I spent a lot of my early 20s watching bad movies with a friend who was a fellow fan of films so bad they escalate to fine art. We were in a screening of “Black Roses,” in which demons possess people by masquerading as a rock band, when employees paused the film to tell us Osama bin Laden was dead. The night I came back from my semester in Spain, jet-lagged, he took me to a midnight screening of “Birdemic,” which is basically a remake of Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” but really, really bad.
We went to our first midnight showing of “The Room” — widely considered to be the worst movie ever made — curious about the film that was becoming infamous for its poor camerawork, terrible acting and nonsensical story line.
It was worse than we imagined. The star, Tommy Wiseau, who also wrote and directed the movie, ambles through scenes awkwardly and speaks in a thick, implacable accent. Much of his dialog seems to have been re-recorded in post-production, giving most of his scenes that off-putting over-dubbed look. He makes strange facial expressions and laughs at inappropriate times. Characters appear and disappear for no apparent reason. One man appears halfway through the movie, and although he seems very concerned with the lives of the main characters, is never introduced to the audience. At the same time, another central character disappears entirely. A character proclaims she has breast cancer, and is “dying,” but that issue never returns. And there are several sex scenes that are just … distinctly not sexy.
When my friend and I left the theater after 2 a.m., our cheeks were sore from laughing constantly for two hours straight.
We were hooked. We went to midnight showings at an independent theater in St. Louis over and over.
By the time we made it to our first screening of “The Room,” it already had a cult following, which had started in Los Angeles where the movie first opened in 2003. The die-hard fans in the theater that night tossed footballs when the characters did so, and brought large quantities of plastic spoons to hurl at the screen every time a piece of artwork featuring a spoon surfaced in the background of scenes. They shouted jokes, talked back at dialog, shouted "focus," when the camera blurred, and gave the star a standing ovation when he dropped a profound pearl of wisdom, like this one: “If a lot of people love each other, the world will be a better place to live.”
At times, I wondered whether we were laughing at Wiseau’s expense. Did he know how bad his movie was? Did he know it became famous because it stinks so profoundly? He’s said since the cult phenomenon started that he intended it to be a black comedy, but I don’t buy it. I think he’s an earnest filmmaker who made a flop, and tried to cover.
I met Wiseau in 2012 when he made an appearance before a midnight showing of “The Room” in St. Louis. He wore several belts at once, and seemed a little clueless. But he posed for countless paid photo ops. When he entered the sold-out theater to speak and answer questions, he was the genuine star. The audience cheered for him and chanted his name. They hung on to his every word. He had truly become a phenomenon. So what if he wasn’t in on the joke? He had made it.
The story of the making of “The Room” is the subject of a James Franco-directed film, in which he also stars, “The Disaster Artist,” which is out now nationwide (unfortunately though, not in Southern Illinois; I saw it in St. Louis) and has secured two Golden Globe nominations. It’s based on a memoir recounting the making of “The Room” by its co-star, Greg Sestero, and chronicles the completely bonkers behind-the-scenes action of my generation's ultimate cult classic.
It’s also, of course, a movie about the unlikely friendship between Sestero and Wiseau, and the unlikely ways in which dreams sometimes come true.
For a “Room” fan like myself, it’s a nostalgic treat, a tribute to the nights I showed up to the theater with a box of plastic spoons in my purse and paid to watch a terrible movie I’d already seen dozens of times.
While “The Disaster Artist” didn’t open here, “The Room” will screen in Cape Girardeau at 8 p.m. Jan. 10 at the Cape West Cine.