By Kit Ramsey.
After nearly 14 years there’s not really much more than can be said about The Room, the bizarre chamber drama that’s widely regarded as “the Citizen Kane” of bad movies. Yet after all this time, the enigma of the film still persists, and so has the cult fandom spawned by the films myriad of unique flaws and idiosyncrasies.
Yet, what sets The Room aside from plenty of other films in the “bad film canon” such as Troll 2 or Manos: The Hands of Fate, and has in my opinion allowed the popularity of the film to transcend the “bad movie” genre so much that it has a making-of biography and an upcoming film-adaptation of said biography, is the enduring cult of personality and mystery of main star/director/writer/producer/visionary Tommy Wiseau.
Wiseau has managed to ride the wave of popularity generated by The Room for almost a decade and a half by now, yet still he eludes any public knowledge of his private identity. His public persona, however, is just what you’d expect from the man who attempted to make, and his mind actually did make, the greatest film of all time.
So after all this, how does one go about meeting such a man? By attending one of his screenings of The Room of course, which tours all around the US and UK every year, where you can get the chance to meet Wiseau (and sometimes other members of the cast and crew of The Room) and ask him questions, buy some of his odd merch and of course, watch The Room in a crowded hall full of likeminded fans who want nothing better to do than to shout at, heckle and sometimes even assault the screen with spoons. It’s madness, not unlike attending a screening of a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and that’s exactly what I experienced last Sunday at the Princes Charles Cinema, London.
Stretching all the way down the street, the line to the event was staggering, but absolutely not surprising. Seeing The Room has less to do with the actual film and more to do with the experience, so when the film comes to the UK, which is somewhat rarely, the fans will line up in droves to see it. After half an hour of waiting (the line started about 50 minutes before the doors opened I’d say) we finally got let inside, before being quickly ushered downstairs to the basement screening room (which sort of made sense really, given the film). There we got our first glimpse at the man himself: Tommy Wiseau. Set up next to the bar that adjoins the screening room, Tommy Wiseau appeared to have completely overrun half the room with an impressively packed market stall of sorts where he flogs his numerous Tommy Wiseau brand products. Everything from rucksacks to watches to underwear, Tommy Wiseau will sell you something with his name on it. As the crowd moved past the display, he waved us all in, stating his love and gratitude for our attendance – the guy sure loves his fans.
After finding our seats, we were subjected to a serious of what I can only describe as increasingly psychedelic pre-show title cards that I’m almost certain were designed by Wiseau himself. Ranging from adverts for his many clothing products to trailers to his upcoming projects such as his web series Neighbours to even just images of his own head against a black background (which brings to mind Mussolini’s fascist headquarters in the 30s), it makes for quite a funny if slightly uncomfortable experience. But then again, that’s the feeling exuded by The Room, so it all felt very in-keeping with the mood of the night.
Before long, Wiseau himself comes on stage, welcoming us in and quickly rolling out a trailer for his new project Best Friends, an upcoming feature film that sees him re-teaming with The Room co-star and real life best friend Greg Sestero. It’s definitely… interesting and maybe worth a whole separate post.
In any case, after the trailer ended Wiseau was back on stage, ready to take at least 10 questions from the audience. Earlier when we were waiting an employee of the theatre announced that they needed at least 10 audience members to ask questions for Tommy to answer. It seemed odd, almost as if he would actually refuse to come on stage if there was any less than 10 people asking for him. She even went on to say something along the lines of “Seriously, ask him anything, he’ll answer it. Got any life problems you need help resolving?”. Eventually 10 queued up and the Q&A was in motion. Weird.
Wiseau has this amazing air of aloof superiority when in his question answering mode, no doubt attempting to mimic old hollywood starts of old such as his obvious hero, Marlon Brando. The first question was “What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” an attempt to start the evening off with a joke that ended with a swift and decisive “I don’t know what that means, move on, next question.” I guess after all these years Tommy’s heard pretty much all these jokes, and perhaps he sees it as somewhat disrespectful. Who knows. Pretty much all the questions were answered was in his uniquely vague and barely understandable mumbles, except for a few here and there that he refused on principle, such as the financing behind the film. A decade on and he’s still never going to open up about that one it seems.
After the Q&A, the lights went down and the madness began. Watching The Room with an audience is truly one of the closest experiences I believe one can get to watching something like El Topo at a midnight screening in the 70s. People play along with the film, they shout at the characters, they laugh at everything. It’s truly exhilarating. One of the strangest aspects is a truly “you have to be a fan to get it” activity: throwing spoons at the screen whenever a spoon is in the film. I have absolutely no idea how this began, but it’s quickly become one of the most commonplace acts that occur at these screenings. Midway through the film we decided to leave the screen and see if Tommy was still around. It turns out that Tommy’s willing to hang around for a bit during the film to meet and greet fans outside the screening room, so long as you are nice enough to buy some of his merchandise. This may seem cheap to some, but the guy’s gotta make a living. I’d take a pair of £6 signed Tommy Wiseau boxers and a photo op instead of pay $200 for a quick photo with Felicity Jones like some fans will be doing in Orlando later this year. Please note though that Tommy doesn’t appear to stick around for the whole screening, so you better catch him quick when you attend one of these events!
After meeting Tommy Wiseau himself, we sat back down and enjoyed the rest of the film. And that’s pretty much it: when the lights come up, the show’s over. Unfortunately there was no Tommy to see us out, in fact the speed of which he must have packed up his stall and got out of there is actually impressive. But overall, I would 100% endorse and recommend taking a trip to see The Room in person, even if you’re a first time viewer. It might just be one of the most lasting filmic memories you’ll ever have, if only just to see a real life cult experience.
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