Archive for Dark Star

Dark Star (aka I Know You’re Flawed But I Still Love You)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on June 11, 2009 by babydylan

When I was a youngster I watched a series of docos on SBS that taught me a lot about film. I knew that I was into it, but I also knew that I knew nothing. I had just watched Fargo and decided that it was the greatest thing ever made, but I knew that I was just beginning to scratch the surface of what films had to offer, so I decided to make a conscious effort and learn more about it.

My first steps involved hiring out different books from the library, and getting my parents and their friends to write down lists of films that they really liked. Also, there was a series of docos advertised on SBS about different filmmakers, which I made a point of watching. The weird guy who used to introduce films on SBS (the one with the lopsided mouth that made him look like he had a stroke) used to introduce an hour long doco on a director, and then two of their films which would play after.

The first I think was on John Waters (try and imagine the effect he had on me, I was ten. I remember seeing Divine Trash eating a dog turd off the ground and a lady with crazy pink hair keeping someone prisoner is their basement, things that stay with a boy for life. But I learnt soon after that the turd was a metaphor for like….violence or rubbish in the media so I tried to view it from that perspective, but it still puzzled me). The second I think was on Mario Bava and the third was on Dario Argento (again this had an unsettling effect, I was beginning to regret my decision on trying to learn about new filmmakers) the other two I can’t remember but the last, the lucky last….was on John Carpenter.

Dark Star - note the buttons, actually ice cube tray. Rocking the budget.

Dark Star - note the buttons, actually ice cube tray. Rocking the budget.

He really struck a cord with me because he wrote the music for all of his films, and he seemed to be the most normal of the filmmakers that had been interviewed so far. Because I was young I was still naïve enough to think that all films were made for entertainment, yet these doco’s were teaching me that films were also a form of expression. Some directors were using that medium to create art, or as John Water’s put it, to ‘shock, tease and excite the viewers’. Because Carpenter and his work seemed to be the least challenging at the time, I decided that he was the director who I was going to be obsessed with, so I wrote down the names of all of his films and tried to watch them as soon as I could.

The doco on Carpenter was followed by two of his most ‘important’ pictures, Halloween and Dark Star. Both had been discussed quite a lot in the doco, Halloween because it set the precedent for films like Scream and I Know What You did Last Summer (and pretty much every slasher film after) and was incredibly popular upon its release, and the later because it was Carpenter’s first feature and was made over a few years on a ridiculously small budget.

That barely begins to touch the surface of why Dark Star is so amazingly awesome, and so perfectly perfect. It began as a short film about four astronauts who are far away from home, they have been stuck together for too long and are slowly going insane….

Amazingly awesome cover

Amazingly awesome cover

Carpenter completed the film whilst at film school and after it was finished, he could see its potential to be a full length feature film. He drafted a longer screenplay with his collaborator Dan O’Bannon, who also stars in the film (yes the same Dan O’Bannon who wrote the screenplay for Alien, my heart truly weeps at the amount of talent in this film). They wrote an extended story based on the footage already shot, and then they began to build the props and sets for the film using simple house-hold items.

This is the films shining light, the stupidly quirky and quaint props that look authentic and real, but at the same time incredibly out of place. The dials and knobs in the shuttle are actually beer cans sawed in half and cup cake trays spray painted and stuck on the wall, the space suit is an old Halloween costume with a painted vacuum cleaner stuck on the back, and the alien, the token monster in the film who is onboard their space ship, is a painted beach ball with two rakes as its feet. To use a shameless ‘Clueless’ quote, the film is a Monet. If you view it from far away, with your eyes dimmed, you’d think it was a big budget sci-fi film with top notch special effects, but when up close you realise how low budget and old school it is, like the sets are made from sticky tape and optimism. Personally, this is why I love it. Its like a three legged dog or a toddler with a mono-brow, you just want to give it a hug as soon as you see it because its so special and cute and it tries so hard…..

The monster = scariest beach ball ever.

The monster = scariest beach ball ever.

Also, Carpenter didn’t need special effects or a bid budget to convey the boredom and insanity of the characters, which is the point of the film. The most poignant scene is towards the beginning of the picture, when the characters converge in a bedroom which looks like an abandoned bomb shelter (chances are it probably was one). One of the characters reads an old copy of Playboy, another puts on a novelty pair of glasses (not sure why, he just does), someone else plays that knife game with his hand (he stabs one of his fingers and doesn’t even notice) and someone else puts a rubber chicken in his coat and then surprises his friend with it. These characters are so bored, and we don’t need elaborate sets or props to understand that.

This is a film I can watch over and over again, it introduced me to the idea of ultra-low budget filmmaking, which prior to this film I never really knew existed (as sad as that is). I should write a second part to this piece talking about its amazingly awesome screenplay and Carpenter’s little tricks to make the film look more professional (he created different names for himself so it looked like more people were involved in the film than they were) but that would give too much away. Go find the film and watch it.