The inevitable question you’re probably asking yourself right now is why anyone would go through it. Who would have the desire to watch The Room in the first place, let alone on the big screen in an auditorium filled with people witnessing and experiencing your shame? Sweetening the dilemma is the man behind the madness, Tommy Wiseau, speaking out to a crowd of people whose cries have turned from anguish to laughter. This is The Room like you’ve never seen it before: live, in public, and all inclusive.
If you’ve never experienced the cult phenomenon The Room, oh boy will I have fun explaining it. Imagine a movie version of Springtime for Hitler, minus the offensiveness, whereby the director got everything so wrong he inevitably got it right; losing every battle in acting, plot, editing, and dialogue, and yet winning the war in entertainment value. It’s independent… obviously, as no one would try to pitch it to a studio with its logline: “A woman cheats on her fiancé.” Wow, who wouldn’t back such originality? I’m being unfair of course, eschewing the irrelevant sub character of Denny and his drug problem, the once mentioned (and never again raised) breast cancer of the lead female’s mother and the fact that our lead character Johnny and his woman’s new man Mark are BEST FRIENDS.
Since its release in 2003 the film exploded into the cult underground, with midnight screenings across the world, endless parodies, an unofficial flash game, a stage adaptation and legendary appearances by its enlightened writer, producer, director and lead director Tommy Wiseau. One of which I went to was a screening at the fantastic Prince Charles Cinema in London, one of many in mid February, in which Wiseau was accompanied on stage by his co-star and line producer Greg Sestero, a.k.a Mark.
If I may start with a personal story: during the pre-talk photo opportunities, I stood to the side as my friend’s dream came true and I took their picture with a man they consider to be this generations Ed Wood Jr. Afterwards, I stood a little unsure about how it came out, and before I knew it Wiseau had taken the camera out of my hands, put it in those of the bouncer, and huddled us together for one hell of a lovely picture. As I stood there speechless he said “enjoy life!” I will Tommy. I will.
The crowd grew tense waiting for their saviour, plastic spoons in hand. The utensils have become a running joke of screenings, thrown in the air like rice on a wedding day, due to many picture frames in the movie housing their metallic brothers (which by the way were brought to yesterday’s screening, landing their owner in jail; safety first people). With fans raised to boiling point, finally Tommy took to the stage and addressed his followers. What followed was twenty minutes of surreal banter and head scratching high jinks, in which no singular answer made sense and no question was truly addressed. Bringing two ‘Lisa’ lookalikes to the stage to seduce (I get it now… first the bad movie, then the bitches…), Tommy blazed through the ill prepared questions with startling precision. Some directors, such as Kevin Smith, may run a single answer into an hour with anecdotes, but not Tommy, he’s one efficient public speaker. The highlight moment was when one foolish heathen asked if he had the money, which ‘better actors’ would Tommy hire, of course responded to by thunderous boos from the entire room. This fool has insulted our beloved one, he must be destroyed.
My only criticism of this wondrous display is not many questions were directed to Greg, who I consider to be more interesting in that he was a normal human being involved in this mess. Still, it’ll be hard to see how Tommy can top this when he returns in 2013, maybe with Denny? A full cast reunion on stage?!
The screening itself got underway and… well, it’s a spiritual experience. Each name in the opening credits was applauded like an Oscar nominee, whilst the laughter following Johnny’s opening line of ‘Hi babe’ felt like that of a studio audience. It doesn’t take long for a newcomer to familiarize themselves with the many in jokes and tropes, with constant yells of ‘Who are you?!’ at the incidental characters, jeers of ‘go go go!’ when cars are seen in the film’s many panning shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, and yells of “why aren’t you dead from cancer yet!” at Lisa’s mother, who, as I established earlier, has breast cancer, apparently. The latter would surely be hard to put into context to a normal person without being horribly offensive, but it’s all good here.
What struck me is how the tone of the screening changed. During one of the film’s four and a half sex scenes, the normally unbearable euro-pop became a ballad of high passion, as arms swayed back and forth and one attendee actually held up a lighter. But more profound was the way the audience turned on the characters. Once Lisa had performed her first act of infidelity, and betrayed our glorious leader, her ass was grass. As the hecklers booed and yelled abuse, the setting changed from a cheesy sitcom to that of a grim reality show, and even though the ending was known to all it didn’t stop them from wanting to tear Lisa apart.
As the film reached its climax, with white spoons flying in the air like doves in a John Woo movie, and an audience member yelling “we can rebuild him!” I was exhausted. Just like in a screening with my friends, the film does lose its appeal ever so slightly by the mid mark, but then again so does church. Speaking of which, I’ve recently been reading Alain De Botton’s new book Religion for Atheists, and in one chapter he says how few public places can bring people together in a totally informing way like a place of worship. I think I’ve found one.
Words & Photos > Graham Ashton