Dialogue with Rodney Ascher

Rodney Ascher directed the documentary, Room 237 (2012), about the different interpretations of The Shining (1980), by Stanley Kubrick.

The Joker’s masks appeared during demonstrations worldwide, reminding Salvador Dali’s from La Casa de Papel or Guy Fawkes’s, from V for Vendetta, but few people now that Wikileaks and the Anonymous wore the mask to avoid Scientology retaliation after embarrassing publications. How do you explain that ?

I remember being struck by the Guy Fawkes mask from my first read of V for Vendetta (I was lucky enough to encounter it first when it was serialized in Warrior Magazine.)  It was strange, especially as a fan of Alan Moore’s from the 80s, as the decades passed, to see the mask move from that fairly obscure (at least at the beginning) piece of fiction into our reality and then for it to show up in wildly different, increasingly public contexts. I was sure it was peaking during the Anonymous thing but then it kept going and I felt like I new a little secret most people didn’t.

As someone who spends perhaps too much time thinking about things like V for Vendetta (or even to a lesser extent, the conclusion of Joker) what impresses me isn’t that the public at large doesn’t remember the complicated origins of these sorts of icons, but that the world is so full of things like that – major cultural artifacts that only a relatively small number of people know the history of because of their personal obsessions.

Did you read about this experiment from the CIA to prove humans had super powers, before realizing their scientist, Harold Puthoff, was himself a scientologist?

No but it sounds like there could be a pretty good satire of a Marvel movie in it.

Eyes Wide Shut is probably the climax of all conspiracy theories, since the daughter of the director joined the church of scientology. Did you know she was the great-niece on her mother’s side of Veit Harlan, personal director of Adolf Hitler:  (Kolberg, Jude Suss) ?

I read of one especially tense dinner Kubrick had with Veit in a biography, but I don’t remember too many of the details.

It is interesting how many conspiracy theories swirl around Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut, but I haven’t come across any meaningful connection between Harlan and Scientology in particular. But, as you say, that film inspired and endless number of them (mostly about the Illuminati) and last I checked, it hasn’t stopped. The fact that he died before it was released is no doubt a major factor.

L.Ron Hubbard was the descendant of the DeWolf Clan, one of the richest family in America, who made their fortune from slave trade. He wanted to realize a movie with Leni Riefenstahl, the personal documentarist of Adolf HItler. What did you think of the movie directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master, and of the performances of P.S.Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Remi Malek?

I’m a fan of it, and of PTA in general. For me that one began a series of his films that are messier and more unpredictable than the earlier ones, something that makes me more interested in rewatching them. If Boogie Nights is an insanely entertaining and satisfying film, the Master (like the Shining) is as unresolved as it is filled with jaw-dropping set-pieces and performances. I think the fact that I lose the thread at some point in every watch is why I want to try again to solve it on another viewing. Similarly, the Shining is filled with contradictions and unsolved mysteries – even the photo at the end is presented as a “Rosebud” moment but if anything, it brings up even more questions. I think that’s why I’ve watched The Shining exponentially more often than something like the 6th Sense which is a great little horror/thriller but wraps up the loose ends so neatly I can walk away untroubled.

Is it possible that the Shinning could refer to Kubrick’s own anxiety towards his wife ? Can we find any references to Nazism in 2001, space odyssey and A clockwork Orange ?

That was Jay Weidner’s theory about it – he saw Jack’s responsibility to the hotel as a metaphor for Kubrick’s responsibility to maintain a secret conspiracy, even from his family. I haven’t read any other readings of the movie that were that explicit about it. Personally I see the film as a dramatization of a father/husband torn between his responsibilities and his ambitions and temptations, and that problem certainly describes a lot of us.

To your second question, there are some Nazi newsreels shown to Alex during the Ludovico technique but that’s about it for direct references, at least that I’m remembering. Doctor Strangelove is another story of course.

Still, 2001 and A Clockwork Orange both talk a little about Fascism in their ways. The Government in Clockwork looks is leaning that way and Alex’s own nihilism could be the lesser of two evils. In 2001, the first thing the ape-men do with their monolith-given wisdom is beat their rivals into submission with weapons. Famously, the bone then transitions to a sattelite, (described as a nuclear missile launcher in the book) so he’s pinning technology, evolution, and civilization together with weapons of war. Perhaps the Star-Child is a utopian, post-military/fascism future we can aspire to. Its sort of the flip side to Alex at the end of Clockwork, no? Two different ways to oppose fascism – nihilism and transcendence.

About the Author
Alexandre Gilbert is the director of the Chappe gallery since 2005. He lives and works in Paris.
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