REVIEW: The Nightmare

17 06 2015

The NightmareImagine you are a young child again, and you have just woken up from the worst dream of your life.  Terrified, you run into your parents’ bedroom, climb onto their mattress, and recount every detail of the terrible vision.  Then, imagine them laughing at you.

You have just envisioned the experience that is Rodney Ascher’s documentary “The Nightmare.”

The director interviews eight subjects suffering from sleep paralysis, a condition where a person becomes unable to escape their night terrors and loses control of their muscular functions.  From the descriptions of the afflicted, which Ascher recreates for the audience, the experience sounds absolutely harrowing.  Sleep paralysis is nothing short of the supernatural in our natural world.

Yet Ascher seems to not only doubt them but sneer at them.  He might have kept a poker face for the interviews themselves, sure.  But in the editing room, Ascher stands over them with an ironic remove and presents them for mockery.  “The Nightmare” disrespects its subjects by discrediting them, mostly by making their stories all run together as if some kind of elaborate scam.

His last documentary feature, “Room 237,” could get away with gently mocking its subjects because Ascher participated in the joke.  In his mockery of cinephilia by interviewing some rather ardent Kubrick devotees, Ascher himself created the ultimate document of cinephilia.  “The Nightmare,” however, just reduces sleep paralysis victims into the pitiable loons from one of Ascher’s short docs, “The S From Hell.”

Ascher would do well to study the proper first response to sexual assault survivors – “I believe you” – and apply it to his next documentary.  Filmmakers should help alleviate the burden of the helpless who suffer injury.  They should not add insult to it.  C2stars





REVIEW: Room 237

26 01 2015

Room 237Aside from showing how far the “fair use” exemption of American copyright can be extended, Rodney Ascher’s unique documentary “Room 237” is a film that demonstrates how the cult of auteurism has run amuck to its point of logical absurdity.  The cinephiles and film analysts he spotlights stretch the theory that a director is responsible for every detail in every frame almost to farcical extremes.

The images of Ascher’s documentary, or potentially a feature-length video essay, come entirely from Stanley Kubrick’s cult classic horror film “The Shining” (as well as a few of his other films to play the part of B-roll).  The words are all provided by five people convinced they know the secret meaning underlying every minute of that film.  Depending on which one of them you ask, “The Shining” is really about sexuality, the Holocaust, the genocide of Native Americans, the entirety of the human family, history’s collective amnesia, or even an apology for faking the moon landing.

Each interviewee has to adopt a certain attitude to how playful or serious Kubrick was in his crafting of the film, selectively pulling from film criticism to make their arguments irrefutable.  All seem to agree, however, that Kubrick is infallible, completely incapable of making a continuity error, mistake or oversight.  Nothing could be chalked up to coincidence, for Kubrick oversaw every speck in every frame.  A so-called “impossible window” could not possibly a snafu given that there were two different sets for the film.

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