes wide shut boring, pfffft I say! That's just like your opinion man so maybe show some humility for the vast majority who think this guy was amazing, you bombastic contrarian philistine

  • az | March 31, 2014 4:54 PM

    Hardly original, it's a well worn position, many talk of losing interest in Full Metal Jacket when D'Onofrio exits, who wasn't bored by Eyes Wide Shut, the wild theories around The Shining are more interesting than the actual movie which was derided until these theories bore fruit in the minds of cinema goers, finally anyone who deludes themselves that Barry Lyndon is anything but a time to dive into your own dream world needs to be checked for a pulse. Watching vivid, colourful paint drying is still watching paint drying but add a messiah legend and suddenly it's a projective test.

  • Mark | March 31, 2014 3:35 PM

    Kubrick's films are boring? An original, if useless, point of view I suppose.

  • TA | March 31, 2014 2:35 PMReply

    It sounds to me like he's admitting to Kubrick faking the moon landing.

  • md | March 31, 2014 1:49 PMReply

    he missed the point. "Room 237" invoked the same type of fascination with all things mysterious and intangible that Kubrick himself returned to film after film. Harlan's "Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures" was a by-the-book doc that effectively spoon fed the audience Kubrick's life in the most simplest and straight forward way, but Ascher's doc was a spiritual companion to Kubrick's work, and a far more interesting film in my opinion.

  • spassky | April 1, 2014 2:04 AM

    Agreed... "No."

    Reassess if you think "A Life in Pictures" isn't illuminating. Seriously. Take a look at yourself.

  • Mark | March 31, 2014 3:34 PM

    No.

  • Marko | March 31, 2014 1:44 PMReply

    Hold up. Someone at The Playlist office called a film a "trashy conspiracy theory fanboy movie that illuminates nothing", and it wasn't Kevin Jagernauth?

  • cattt | March 31, 2014 1:43 PMReply

    Why would Kubrick want to sue anyone involved with the film? People have different (crazy) theories, that's hardly offensive.

  • alphabet | March 31, 2014 4:21 PM

    I was kind of offended by 237's use of repurposed Kubrick footage - opening with footage of Cruise from Eyes Wide Shut, but featuring poorly-comped in Shining posters... SK would have blocked this film, for sure.

  • Dissenting opinion | March 31, 2014 1:33 PMReply

    The idea that the moon landing was faked did not start with Room 237, but curiously, the movie is used as an endless reference to the supposed ludicrousness of that theory. The fact that Kubrick was himself directing a realistic sci fi film involving lunar landscapes and landings at the same time naturally may connect him to the act of "faking it" in some minds. The fake indignation to what is just common sense expresses volumes. I would suggest people study up on the subject instead of regurgitating their establishment apologizing ignorance.

  • spassky | April 1, 2014 2:06 AM

    aaaand... you're probably a crazy person.

  • az | March 31, 2014 12:50 PMReply

    If you choose to produce a crazy, unfathomable dream movie you better pray there'll be legions of fans willing to see a ton of crap in it, otherwise all you're left with is a crazy unfathomable movie no one ever wants to see again.

  • Washington | March 31, 2014 12:38 PMReply

    No shit

  • Anonymouse | March 31, 2014 12:34 PMReply

    i value your interpretation of the film but also found a lot of it [the doc] to be rather devoid of common sense, too. the moon landing bit, especially.

  • bohmer | March 31, 2014 12:34 PMReply

    Harlan is right of course, that "film" was batshit crazy.

  • spassky | April 1, 2014 2:08 AM

    it was less "batshit crazy" and more just "banal fanboy drivel."

    "Batshit crazy" would have at least been interesting and, more importantly, original.

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