Tommy Wiseau’s The Room – A Screening Report

Ross Maclean 25 March, 2010 1

Ahead of a second Scottish cinema screening of the legendarily bad film, we present a report from a survivor of the first

For those not already in the know, The Room has developed a bit of a reputation for itself. And not a particularly good one. It has been (unfortunately, accurately) described as ‘The Citizen Kane Of Bad Movies’. When producer/writer/director/actor Tommy Wiseau plunged an alleged $7m into funding his debut feature, who knew it would be so awful? Or so enduringly popular?

It’s showing again at The Cameo in Edinburgh on 27 March and it would appear, judging from the success of the first, that monthly screenings are looking likely, as they are in London.

I was in attendance at the first Scottish cinematic showing on 20 February and had an absolute blast “ but that’s not to say it wasn’t without problems.

For those who haven’t seen it, to call The Room bad is to do it a disservice. It transcends ˜bad’ to become an all-encompassing onslaught of ridiculous scripting, woeful acting, cringe-inducing sex scenes, frequent non-sequiturs, bad dubbing and over-earnest melodrama.

Nominally a relationship drama, Wiseau himself plays Johnny, a gentle soul, betrayed by his girlfriend and best friend. If you’ve never seen or heard Wiseau, picture the result of a failed intensive breeding program between Sylvester Stallone and a Na’vi, with an indefinable accent approximating a tranquilised Arnie, dressed like a guest at a goth wedding. It’s not hard to see why he gained a cult following.

Originally released in 2003, The Room slowly achieved a notoriety based on its ineptitude and began to show at special screenings, now billed as a black comedy. When word began to spread of this ˜best worst movie’, celebrity fans began attending showings in New York and LA.

Seeing the film multiple times fast became a hipster pursuit and a set of viewing rules, based on a good-natured celebration of the film’s many failings, organically developed. As following them and ˜interacting’ with the film is actively encouraged, it was with great excitement I discovered Caledonia was going to get to experience the supposed thrill of seeing it en masse.

By the time the screening itself arrived, I was worried that the Scottish crowd may display a level of repression not seem in similar screenings in the US. Regardless, fearing being in an over-excited minority, I took along a pocketful of plastic cutlery, more in an attempt to ˜get the ball rolling’ than anything else.

It was a delight to see my fears appeared completely unfounded. In The Cameo’s bar beforehand there was a definite buzz. It’s been some time since I’ve seen a crowd that size at the cinema for a late-night showing.

The first glimpses of a Tommy Wiseau t-shirt and mock-tuxedo were enough to inspire confidence in the fact that the screening appeared to be a success “ and that more than a few people were already au fait with the film’s multiple failings. In fact, The Cameo was still turning people away from the sold out screening right up to advertised start time.

Within minutes of screen one opening its doors, space was getting scarce and people were already beginning to holler some of the film’s insanely quotable catchphrases (crap-phrases?) across the auditorium. Flying spoons began to make their fitful first appearances and with the time approaching a quarter-hour past the 11pm supposed start, the excitement had built to a crescendo.

When the lights finally dimmed and the pitiful ˜Wiseau Films’ logo flashed up in front, any preconceptions I may have had about the crowd being less vocal were dissipated as a loud rumpus of whoops and cheers echoed back-and-forth across the Art Deco interior.

Watching the film was definitely less of a film-viewing and more of an experience. As a film-related experience, it’s unrivalled. It’s raucous, riotous and has very little to do with following (what passes for) a plot. It flies in the face of every film-going instinct I possess but you’re swept up by it. It was a truly wonderful moment to see Tommy Wiseau’s first appearance on screen met with the kind of adulation usually reserved for an A-lister sauntering down a red carpet.

As the film progressed, and people got into the swing of it even more, every scene in the film was plastered over with a vociferous chorus of, in turns, appreciation and revulsion. It was clearly too much for one patron who was overheard saying that he didn’t expect The Rocky Horror Picture Show as he asked to be refunded his entry fee ten minutes into the film.

The problem is that the experience rises or falls on the strength of what’s being shouted out. I can’t blame anybody for their eagerness. It’s understandable. This is a film that demands to have things shouted at it “ as witnessed by the fact there are actually guidelines as to exactly what to shout, and when. However, I would offer some advice.

Chiefly, people needed to exercise a little restraint. Shouting the same thing all the time ensured it quickly got old and the constant drowning out of the film’s (admittedly low) soundtrack ensured that any new viewers were immediately at a disadvantage.

The film needed some room to breathe amongst the jeering and I’d advise that if people want to encourage an atmosphere where everyone can join in (and not a constant exercise in self-congratulation) they need to think more clearly about what they’re shouting out, and when.

I know it’s in the spirit of the film’s ˜rules’ but for every zinger that was delivered (one wag’s description of the film’s anti-heroine Lisa’s face as being akin to a punched cake) there were ten bellows of she has cancer or because she’s a woman “ only a handful of which struck the right note with the on-screen happenings.

Pre-empting all the film’s more famous dialogue does nobody any good and drowning out the lines themselves is counterproductive to both first-time and seasoned viewers. Shouting out some of the film’s funnier revelations a good half hour before they occur is inane and presumptive of everyone having seen it before.

Timing is critical. Shouting over dialogue isn’t always a good idea and very rarely funnier than what’s up on screen. The problem is that the film is the real joke and people occasionally seemed to forget that.

I don’t want to sound negative as it was a great, boisterous atmosphere and certainly unlike any viewing experience I’ve ever had. Hopefully people will rein-in their heckles just a bit because, as fun as it is, it’s still a film at the end of the day. If you can’t at least connect with that through the braying, it threatens to tip the whole experience into pointlessness. I think/hope that in future screenings the right balance will be struck between enthusiasm and (possibly undeserved) reverence for the film-watching. Right, end of lecture.

Hopefully this time around, The Cameo has made any necessary tweaks to the film’s volume, as well as maybe providing handouts of ˜what to look out for’ in the film. I don’t think they need to worry about supplying spoons as I’d imagine the post-screening clean-up of screen one left them with an abundance. The bar could maybe even serve ˜Scotchkas’? Just an idea.

For good or bad, it would seem The Room is in serious danger of becoming part of an Edinburgh happening.

The Room is showing at The Cameo cinema in Edinburgh on Saturday 27 March at 11.00pm. Tickets are priced £5.50/£4.20 (concessions) and are available at The Cameo website.