The Room is clearly establishing itself as the current cult classic in the vein of Plan 9 From Outer Space. I first watched it with two friends during a day when we were deliberately seeking out bad movies. We watched The Room and Lockout. Lockout, by the way, isn’t so much terrible as it is endearingly bad. It’s also anchored with a hilariously sarcastic performance from the wonderful Guy Pearce, who takes “done with this shit” to a whole other level. But The Room was bad. Colossally, monumentally, impressively terrible in every imaginable way.
For those of you who don’t know, The Room is the work of the cinematic auteur Tommy Wiseau. Tommy Wiseau is either a vampire, proud necro-suit wearer, or Eastern European Frankenstein’s monster. The dizzyingly inhuman patchwork of ill-fitting skin seems wholly unaware of how one makes films, writes stories, writes dialogue, says dialogue, and just generally fails at understanding the way humans behave. For those who haven’t seen The Room rest assured he brings all these fine qualities to his performance as the main character, Johnny, and couples them with an alarming tendency to remove his pants and peacock his decrepit physique.
Like any good cult-classic The Room had an alarming and complex production. Take it away Wikipedia:
The Room originated as a play, completed by Tommy Wiseau in 2001. Wiseau then adapted the play into a 500-page book, which he was unable to get published. Frustrated, Wiseau decided to adapt the work into a film, which he would then produce himself in order to maintain total control over the project.
Wiseau has been secretive about exactly how he obtained the funding for the project, but he did tell Entertainment Weekly that he made some of the money by importing leather jackets from Korea. According to Greg Sestero, Wiseau was already independently wealthy at the time production began, having amassed a fortune over several years of entrepreneurship and real estate development in and around Los Angeles and San Francisco. The budget for The Room reached $6 million, all of which was spent on production and marketing. Wiseau has claimed that the reason the film was relatively expensive was because many members of the cast and crew had to be replaced, and each of the cast members had several understudies. According to Sestero, Wiseau made numerous poor decisions during filming that unnecessarily inflated the film’s budget, such as building sets for sequences that could have been filmed on location, purchasing unnecessary equipment, and filming identical scenes multiple times using different sets. Sestero further claims that the film’s budget skyrocketed as a result of minutes-long dialogue sequences taking hours or days to shoot due to Wiseau’s inability to properly remember his lines or move to the appropriate place on camera.
According to Sestero and Greg Ellery, Wiseau came to the Birns and Sawyer film lot, rented a studio, and bought a “complete Beginning Director package,” which included the purchase of two brand new film and HD cameras.” Wiseau, confused about the differences between 35 mm film and high-definition video, decided to shoot the entire film in both formats simultaneously, using a custom-built apparatus that housed both cameras side-by-side and required two crews to operate. Explaining his decision to shoot the film in this way, Wiseau said that he wanted to be able to say that he was the first director to film an entire movie simultaneously in two formats.
And really that’s just scraping the surface. The point of bringing up this rather present cult classic is simple – I got a chance to go to a midnight screening (technically started at eleven, but it was a midnight screening in spirit) of it recently.
The Room, being such a true cult classic, has developed a series of rules for audience interaction. It’s all rather like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I went in essentially knowing only the bare minimum of the rules and it was a blast!
The big one I knew going in was spoons. Tommy Wiseau’s set dressing in the film, for some reason, seems to involve framed portraits of cutlery. Namely a spoon and a corkscrew. When the spoon shows up on screen you’re meant to throw a spoon at the screen. At least that’s what I had heard. In practice it involved the entire crowd shouting “spooon” and showering the theatre with plastic spoons. It was pretty awesome. Just this resounding bellow followed by a tinkling glittering shower of plastic spoons. I was thrifty too, collecting nearby fallen spoons for their next appearance in the picture.
Then there were the call-and-response type bits. Surprisingly little of that was based around heckling. Most of it was weirdly…supportive of the movie. Things like shouting, “I put my evil in you” every time the female lead’s mother does her weird finger/nose kissing thing. Or shouting, “He’s your best friend”, every time Greg Sestero’s character does much of anything. Making it to the same list: quoting along with the movie! A whole theatre crying, “You’re tearing me apart Lisa” in their best impression of Tommy Wiseau is delightful.
Some of it was heckling though. The big one was simply shouting, “Focus”, whenever a blurry shot popped up. Or heckling Tommy Wiseau’s strange understanding of sex. Or pointing out a gross-yet-hypnotic bulging muscle on someone’s neck. There was a pretty funny repeated joke about Tommy Wiseau’s O-face.
The weirdest one had to be the bridge. Something I hadn’t noticed the first time were the strange repeated pans across a bustling bridge. He follows these cars across the bridge a few times. Once the theatre caught on, we all started shouting “go, go, go” until the shot ended. The honest-to-god disappointment in the pan that doesn’t finish the track was palpable. These bridge shots are part of a repeated excess of establishing shots. Wiseau seems convinced that audiences need to be reminded where they are every three minutes, which is odd given how limited the films locations are. These shots prompted one guy in the theatre (the guy who clearly knew the rules, most of the time we joined in with him but for some reason there was an unspoken assumption that this one was a solo task) to shout, “Meanwhile….in San Francisco.”
The entire experience was a blast. It had that feeling of camaraderie you’d expect from a midnight screening of a cult classic. The excitement and enjoyment was deeply obvious. Everyone was fucking pumped to watch this movie. And rightfully so, it really does bring more consistent laughs than most comedies. I brought someone who’d never seen it before to our screening, and he loved it to. It’s a pretty fun way to spend an hour or two.