If you still have not seen The Room, dear reader, let me quickly debrief you: it is arguably the worst film ever made. It was made in complete earnest, by a bizarre and enigmatic writer/director/producer/executive producer/starring actor, who spent well over $6 million dollars of his own money on the production. It is a melodramatic, inept and baffling film. It also happens to be hilarious. So hilarious, in fact, that it has developed a cult following of obsessed fans. Midnight screenings started in LA following its dismal premiere in 2003, and have gradually picked up in other cities, with exuberant audience participation. It has been dubbed “The New Rocky Horror”, but unlike RHPS, whose popularity is rooted in the appeal of queer camp and counter-culture, The Room‘s cult following is based solely on appreciation and hilarity of how astoundingly bad—and I do mean BAD—the film is.
New York has been host to its own monthly midnight screenings for nearly a year now, held at the Village East Cinemas. (The next ones are this weekend.)
My friends and I all first saw The Room over the summer, when we rented it on a whim. What began as a sort of mildly offended confusion developed into full-blown obsession by fall. Thus began the incessant dialogue-quoting that has invaded our usual syntax. Apparently this is a common side effect of Room fandom, and possibly an indication that the film has truly achieved cult status. A fellow fan told me, “It actually impacted how I was talking to my girlfriend—the language and the diction, it was very strange.” When we got wind of the existence of these NYC screenings, we could barely stand the month-long wait to attend this ridiculous affair.
The night of the screening, we arrived at the theater, giddy and armed with boxes of plastic spoons for throwing purposes. (There’s a framed photo of a spoon displayed prominently in the living room of the film, much like most people would display a photo of a family member or a pet. Audience participation involves throwing plastic spoons and yelling “SPOON!” whenever it appears.) The line wrapped around the block. Inside was a boozy party atmosphere-some having begun their drunken revelry at pre-Room parties, a few smuggling their own naughty concessions into the theater. When the emcee appeared at long last, he prefaced the movie with one simple direction for first time viewers:
“As you’re watching, you’re going to have A LOT of questions. Ask those questions directly to the screen, as loud as you can.”
A huge part of the fun is definitely hearing the funny impromptu comments shouted at the movie. The Room doesn’t have a strict audience participation script like Rocky Horror. It’s kind of a free-for-all, like if your couch was big enough to seat 350 of your drunk friends. There are a couple of recommended participation moments, like the spoon chucking, or holding up lighters during the many long and uncomfortable love scenes filled with candles and violent thrusting, but otherwise you just speak when the spirit moves you.
If you’ve never seen the film before, I would absolutely recommend an initial viewing in the privacy of you own…well, room, before you attend a screening. The audience gets pretty loud, and it can make it nearly impossible to make out what the “actors” are saying. (Although at the infamous “flower shop scene,” there was frantic shushing throughout the theater—no one wanted to miss a word.)
This April will mark the one-year anniversary of the film being shown in NYC, and the occasion will be commemorated with a special screening at the Ziegfeld Theater on April 30th, featuring an appearance by none other than the mysterious Mr. Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau is, if you don’t already know, the one man genius seculi of the movie. The man himself is as strange as his work. He looks kind of like a decrepit Eastern European Danzig; to quote IFC’s Matt Singer, “Like the Coneheads, he claims a vague past in France. Like the Coneheads, his accent is most certainly not French.” He is always evasive when posed direct questions about his past. He also appears to be totally unaware that he’s a horrific filmmaker. There have been attempts to re-market the film as an intentional “black comedy”, but when questioned about the movie in interviews Wiseau tends to get a little defensive—he truly seems to believe he made a great film.
Perhaps he did. A friend and fellow Room-ie sums up his experience of the film: “It only takes one sitting to both destroy one’s preconceptions about cinema and reaffirm one’s faith in humanity, uniting us, the viewers, under a flag of wonder, awe and confusion. Simply put, The Room reaches levels of entirely flawed perfection that no other ‘film’ has even approached.”