Midnight screenings of ‘The Room’ guarantee laughter, cringing

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Wiseau-Films/Courtesy

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Attending a midnight screening of “The Room” at the Clay Theatre in San Francisco is a little like going to the movies and a lot like joining a cult. Going for the first time feels almost like a spiritual indoctrination: There are costumes and group recitations, and everyone seems possessed by a kind of religious fervor.

Why such a passionate following surrounds “The Room” remains somewhat of a mystery. The film, initially released in 2003, has gained the deserved reputation of being one of the worst films ever made.

Where can one even begin with the flaws? Users on the film’s IMDb page have discovered a whopping 39 continuity errors, ranging from standard mistakes, such as a wine glass moving in and out of someone’s hands in between shots, to more serious gaffes, such as one character saying, “the candles, the music … what’s going on here?”— despite the fact that no candles have been lit and no music is playing.

But these only scrape the surface; “The Room” has deeper, architectural problems. The character motivations are nonsensical, the acting is laughably unrealistic, and the film contains constant non sequiturs and scenes that serve no purpose. Watching the plot unfold, one can’t help but wonder, “Who could produce such absolute garbage?”

The answer is writer-director-star Tommy Wiseau, who is as enigmatic an auteur as any. He adapted the screenplay for “The Room” from his unpublished 600-page novel and miraculously financed the film’s $6 million budget himself (he claims to have made part of the money from importing and selling Korean leather jackets).

Interestingly, although one might think, based on Wiseau’s ineptitude, that he had never seen a film in his life, “The Room” contains a fair number of cinematic references. Wiseau’s cathartic, rage-induced rampage in his room is undoubtedly a nod to “Citizen Kane,” and his famously delivered line, “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!” is taken straight from James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.”

Like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” attendees of midnight screenings of “The Room” have their own set of rituals while watching the film: Stomp your feet when people walk on the stairs, throw plastic spoons whenever spoons appear on screen (more times than you might think), make kissing noises when the characters kiss, shout “water” every time you see water (unless it’s a panning shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, in which case chant, “Go! Go! Go!” until the camera gets to the other side of the bridge), chant “sports” whenever someone tosses a football, and at least 20 other cues that veterans of the screenings (some people have been to more than 10) have perfected over time.

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Wiseau-Films/Courtesy

For those who return often, it seems as though the community of “The Room” watchers is what makes the midnight screenings so fun. “It’s just great to be part of this zeitgeist of people who just get it,” said one audience member who has seen the film 15 times. “When you come to a thing like this, everyone you see, you’re just like, ‘Oh, this person gets it.’ They’re in on something that you’re also in on, and it’s great.”

Undeniably, the screenings are fun. But underneath, a question still remains: Is “The Room” a good movie? To most, the answer is an unequivocal ‘no,’ but clearly the question demands further consideration. After all, if a movie is “so bad it’s good,” isn’t it, in a way, good? And if the plot holes are so glaring as to make you crack up, hasn’t it succeeded as a comedy?

In short, should Wiseau’s authorial intention hold any bearing on how we evaluate the film? The answer is open to debate, but it seems that there are many pleasures of watching “The Room” besides just making fun of how terrible it is.

For one, there seems to be something undoubtedly Lynchian about “The Room,” in that the banality of the American household becomes disturbing (see: “Twin Peaks,” “Eraserhead”), and one can’t help being creeped out by Wiseau’s deadpan and uncanny performance. On a different view, one critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch praised the film’s depiction of relationships, calling it a “sardonic comedy about sexual politics in the age of terror.”

Wiseau himself regards the film as a meditation on love and betrayal, remarking in the script’s preface: “Human behavior and betrayal applies to all of us. It exists within ourselves. You love somebody. Do you? What is love? You think you have everything, but you don’t have anything.”

Aficionados of “The Room,” however, are not receptive to these theories. As one audience member observed, “It’s like watching a kid ride on his bike and fall on his face. … It’s not a work of art. It’s just bad. And I love it.”

The making of the film has been chronicled by James Franco in his soon-to-be released parodic biopic entitled “The Disaster Artist.”“The Room” plays the second Friday and Saturday of every month at the Clay Theatre and the third Saturday of every month at the Albany Twin Theatre, just north of Berkeley.

Contact Jack Wareham at [email protected].

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