Room 666 Review

The idea behind Wim Wenders’ documentary Room 666 is a simple one, both in its concept and execution. At the Cannes Festival of May 1982, Wenders set up a static camera in an empty hotel room for a number of directors to come in and give their thoughts, alone to the camera, on the future of cinema. With the growth in popularity of television, is cinema a dying artform?

Inevitably, the responses to this question are as varied as the directors who take part in the documentary – Jean-Luc Godard, Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Monte Hellman, Paul Morrissey, Steven Spielberg and Michelangelo Antonioni among them – some of them pessimistic and deeply cynical, others realistic but uncertain about the viability of the relationship between commerce and art, others cautiously optimistic about the artists freedom of expression and the medium’s capability to grow and expand to take in new technological advancements. Overall, in a short documentary – it’s only 44 minutes long - they do however give a fairly wide viewpoint on the subject, even if the views expressed are fairly personal outlooks and, perhaps unsurprisingly, you could probably guess which camp each director falls into before you watch the film.

The “interviews” are of varying lengths and most of them are mere snippets of thoughts and ideas, all improvised, as none of the directors appear to have any knowledge of the subject of the documentary until they read the question from a piece of paper left in the room. Inevitably, some responses are rather off-the-cuff, the longest and most rambling coming from Jean-Luc Godard. Godard’s freewheeling association of ideas and images are often abstruse but, as always, he makes marvellously original observations, believing that fewer and fewer movies are being made, since in effect they all using the same familiar story. The title may change, but it is the same film. With the aid of television, the American dream of having only one movie can then be realised, one that achieves global domination. How much Godard really believes what he says is of course hard to judge, but it has an underlying truth and the imagery he evokes is typically brilliant and original.

The remainder of the interviews take much more conventional standpoints; Paul Morrissey believing that cinema is already a dead art-form and that it is “critics more than anything that have destroyed films”; Monte Hellman talking about the future of cinema from his own home viewing habits; Werner Herzog not at all concerned about the future, believing that cinema has its own aesthetic that will preserve it from television, something Robert Kramer agrees with, seeing freedom of expression in the making of cinema. Steven Spielberg, although similarly optimistic, is rather more concerned with the economics and the growing cost of filmmaking, meaning that the industry dictates what gets made – and his views coincide with Godard’s view that Hollywood wants movies to be one thing for everyone, which is of course impossible.

Romain Goupil, assistant director to Godard on Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie), and just starting to make his own films, feels a similar frustration about the filmmaking industry, but more in the cumbersome process it involves in getting a film made. He believes that cinema needs to change and adapt to new technologies to survive. It’s a view that Michelangelo Antonioni supports, with his experiment in high-definition video filmmaking, both directors clearly looking towards a future that is now only becoming available through Digital Video. Wenders uses his own appearance in front of the camera to warn of another threats to filmmakers – their freedom – playing a taped answer to his question from Yilmaz Güney, a Turkish director unable to stay at Cannes due to an extradition order.

Room 666 is released in the UK by Anchor Bay. The DVD is only available as part of their 10-disc Wim Wenders Collection boxset. The film is presented on a single-layer disc in PAL format and is encoded for Region 2.

You wouldn’t expect there to be too many problems with a short 44 minute film on a barebones single-layer disc, particularly as the camera remains static for almost the whole length of the film. And indeed, there are very few problems to report. It’s possibly a little light and underexposed, but this is probably more to do with the backlighting of the window and the need to have a wide enough focus for those interviewees who choose not to remain seated in one position. Surprisingly however, considering there is no camera movement, the image is not perfectly stable and shows evidence of macroblocking compression artefacts. They are hardly noticeable however, and of little consequence in a documentary film like this.

The audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and, somewhat redundantly, in Dolby Digital 5.1. There practically no difference between them, both mixes allowing those speaking to be clearly audible.

Optional English subtitles are provided only for those sections that are not spoken in English. The white font is a little more readable than most of the other discs in the Wim Wenders Collection.

There are no extra features on the disc.

Room 666 inevitably has more interest now as a document of where cinema and certain film directors were at that point in time. All of their views can still be seen as relevant however, and cinema could still be regarded as a dead artform, just as much as it can be regarded as having evolved into something new. With the expansion into home cinema, digital filmmaking and internet distribution, the same question about the future of cinema could be asked today and the answers would probably be much the same as those given by the film directors of the class of Cannes 1982. Some of those directors seen here – notably Godard - have embraced those new technologies and used them to expand the language of filmmaking, holding off for the moment – but only just – the realisation of Godard’s ominous premonition of Hollywood’s global domination and homogenisation of cinema.

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Last updated: 25/07/2018 20:14:47

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