Last Saturday night I joined some other brave souls at the Prince Charles Cinema for a screening of Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 masterpiece of bad cinema, The Room. It was, without a doubt, one of the most incredible cinematic experiences of my life.
I’d already seen this film, thought by many to be the worst thing ever committed to celluloid (and not just celluloid but HD video too, on a two-camera rig, for some reason nobody can fathom), at a New Year’s party. Yes, this was the first film I watched this decade. It was a strangely enjoyable experience to watch the terrible acting, painful metaphors, nonsensical dialogue and a story full of plot holes and inexplicable scenes, while in the company of a few friends gathered around a TV at 2am. But there was a whole other level of fun to be had watching The Room in a sold-out cinema.
Now, this is the bit where I’m supposed to tell you about the plot, and that’s a little bit more difficult than it might seem. On a simple level, its a love triangle between Johnny (played by writer/producer/director Wiseau), our heroic banker on the verge of a promotion, his evil bitch queen from hell “future wife” Lisa (Juliette Danielle, fresh off the bus to Hollywood), and Johnny’s BEST FRIEND, which I think is pointed out a few times during the film, Mark (line producer Greg Sestero) who is tricked into having an affair with her, something that is obviously entirely her fault and nothing to do with him. But, there’s so much more to it than that. There’s some cancer, which is mentioned once and never again. There’s Denny, the simpleton orphan man-boy who Johnny treats like a son, and has a run in with a drug dealer called Chris-R over some unspecified drug or other. There’s the tale of a dog at a flower shop where Johnny is the best customer, and a cafe that gives away all it’s food and drink for free. And there are quite a lot of characters who just appear from nowhere, leaving you without a bloody clue of what’s going on at all. Wiseau is, of course, an auteur, and sprinkles his film with metaphor. Roses are a common motif throughout the film. It’s basically like Scorsese or Hitchcock in that regard. Pretty much.
There are a few basic rules to be followed when going to a screening of The Room anywhere in the world, and these were all beautifully observed at the weekend. Whenever you see the framed photographs of spoons dotted around the living room set, “Spoon!” is shouted and plastic spoons are hurled at the screen. Of course, this means that sitting in the first few rows puts you at risk of having a spoon bounce off your head, a risk which is arguably outweighed by the reward of an everlasting supply of spoons at your feet. Whenever Denny appears on screen, the audience waves and says “Hi, Denny!”, after all, it’d be rude not to. When the camera goes out of focus, as it often does, shout “Focus!”, until it gets to one of the several hideously long sex scenes, at which point you’ll of course yell “Ugh, unfocus!”. Speaking of sex scenes, for the longest one it’s the done thing to walk out in disgust, shaking your head (before racing back to your seat for the next bit, of course), while for the others putting a lighter or mobile phone in the air and signing along to “You Are My Rose” should do the trick. It seems that about half the film is taken up with stock footage of San Francisco, the most common being a slow tracking shot panning across the Golden Gate Bridge, during which the audience chants “Go! Go! Go! Go!”, with a cheer if it reaches the end of the bridge and muttered grumblings if it cuts away first.
But it’s the ad-libs that are the most fun. People in the audience keep shouting out very funny things throughout the film, making it like watching a movie with a whole cinema full of friends. One moment I particularly enjoyed was when a partially obscured alarm clock read “:28”, someone shouted “Wake up Johnny, it’s twenty eight!”. At one point there was a painting in the background with a slightly curved line across the middle – someone threw some plastic cutlery, shouting “Abstract spoon!”. Due to the blatant misogyny throughout the film, someone somewhere in the audience will shout “Because you’re a woman!” at the end of any negative line of dialogue. People come dressed as the characters in true Rocky Horror style, my favourites being three guys who wore tuxedos and, when the football-throwing scene came on, ran into the aisle and played a game of catch.
Do try to go to see The Room at a cinema near you. It’s showing in independent cinemas all around the world, and if you’re in London do try to catch it at the Prince Charles, a fantastic picturehouse which deserves support. It’s a regular sell-out though, so let me buy my ticket first!
I’ll leave you with the trailer. It’s important to note that the line “Experience this quirky new black comedy, it’s a riot!” was added at a later date, after it became notorious for being laughed at by audiences. When you watch, you can see that somewhere in there is an earnest attempt at serious, dramatic cinema, which makes it all the more loveable.