I caught up with Dark Star only a few years back, at one of the Music Box‘s science-fiction marathons. I was pleased to discover that Dark Star ranks among John Carpenter’s best, while at the same time standing out due to its odd, grim humor. (Kubrick’s influence hangs over the picture, which pokes lovingly not only at 2001—just look at the opening scene—but Dr. Strangelove.) Much of the comedy is also due to the presence of writer/star/production designer/editor Dan O’Bannon, the brilliant screenwriter behind Alien and Total Recall and Lifeforce. Appropriately, Dark Star contains lots of swipes from Philip K. Dick, as well as some ideas that would later infiltrate Alien: the cramped and tedious corporate working condition, an ornery alien creature running amok…
I put off seeing The Room for a long time. Some friends told me it was so terrible that it was good, and me, being a real smartypants, thought I knew what they meant by that, and ignored their requests that I join them for midnight screenings at the Music Box (some of them featuring appearances by writer/director/producer/star Tommy Wiseau). This was in 2008 or 2009 or so.
Then, some time after that, my friend Justin, over one of the holidays, sat me down in front of his laptop and made me watch the thing with him. (He couldn’t believe that I hadn’t yet seen it.) And I was, as so many others have been, immediately captivated. (Since which time I’ve seen it numerous times, including once at midnight at the Music Box. Tommy Wiseau was supposed to show up, but he cancelled.)
My friends were mistaken in one thing: The Room is not “so terrible that it’s good.” The Room isn’t terrible. It’s also not good. It exists beyond labels like “good” and “terrible,” in some other realm, possibly the realm of outsider art. You can see that Tommy Wiseau wanted to make a film, that he was able to amass many of the tools that people traditionally use when making films—but he used them to assemble something other than a film. It looks a lot like a film, to be sure. You can watch it, and should. But it is something very other.
Luckily, that thing, whatever it may be, is bewilderingly adorable.