Inside The Room – A Look at a Cult Film Hit
It’s about into the ten minutes into the film, two of the characters walk past a dresser, which has framed pictures of spoons. At this point, my cohorts and I in the third row are showered in plastic spoons.
Welcome to the cult phenomenon that is The Room.
The vision of writer/producer/director/lead actor Tommy Wiseau; The Room is truly a sight to behold. On the surface, it is a simple drama about a love triangle. Yet, the complete incompetence of all involved in the making of this film turns it into an unwitting comedic masterpiece. From the Wiseau’s bizarre acting, occasionally out of focus camera and out of sync dialogue to the unnecessary sex scenes complete with cheesy soundtrack, constant repeating of phrases and subplots that go nowhere, The Room is a how-to in how to not to make a film.
However, since it was released nine years ago to a limited two week run in Los Angeles, The Room has been the subject of midnight screenings all over the world, including Melbourne’s Cinema Nova in Lygon St, Carlton, harking back to the days of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. These aren’t any old screenings, though. There are rules that are to be carried out during the film. They aren’t really rules as such, more things viewers can yell out during the film, but they help make The Room the experience it is. A sampling of the rules include:
- Throwing plastic spoons at the screen whenever artwork involving spoons is seen (which is surprisingly often).
- Counting off how many times Mark alludes to being Johnny’s best friend. This ranges between five and seven times depending on the counting skills of the loudest audience member.
- Yelling ‘because you’re a woman’ whenever it fits, in reference to the film’s regency-era notion of women and marriage.
What makes these cult films stand out is not just the quality of the movie (or lack thereof), but the story behind them. Anyone who was seen Tim Burton’s fantastic Ed Wood, a biopic on the titular filmmaker, who has been dubbed ‘the Hitchcock of bad movies’, can attest to this. The story of The Room starts with Tommy Wiseau. A man with indistinct origins and an even more indistinct accent (the best I could find was ‘he was probably born in France.’), Wiseau had a story in his head and a passion for the work of Tennessee Williams. As that extremely tired saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way. That way is not altogether clear either, with Wiseau claiming that he bankrolled his US$6 million budget by importing and selling leather jackets from Korea, but says nothing more on the matter.
The uncertainties and absurdities continue as the film enters production. For starters, Wiseau filmed using two cameras, one 35mm and one high definition, side-by-side because ‘he did not have sufficient information on the differences between the two.’ During filming, ‘creative differences’ meant that three actors left during filming. The first two, the original Mark and Lisa, had their scenes re-shot. However, when Kyle Vogt, who plays Jonny’s psychiatrist pal Peter, left the film Wiseau decided to give his rather important lines to another actor. It was a decision that left many wondering ‘who the hell is that guy?’ as an unknown character gives a speech in the last act.
It’s hard to tell exactly how Wiseau feels about The Room .You can’t be sure whether he is wise to the unintentional comedy his film provides or if he thinks it is a legitimate piece of quality film-making. He claims that it is supposed to be a ‘black comedy,’ but it’s apparent to anyone watching that it is an attempt at serious drama. He recommends that viewers watch The Room multiple times so that you can understand the various themes presented in the film. That’s not why people flock to the cinema time and time again. But if nothing else, Tommy Wiseau is proud of The Room. ‘I finished what I started, and I am very happy that I have a lot of fans and friends who like to see The Room over and over again’ he says in an interview that appears the DVD of his film.
If there is something that Wiseau is right about, it’s that The Room holds a unique place in the world of film. ‘I want people to have a good time, interact between the screen, this is new entertainment. When you see The Room you can yell, you can screen, you can express yourself, and that’s the idea.’
Fans see The Room in a similar light. ‘Everyone from all walks of life can appreciate it. Seeing it with people is a real bonding experience,’ says die-hard The Room fan (Roomer? Roomie?) Alex Millward, ‘The first time I saw it the credits began and some drunk guy yells “I can’t wait to go on this magical adventure of wondrous storytelling.” I knew I was in for a good time’ Alex’s friend and film going companion Holly Evans seconds this sentiment. ‘It makes everyone want to be friends.’ These comments are similar to Wiseau’s own philosophy: ‘you can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself, but please don’t hurt each other.’
Well we’re certainly laughing, Tommy.
(At time of Writing) The Room is currently playing at Cinema Nova (380 Lygon St, Carlton) every second Saturday night. See http://www.cinemanova.com.au for more details.
(At time of putting on blog) The Room isn’t playing at Cinema Nova, but it will surely be back some time in the new year. Don’t let that stop you from watching (or re-watching) it. Seriously, if you haven’t already, watch it.