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Two Documentaries You Must See

Room 237 and Searching for Sugar Man

Features Co-Editor

Published: Friday, April 19, 2013

Updated: Saturday, April 20, 2013 14:04

Room 237

At Holy Cross, we have the opportunity to take classes that allow us to explore strange, and sometimes radical, interpretations of novels, poems, criticisms, and films; we spend hours writing papers to support a claim that we make on a reading of Plato’s “Allegory of The Cave” or Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. In Rodney Ascher’s stellar documentary Room 237, we are given several of these academic interpretations of Stanley Kubrick’s classic film, The Shining.

   For anyone who has seen the thriller The Shining and thought afterward, “what does it mean?” then watch this film. The film is a documentary that compiles several theories about motifs that Kubrick may have carried out in the film. While The Shining is over thirty years old, it is clear that the potential meanings from the film continue to be hot topics today.

   Room 237 essentially explores five different theories by narration and visual keys. The themes discussed are generally about added clues to perhaps the overall messages of Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of Stephen King’s novel. One theme discussed is the idea that the film is actually about the genocide and American governmental dissonance of the Native Americans, considering the large amount of Native American motifs and “clues” that are continued throughout. Another theme, perhaps the most controversial (and thereby the most intriguing) theme discussed is the idea that Kubrick himself was involved, somehow, in the staging and cover-shot process of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Room 237 additionally allows the viewer to investigate the mirror technique in The Shining, a motif that is strongly present in the superficial plot; the movie traces the weird techniques that Kubrick uses by playing it backwards and forwards, overlapping the two opposite ends of the movie.

The film raises interesting questions about governmental secrecy (or even Hollywood secrecy) that cannot be answered today, since Kubrick’s death. We are forced to think about Kubrick’s obvious incoherence to Stephen King’s original novel in which The Shining was based: why did Kubrick make those choices to blatantly change key aspects to King’s original story? This question itself sparks an interesting argument.

   While some arguments presented are not as convincing as others, this film is a great watch for the critical students that we are, here at Holy Cross. If you’ve seen The Shining, definitely rent or buy this film; it is not to be missed.

Sugar Man

It’s the most talked about documentary of the year: Searching for Sugar Man recently won “Best Documentary Film” in the eighty-fifth Academy Awards. This extraordinary film begins in Cape Town, South Africa, explaining the cultural importance of American musician Sixto Rodriguez to South Africa, particularly during the time of the Apartheid.

   Director Malik Bendjelloul tells the story of two long-time Rodriguez fans, Stephen Segerman and Craig Strydom, who set off to figure out everything they can about this musician, who reportedly committed a violent suicide onstage due to low record sales and depression.

   Rodriguez produced his first record Cold Fact in 1970, followed by Coming From Reality in 1971; both were extremely unsuccessful in the United States. However, in an odd turn of events, songs from these albums were tremendously popular outside of the United Stated, particular in South Africa, where Rodriguez’s music (particularly Cold Fact) united the underground music scene during the Apartheid. Many of his songs came to serve as anti-Apartheid anthems in South Africa; his songs even inspired bands with similar sounds.

   This South African fame was unknown to Rodriguez, whose origins and residence were unknown until recently as outlined in this movie.

   As viewers, we, too, are forced to “search” for Sixto Rodriguez as we follow loyal Rodriguez fans’ discovery of certain information about Rodriguez and his past. It is almost as if we are given a treasure map of where to find the history of Rodriguez, and we follow the clues to find the treasure: and what a remarkable treasure this movie is. This stunning documentary is far from a biopic: we receive an unbelievably satisfying ending, and an even better, overall a wonderful story about what a great man, and musician, Sixto Rodriguez was.

   You absolutely must watch this movie (that’s all I can give away about it). I promise, as the Academy wasn’t, you surely won’t be disappointed. Oh, and download the amazing soundtrack: Rodriguez’s music is a mixture between Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney.

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