Film

CinemaDope: Hurts So Good

The strange allure of bad movies

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Thursday, December 01, 2011
Photo Courtesy of DEFA Film Library, UMass-Amherst
Percussionist Gunter "Baby" Sommer and saxophonist Dietmar Diesner make music in A Place in Berlin.

In the end, nobody really likes most movies. And why should they? The vast majority of films released every year are mere place-fillers; second-rate fluff and puff designed to be bland enough to appeal to a wide swath of American tastes. If they can last a weekend or two—the time when most films are destined to make back their investment, or not, as the case may be—then they may (financially speaking) merit a sequel, but let's be honest: who cares all that much about the next movie adapted from a Nicholas Sparks weepie? Can you even remember the last one?

Great movies, on the other hand, stand on their own; they embed themselves into our consciousness so thoroughly that one needn't have seen Taxi Driver to understand what's happening when someone asks, "You talkin' to me?" and surely not everyone who mangles Bogie's lines has actually seen Casablanca. Great movies, in other words, don't really need us to like them.

The movies that need us the most, then, are those that just wouldn't make it on their own. The dogs. The lovable, laughable losers that are so sure of themselves that somewhere along the way we end up rooting for them. Ed Wood may be the best known of the B-movie makers, but there are legions of others that followed in his footsteps. They don't all make it to the B level. This week, one of the most infamous of these films—it has been called "the Citizen Kane of bad movies" by film studies professor Ross Morin—comes to Pleasant Street Theater's series of midnight movies.

The film is The Room, written and directed by Tommy Wiseau, who also acts in the leading role. Though it's ostensibly a hard-hitting drama about a love triangle, Wiseau's acting and directing is so over the top (and paired with an accent that is equal parts Schwarzenegger and Tasmanian Devil) that he has taken to advertising the film as a dark comedy instead of the self-promoting acting vehicle he presumably meant it to be. Mere words cannot fully express what you'll see onscreen; for a sample of the scenery-chewing, a quick visit to YouTube will work wonders.

But if his thespian chops have yet to be recognized, Wiseau may yet have the last laugh. After he paid rent on a Hollywood billboard for years to promote the film, word spread. Paul Rudd was an early proselytizer, and Arrested Development's David Cross and Will Arnett became fans after curiosity about the billboard got the better of them; soon the film became a Hollywood in-joke, shorthand humor used by actors between takes to crack each other up.

It wasn't long before it spread past the soundstage, and today Wiseau's magnum opus is shown regularly at midnight screenings, where it has attained a Rocky Horror-like reputation. (As with that film, The Room's devotees go so far as to perform elaborate audience participation rituals at certain points in the film.) For a taste of what can make bad seem so good, head to Pleasant Street at midnight on Friday, Dec. 2.

*

Also this week: Two events mix the music and film worlds in the coming days. First up, on the 2nd, the DEFA Film Library at UMass-Amherst wraps up its latest film series with a concert—percussionist G?nter "Baby" Sommer, seen in the film library's screening of A Place in Berlin, performs with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith at 8 p.m. at Bezanson Recital Hall at UMass-Amherst. And on Dec. 6 at 7 p.m., Cinemark Theaters in Hadley kick off the Christmas season with a broadcast offering that is so perfectly summed up by its title that I can do no more than repeat it: Chicago The Band Presents An Evening Of Holiday Music And Greatest Hits."

Jack Brown can be reached at cinemadope@gmail.com.

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