Although initially inspired by the searing melodrama of Tennessee Williams, notorious director Tommy Wiseau has ridden the wave of inexplicable success due to a preternatural gift he stumbled upon — comedy. On Friday and Saturday, rabid fans will line up outside Oakland’s Piedmont Theatre to experience his crowning achievement, “The Room,” which he has not only directed but also produced, written and starred in. The film has earned itself a seat in the so-bad-it’s-good film canon as the oft-dubbed “Citizen Kane of bad movies.”
When hearing simultaneously of the film’s horrible reviews and its devoted fan base, the uninitiated may find the success of the film perplexing. Set in San Francisco, the film depicts a vaguely wealthy businessman whose “future wife,” Lisa (the word “fiancee is noticeably unused), and “best friend,” Mark, engage in a love affair that spirals uncontrollably.
The conflict’s intensity gets lost in a sea of gags: poorly written dialogue, unbearably gratuitous sex scenes and dozens of subplots that are left unexplained. Characters play football in tuxedos for no reason. Strange portraits of spoons and Tommy Wiseau himself can be seen in the background. Early in the film, Lisa’s mother interrupts a discussion about Lisa’s marriage to say, nonchalantly, “I definitely have breast cancer,” a concern that is never revisited. Like any celebrated work of art, “The Room” generously rewards repeat viewers with endless amounts of hilarious antics and haphazard editing.
A myth has arisen behind the making of the film that is as strange and comedic as the work itself. The film’s budget was a shocking $6 million, which was self-financed by Wiseau, who purports to have sold motorcycles to earn the money. The jarring visual style is partly a result of Wiseau shooting the film simultaneously with high definition and 35 mm cameras, a setup that is unheard of and considered completely redundant in filmmaking.
Yet Wiseau is quick to defend himself. In an interview with The Daily Californian, Wiseau commented on his use of technology: “Two cameras is not an accident. I wanted to find the true story. What’s the difference between HD and 35 mm? Technology is changing Hollywood, but 10 or 11 years ago, Hollywood wasn’t ready to replace 35 mm with HD.”
In another riotous case of behind-the-scenes publicity, Wiseau has responded in interviews that an off-putting character, Denny, was written in as “retarded.” But the actor himself confessed to be unaware of Denny’s mental handicap.
“In 10 or 11 years, some people don’t remember, or they’re trying to have a thing to describe my craftivity,” Wiseau explained. “That’s his opinion, if that’s what he’s saying. (Denny)’s off, he’s retarded. Whatever.”
Wiseau heavily encourages his audience to educate themselves on other misconceptions by buying the Blu-ray edition of “The Room,” which has behind-the-scenes footage.
“You’ll see what inspired (the film),” Wiseau said.
Midnight screenings have become spectacles heavy in audience participation. Viewers attend these screenings dressed head to toe in costume, ready to jeer at all the awful lines of the film. Footballs are tossed across the room, and spoons are tossed at the screen. The film has thus been often compared to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
Through his cinematic success, Wiseau has gained creative confidence and wishes to establish himself as a credible artist. Beyond Tennessee Williams, Wiseau cites influences such as Citizen Kane, Orson Welles, James Dean and Casablanca. Wiseau hopes to capitalize on his celebrity and move on to new projects.
“This (screening) will be most special because we’ll be screening 15 minutes of my new sitcom, ‘The Neighbors,’ ” Wiseau said. “I wrote ‘The Neighbors’ seven years ago. I get good responses from people in the media, so now we’re actually doing it.”
With a preview of his new series and an appearance by Tommy Wiseau himself, the weekend’s Piedmont Theatre showing is set to be a landmark night for the Bay Area’s trashy cinema scene. Arrive at the theater prepared — with a spoon in hand, ready to toss a football and with at least a few of the movie’s best lines memorized. Most importantly, be prepared to laugh.
“The Room” will play at Piedmont Theatre on Friday and Saturday.
Contact Jason Chen at [email protected].