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The Magic Behind the Cult B-Movie ‘The Room’

The ‘Citizen Kane’ of bad movies, which is the subject of an upcoming James Franco homage, has elevated its mysterious creator to ironic heights.

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The ‘Citizen Kane’ of bad movies, which is the subject of an upcoming James Franco homage, has elevated its mysterious creator to ironic heights.

“The Room” is one of the strangest films you will ever watch. It has been widely heralded as one of the worst films ever made, and yet in spite of this, or perhaps because of this, it has amassed an international following made up of thousands upon thousands of ironic sycophants. Tommy Wiseau, the director, writer, co-producer, primary funder and lead star of the film, now spends his days touring the globe and screening his work for swarming crowds of fans.

His work has become even more relevant in these last few months, because James Franco has revealed that he is directing and starring in a movie about the making of “The Room,” along with Seth Rogen and Dave Franco. How has something so widely recognized as bad spawned such a ravenous fan base and caught the attention of Hollywood superstars? And how does Wiseau react to having his dreams realized, but for all the wrong reasons?

Before getting into anything else, it is important to understand the appeal of “The Room.” Released in 2003, the movie follows a successful, but gradually disillusioned banker named Johnny (played by Wiseau) who is in a passionate relationship with his fiancé, Lisa. I say “fiancé,” but the movie only refers to her ambiguously as Johnny’s “future wife.” Despite her imminent future of wifehood, Lisa seduces Johnny’s best friend, Mark, and maintains an affair that lasts the whole film until a fateful party where Johnny discovers her disloyalty and subsequently commits suicide.

The film’s simple premise is supported by a plethora of subplots that are given neither exposition nor resolution. For example, Lisa’s mother mentions briefly in one scene that she has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, a plot point that is never discussed again. Johnny financially supports a young man from his neighborhood named Denny, who has an almost fatal encounter with an armed drug dealer.

Johnny and Mark save Denny and then neglect to resolve Denny’s relationships with drugs or the dealer at all. Denny even reveals to Johnny that he has feelings for Lisa, in an awkward scene that appears to grasp at a father-son type of relationship between the two men. In one of the most famous scenes, the main male characters all go out into an alley in tuxedos and throw a football around for a few minutes and then head back in without any explanation.

Discussing the film’s unresolved plot points does not even scratch the surface of what makes “The Room” so special, though. The movie is so strange on the shot-for-shot, line-by-line level that there is no equivalent to actually watching it yourself. The dialogue is spoken rapidly, yet robotically. Tommy Wiseau in particular seems to have no conception of the use of inflection, alternating between aggression and passivity in his voice with little rhyme or reason.

The multiple graphic love scenes are also a sight to behold. Johnny and Lisa have some of the most cringe-inducing sex to ever be put in a non-pornographic film. Wiseau appears to be thrusting into his co-star’s belly button, and their sparse dialogue is delivered with an equal lack of coordination.

What’s more, not only are both love scenes between Johnny and Lisa much too long, but Wiseau decided to use different takes of the same shots for both of them. That is to say, Wiseau shot the first love scene around five times, and then used one take for the first scene and another for the second. This means that each scene has identical dialogue, nearly identical camera work and the same run time. At first glance, it appears that the same exact take was used for both. It is remarkably and miraculously bad.

Given that almost every choice in the film was made by Wiseau, his persona accounts for a lot of the cult fanfare. He is extremely mysterious about his origins and movie-making decisions. His heavy and disorienting accent sounds European, but he has claimed for years that he is from New Orleans. The film had a budget of $6 million, which he says he obtained through his retail company, which sold jeans and leather jackets at discount prices (mostly to Korea). However, the highly unlikely nature of this claim has led fans to theorize all kinds of possible sources of revenue, including an elaborate money-laundering scheme.

He even shot the movie in 35mm and HD simultaneously with two different cameras, and then only used the 35mm film in the final cut. His answers to questions from interviewers and fans seem perpetually cryptic and strange, and he is subsequently a man of intrigue and mystery. Some say he is secretly a genius, some say he is delusional and some say he is an alien from outer space who came to Earth in 2003 to make films.

But if Tommy Wiseau personally travels to screen his magnum opus for crowds of people who think the movie is awful, then what do these screenings look like? In a word, rowdy. Fans show up dressed as favorite characters and carry footballs that they throw to each other and at the screen during the viewing. They shout catchphrases and quotes over the film. They scream when Wiseau walks on stage for his Q&As. If you haven’t seen “The Room” before and you’d like to, do not see it at a public screening for the first time. You will not be able to hear or understand what is happening.

So how does Wiseau handle this inverted form of success? On the whole, he seems extremely grateful that he has been given a chance to follow his dream. However, he has made multiple comments on the disrespectful nature of his fan base. The shouts and laughter of audiences seem thinly separated from mockery, and the questions he receives at his screenings are frequently submerged in levels of cruel irony. Wiseau claims that a lot of the movie’s “bad” choices were intentional, and that he would consider the movie a black comedy as well as a tragedy.

According to Wiseau, “The Disaster Artist,” a book written about the making of “The Room” and the source material for Franco’s film of the same name, is approximately 60 percent false. He frequently feels misrepresented by the media and by his fans and coworkers. The people have heard his frustration, though, and there has been a subsequent shift in tone during screenings over the past couple of years. Sure, audiences still shout and applaud during each viewing, but according to Wiseau, they have treated him with more and more respect over time.

Wiseau is even aiding in the making of “The Disaster Artist” and will play a very small role in it as well. He still does interviews and Q&As frequently, and has expressed his love for the fans who have made his aspirations a reality. He encourages others to chase their dreams as he has. To quote Wiseau himself, “Express yourself and do whatever you want, just don’t hurt anybody.”

Writer Profile

Christian Zeitler

Carnegie Mellon University
Professional Writing & Creative Writing

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