If you’ve ever heard high-culture appreciating television viewers lament the fact that Bravo used to air operas while now it airs Andy Cohen, those same folks might be equally disheartened to see this one act play directed by Robert Altman in 1987 for ABC, the network that is now home to 17 seasons of “The Bachelor.” Altman directed a two-part special entitled “Basements,” with both halves being adaptations of English playwright Harold Pinter’s one act plays “The Room” and “The Dumb Waiter.” “The Room” surfaced online recently in the form of a VHS rip, and it’s a thoroughly bizarre 48 minute experience that fans of the celebrated Altman (“Gosford Park,” “The Player,” “M*A*S*H*”) or Pinter (“The Birthday Party,” “The Homecoming,” “Betrayal”) might want to check out.
The story centers on a woman (the dimunitive Linda Hunt) living in her apartment with a taciturn partner. Paranoia surrounding the dark, damp basement of the building and its potential inhabitants consumes her, and when a young couple (Julian Sands and Eurythmics’ Annie Lennox) stops in, things get stranger, eventually culminating in her meeting the man who has been occupying the inclement basement. Pinter is said to have invented the “comedy of menace” — and that term suits well here. It’s a chamber drama that contains no particular threat aside from its unsettling tone.
While the 1987 air date doesn’t exactly make this early Altman, it is obscure Altman indeed — an off-kilter curiosity for television history buffs or those who celebrate the director’s entire catalog. Watch below. [The Seventh Art]