Sunday, January 31, 2010

What Hath Wiseau Wrought?

If, say, instead of the targeted buildings of 9/11, Al Queda had chosen to fly their hijacked planes into all five sold-out auditoriums of THE ROOM at the Sunset 5 this past Saturday night, Osama Bin Laden would have received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Bail out or buckle up, buckaroos, 'cause it's only gonna get nastier.

As alluded to a couple postings ago, and for years in general conversation with film-savvy friends, I have made my dislike and distrust of a certain "hip" midnight movie called THE ROOM abundantly clear. However, in full disclosure, I was making these maledictions without ever having watched the film, either by itself or in its "enhanced" presentation as it is currently experienced by a disturbingly increasing number of cult movie fans. Much as social worker Sandra Markowitz once observed in A THOUSAND CLOWNS, it is an obvious conflict against all professional standards as an ostensible critic of movies. I didn't like the phenomena of THE ROOM, so I tried to understand it. And now that I have seen it and understand it, I hate it even more.

But, you ask, all you sensible people and aging Gen-Xers who don't find bad movies funny anymore, what is THE ROOM? In brief, it's a very ineptly executed vanity project for mysteriously wealthy writer/director/actor Tommy Wiseau, a drama about a love triangle that, as described by British newspaper The Guardian, plays as a mix of "Tennessee Williams, Ed Wood and R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet". Shot in both digital and 35mm (and indiscriminately cutting between the two formats), with noticeable green screen superimpositions, continuity errors, and gaping plot holes, on its own, it is admittedly a rather amusing addition to the pantheon of works by delusional wunderkinds, rating somewhere above Babar Ahmed's ROYAL KILL but below John S. Rad's DANGEROUS MEN. I distinctly remember the one week in 2003 that THE ROOM was four-walled into numerous Laemmle theatres in Los Angeles; employees of the chain told me wild tales of the film's awfulness and the lack of customers for it, and that it could easily become another ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW if nurtured properly.

Sure enough, their prediction came true. Since Mr. Wiseau had enough money to keep this billboard on La Brea Blvd. for nearly four years, he definitely had enough money to continue four-walling the Sunset 5 once a month. And to humor the parade of post-Modernists willing to hand over their cash, he played along with their mocking and asserted that the film was meant to be comedy all along, despite his actors insisting that he was dead serious during the shoot. Soon, celebrities known for their poses of ironic detachment (Kristen Bell, David Cross, members of "The State") became public champions of the film, and attendance grew at the screenings over the years, to the point now where, for its monthly appearance, the movie is run on all five screens and sells all of them out before 10 pm that night. That kind of drawing power is impossible to ignore, and many of my friends over the years have taken the bait, and encouraged me to do the same.

I have always resisted until now; something has never smelled right about this whole affair. In all candor, it smells of astroturf and bullshit. I think it is safe to say that unless your name is Montgomery Brewster or Max Bialystock, there is only one kind of individual who is determined to fritter away large sums of money in such a grand fashion. And considering that Mr. Wiseau never gives a straight answer or any bonafides on his background or where his money comes from, coupled with a private investigator discovering the San Francisco locations which he claimed housed a successful fashion business in fact had no retail activity whatsoever, a major accusation comes to my mind. This accusation is Most Often Baseless, if you look at it initially. To be fair again, I admit plenty of the strange movies I enjoy have gotten direct or indirect support from shady sources. Still, I could never shake the feeling that this guy had an undocumented container in a Baltimore shipyard.

Enough character assasination of Mr. Wiseau. Let's nuke his fanbase now.

I imagine that years ago, a group of jocks and rich nerds with severe Stockholm Syndrome went to a ROCKY HORROR performance, and when it was over thought, "Gee, I really enjoy making a loudmouthed jackass of myself in a theatre, but I hate being surrounded by all these punks, faggots, and freaks. If only there was a movie where we could yell out stupid shit without having to be around these undesirables." Well, they've gotten their wish. In all my years of cult movie viewing, I have never seen cinematic cheese being devoured by so many crackers. This contingent may as well have been auditioning for NIGHT OF THE HIGH FIVE'N WHITE GUYS. Granted, you don't see that many minorities attending a ROCKY HORROR performance either...which has always baffled me some, since most of the black men I know would love to be among scantily-clad white women...but nonetheless, if I pulled a random Roomie from the crowd they could claim to have a Black friend from college or an Indian co-worker or an Asian dominatrix, but only one of the three; the average ROCKY fan knows and/or has had mad screaming sex with multiple non-white people. But lest I sound down on Caucasians in general, let me say these folks looked nothing like the average American man of beige either, toiling it out in a job they hate to pay for home and family. This was a special sampling of trust-fund trash, venture capitalists, and former sitcom boiler room gag men. Yes, that terrifying demographic feared worldwide, the Douchebag Hipster, complete with occasional unattainable Model/Actress/Designer/D.J. girlfriend. And greeting and waving to them all was their leader Mr. Wiseau, grinning like Sylvester McMonkey McBean as if promising the horde that upon exiting the cinema they would have a star marking them the Hippest of Sneetches on Los Angeles beaches. And all it would cost them was 7 bucks eaches.

Things did not get better inside the theatre. People scrambled to get into the better auditoriums, though they were promised that Mr. Wiseau would visit all of them, and then they waited for the show to start. And waited. All the while, nothing was going on - no warm-up, no announcements, they couldn't even be bothered to play the theatre's preprogrammed monthly music sampler CD. Oh sure, a few veterans yelled to the crowd asking for first-time viewers or people with beards (since the film's nominal antagonist has one), and there were some yells of "I've got spoons," "I've got a football," etc. Many of the ladies near me were already bored at the somewhat unimaginative banter. Finally, since apparently I was in the last stop auditorium, Mr. Wiseau came for his "humorous" pre-show Q&A, where he was greeted with such knee-slappers as "How many women have you had sex with," "How would you have directed UP," "Recite us some Shakespeare." I had to severely stifle the urge to stand and ask, "HOW MUCH PROFIT FROM HEROIN TRADE AND CHILD PROSTITUTION HAVE WE GULLIBLE TRENDOIDS HELPED YOU LAUNDER OVER THE LAST HALF-DECADE?" After a few minutes of this, our master of shenanigans departed and the movie began.

Now, when people compare this to ROCKY HORROR, they are essentially correct in that both experiences feature timed callbacks, ritual activity, and people in costume. The most obvious difference is that THE ROOM features no shadowcasting, i.e. actors mimicking the film events live in the theatre. Because this movie contains so many love scenes, and so many views of Mr. Wiseau's leathered posterior, I'll allow that perhaps this is an impractical idea. In keeping with the limited staging and action of the movie, there are also few uses for props and/or costumes: basically, some guys showed up in tuxedos or suits and half-heartedly tossed a football around because the characters on screen were doing so, and at moments where supposedly a painting of flatware could be seen in the shot (I never saw it), everyone threw plastic spoons. And even that gag lost steam over the course of the movie - I guess the audience suffered from mental fibromyalgia and had just plain run out of spoons. I submit that there were some funny callbacks, but you had to wade through a large amount of unimaginative blather to get to them; dull repetitions of the obvious instead of exploring and heightening the comic and verbal possibilities. Film critic Ernest Hardy once described the movie JAWBREAKER as like watching an annoying young drag queen who flubs the quips she's stolen, refuses to shut up, and thinks attitude is wit. Change the drag queen to that heterosexual breakroom bozo who manages to burn every comedy catch phrase six months past their shelf life, and you've captured the spirit of this audience. And keep in mind this has been going on for six years. Six years? And that is your A game? You guys couldn't even be bothered to buy the Rifftrax parody and borrow some jokes? A Mexican rent boy could come up here with a goat, an onion, and a Madonna album and kick your ass.

To properly enjoy and embrace a so-called "bad" movie, one must approach it with a peculiar combination of ridicule and reverence. Sure, we are laughing at every bad line reading, or clumsily structured song, or cardboard set, or piece of stock footage. But because freaks like us have experienced failure all our lives - the recital where our voice cracked, the bad poetry we wrote in high school, the large romantic gesture that was cruelly unreciprocated - when we see it happen to others, for as much as we are laughing, we are also in sympathy with the doomed enterprise. There's a respect for the notion that, well, they went off and did it, and most people never do. Whether it's something flawed like ROCKY HORROR or as cheap as MANOS, HANDS OF FATE, or as batshit insane as STRANGERS IN PARADISE, we embrace and love these movies because they inspire a sense of community in us.

Unfortunately, the audience that has embraced THE ROOM does not radiate that vibe. If a typical ROCKY HORROR fan is Carrie White, the collective attending THE ROOM are the ones who poured the pig's blood on top of her. Most of them have never experienced "bad" filmmaking before, hell, I don't think they've experienced "bad" anything before. They have never had the joy of a welfare Christmas. For all the fawning and cheering and "We love you Tommy" shouts, the truth is they have come solely to mock and throw stones. They will never have the balls to attempt anything similarly risky in their lives because they know exactly how their kind will treat them if it is anything less than massively successful. Mr. Wiseau doesn't care because he's already taken their money and bought guns for Chechnya. Which is why I can't particularly support him in this matter either - he's a willfully vague and sleazy character who won't admit to a single sincere moment of pain because someone might grow a conscience and not pay money to laugh at him. To paraphrase Simon Pegg in "SPACED," this is boil-in-the-bag subversion for overgrown frat boys and vintage clothing profiteers who are sitting on a stack of unopened lounge music CDs that they bought "ironically" a decade ago during the waning days of the SWINGERS phenomenon.

THE ROOM (and all of its enablers) needs to be sealed shut, bricked up, and walled over as if the last cask of Amontillado was contained within. You will never find a more wretched hive of yuppie scum and bland villainy.

7 comments:

  1. I consider myself fortunate that I was able to view "The Room" from the safety of my home video player, and not wading through the slippery pools tainted testosterone that seems to wet the floors of those theaters.

    I admire you, though, for making the experiment.

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  2. i'm sorry you had to go, heuck, but i'm glad you went because if you hadn't gone we wouldn't have this.

    i really like the way you write, marc.

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  3. I have never heard of the room, but this was incredible.

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  4. Great Movie... Terrible Blog

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  5. I love how you wrote this...but me and people just kind of ignore the frat boys, because Rocky Horror never plays anywhere, and The Room screenings are much cheaper, anyway.

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  6. "Mr. Wiseau doesn't care because he's already taken their money and bought guns for Chechnya"

    Having seen 'The Room' I can safely say that it was more a weapon of mass destruction than any weapon of war could ever hop to be.

    P.S. Chechnya was invaded by Russia - that technically makes Russia the 'bad guys' in the conflict - they deserve every terrorist bombing they get. You just made Wiseau equivalent to a Che Guevara figure.

    P.S. For someone so anti- hipster douchebag, you sure cam around sounding like a judgmental twat with ZERO sense of irony or humor - you've made the same mistake Tommy and his fans have - you took it TOO SERIOUSLY...

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  7. Hello, Anonymous. Have you been introduced to my friend Emery Emery? You seem to share the same opinion.

    You probably have me dead to rights on the Chechnya issue. But how do you know the Chechnyans are using those guns in the conflict with Russia? Not everyone there is killing in the name of independence.

    Tommy Wiseau equivalent to Che Guevara? A nobody who got lucky, built a cult of personality, became a power-loving asshole, and died ignominiously. Yeah, I can see that.

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