Thursday, August 29, 2013

Famous Flops: The Room

This is the latest in my monthly series Famous Flops, in which I watch one absolutely terrible movie and tell you what I think of it.

By all rights, my first post after arriving to Australia (almost a full week ago) should be some kind of "welcome to Australia, Vance!" post. However, I have deadlines to keep, and only a precious few days remaining in August in order to serve up my monthly installment of Famous Flops.

It seems like forever ago that I saw The Room, since so much has happened in the interim. In fact, I still had a few days remaining at my job when I took to the theater on the night of Saturday, July 27th (technically cheating since the screening should have fallen within the month of August) to watch a movie so famously bad, they now show it at midnights on Saturdays in cities around the country, including North Hollywood, CA. I feel like I haven't worked in forever, so this tells you how long ago it was -- it was forever ago plus a few days.

This movie is terrible, of course.

But first a little history, personal history, about it.

I was living in Los Angeles when Tommy Wiseau's craptastically wonderful film was first released back in 2003. I remember thinking of it as some kind of Los Angeles institution akin to that ageless (i.e. very old now) pink Corvette-driving "beauty" Angelyne. One look at the billboard and you could tell that it was not a reputable production. Yet that billboard stayed up there on Highland, I think it was, for years, meaning that it did indeed have some kind of dollars or marketing muscle or something behind it. My fascination increased.

Sometime last year I learned that it was playing at the Laemmle in North Hollywood at midnight on the last Saturday of every month. I tried to get a crew to go on Thanksgiving weekend when a friend was in town, but you'd be surprised about how people ultimately react to a midnight movie when their backs are against the wall. They passed.

About three days before the last Saturday night in July of this year -- in other words, the last Saturday I'd be eligible to see The Room in Los Angeles before leaving for Australia -- the scarcity of my remaining opportunity struck me. I knew I needed to move now if I wanted to make The Room -- the full-on live experience of watching The Room, not just a DVD viewing -- happen. I emailed a couple friends and one bit. We set it up for that Saturday.

There's a great story that goes with this viewing, but I'll save it until after I give you my impressions.

First I should probably set the scene. There's an idea that The Room is a cultural heir apparent to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and seeing the live screening did nothing to disabuse me of that notion. For starters, it was packed. Not sold out, but populous enough for a midnight screening to earn the description "packed." The next thing I noticed was that people were bringing props, a la Rocky Horror. Plastic spoons were one particular prop. A football was another, though to the great consternation of many audience members, this football was lost/misplaced early on, never to be recovered. Lastly, the audience was buzzing with electricity. When the movie inexplicably started about five minutes early, disappointed audience members still filing in loudly exclaimed "It's not midnight yet!" To no avail, of course.

Okay, the movie.

Yeah, it's awful. Here are some overall comments/impressions:

1) There are about four sex scenes within the first half-hour. However, these are not lurid sex scenes designed to titillate. They are "romantic" sex scenes, involving cheesy music, rose petals, and both participants with expressions on their faces like you might see in an ad for an erection pill. What's most comical about these scenes is that they are ALL romantic, even though the same woman appears in all four, but has two different partners. The movie means for us to believe that she has an equally romantic relationship -- in other words, a relationship that the movie itself supports her having -- with both men.

2) Tommy Wiseau. He is probably the worst actor who has ever lived. He looks a bit like Gabriel Byrne, but there's no comparison between their abilities as thespians. Wiseau's unplaceable European accent probably contributes to his poor line readings, but only so much. You're not just picking on him because he has a funny accent. You're picking on him because he is a truly terrible performer.

3) The football. About five different times in this movie, characters engage in carefree sessions of football tossing. This is regardless of what's going on in the plot (plot? what plot?) and seemingly without reason. None of these characters seem athletically inclined, generally (although there's also an extensive jogging scene), nor would they seem interested in football, in particular.

4) The plot. What plot? As far as I can tell it's about a guy (Wiseau) who is losing his wife (Juliette Danielle) to his best friend (Greg Sestero). However, it is frequently very indirectly about this. There's also a part where their teenage neighbor gets involved in some kind of drug deal gone bad, but it's handled so non-specifically (we never learn what kind of drugs, or how he got involved) that it becomes just another one of the film's laughable elements.

5) The technique. Just awful. Establishing shots of San Francisco -- and there are many, usually involving the Golden Gate Bridge -- linger on for 10-15 seconds longer than they should. The dialogue is Z grade. Characters appear mysteriously and become important without being introduced or contextualized. Characters also sometimes look at the camera or make inexplicable gestures/glances.

6) I could go on.

7) But what I really want to say is that the participation of the audience, while active and in many ways quite fun, sometimes served as a distraction for me. Knowing how terrible everything about this movie was, I sometimes regretted having real howlers in the dialogue drowned out by their rejoinders. I don't suppose there's anything I could have done about that except for see the movie first at home, and then come to the theater. However, I think seeing this stuff for the first time on a big screen is key to your enjoyment of it, so my complaint about losing some of the priceless craptasticity is only a minor one.

Okay, so, the story.

When The Room ended and we got up to leave, I patted myself down and realized I did not have my keys. As it was nearly 1:45 a.m. and I had to get home, panic set in almost immediately. Sorry, I should tweak that last statement a little bit. As it was nearly 1:45 a.m. and I had to get home, and my wife was already in Australia, panic set in almost immediately.

I first examined the area around where I was sitting, since the most likely explanation was that I'd lost my keys between the seats. It's happened before. But they were not there. I then thought that perhaps I had left them atop the urinal in the men's room, since I had indeed relieved myself before the movie started. They weren't there either.

Panic really started to set in when I couldn't find anyone who worked at the theater still there. I assumed there must be someone in "the back room," an area behind the concession stand where it seemed most likely they'd be. But leaning over the concession stand and repeatedly saying "Hello? Hello? Excuse me?" yielded no results. This was starting to get truly frightening.

Actually forging back behind the concession stand finally prompted a woman in the lobby to identify herself as a member of the staff. Pretty dick move on her part not to say anything before then with a very obviously agitated customer desperately trying to identify her, so I guess it was a good move on my part to breach the employee area. I asked if any keys had been turned in to the lost and found. She said no, but I was welcome to look. Meanwhile, my friend was doing a much more thorough search of the theater.

Suddenly I knew where they were, and where they almost certainly would no longer be:

On the roof of my car.

My car, which was parked on a side street off a main thoroughfare, on a Saturday night in North Hollywood.

I started running at full sprint, sure that they would be gone, sure that my car would be gone, sure that I would be out the amount of money I hoped to make on my car when I sold it in a few weeks, sure that I would have lost all the personal items in the car as well. I felt a cold sweat break out on my forehead and ran faster.

It took only about 20 seconds to reach the car, where I immediately saw a shimmering object on its roof, right where I expected it to be.

I scooped up those keys, breathed a massive sigh of relief, and somehow ran back to the theater even faster than I'd run to get to my car. It took another 30 seconds for my friend to emerge from the screening room (and I was now locked out so I couldn't get to him), but when he did, there I was, dangling the thought-to-be-lost item in glorious victory.

When I told him where they, in fact, were, he laughed in disbelief and ecstatic joy.

Here's what happened: I arrived a few minutes earlier than he did, and while waiting for him, I stood outside my car and smartphoned for a few minutes. When I do this, I usually just toss my keys on top of my car, then grab them before I go. In this case, I expected him to call me when he arrived and I'd go meet him at the theater. Instead, he was walking toward me and talking to me on the phone, so I naturally started to walk toward him when I saw him turn the corner and come into my view. No thought was given as to whether the car was locked or I even had my keys.

So my keys sat on top of my car for nearly two hours, from 11:45 to 1:45, in what used to be a kind of seedy neighborhood but has now improved slightly, and my car was not stolen.

I'll just have to thank my lucky stars for that one.

Okay, on to September. As I'm still getting my bearings and I don't know what my new methods of acquiring movies will be (we can still watch Netflix streaming using a special plug-in, but I don't know yet know how I'll get DVDs and BluRays), I'm going to leave my next month's choice open-ended. Let's face it -- you weren't going to watch it beforehand anyway. No reason more than one of us has to subject ourselves to this crap.


Thaddeus said...

Hey, man, I've heard so much about this "film" - and it's playing every week at an NYC theater, like Rocky Horror - but I've never heard anything like a good reason to watch it. The Room just sounds like an atrocious catastrophe.

So what would you say (or type) to me to get me motivated to check this out?

Vancetastic said...

Sorry for the long delay in my response, Thaddeus.

Do you like train wrecks? Like, not movies where you have to look at it from just the right angle to get why it's such a disaster, but movies where the disastrousness is served up on a platter, glistening and gleaming for all the world to see?

This is why you, why anyone, should see The Room.