We’ve all heard of The Room, the disaster-piece from visionary waxwork Tommy Wiseau. We’ve all heard it described as ‘the Citizen Kane of bad movies’ by people everywhere. But who actually coined this description? Today, Film Fubb interviews Ross Morin, Assistant Professor of Film Studies at Connecticut College and the man who so beautifully epitomised the defining movie of a de-generation.
How and when did you first hear about The Room?
I first heard about the film when I was in grad school. My roommate had been living in LA over the summer and he had seen this giant, looming, terrifying billboard in the sky advertising a film called The Room. We shared a love for all things awful and strange, so he bought the DVD on Amazon for $9.99. We watched it in a small screening room on campus with a few friends. Within twenty minutes of the start of the film, I was calling everyone I knew and telling them they needed to stop whatever they were doing and get over there. We were howling with laughter, screaming in shock and crying with joy. We had found something special.
For those who don’t know about it, what is The Room?
The Room is the funniest, strangest and most enjoyable failed attempt at a mainstream Hollywood film that has ever been made. There are some wonderful films that fall into this category, such as Troll 2 (which has some truly amazing moments, but drags in mediocrity in the middle), Showgirls (which can appear intentionally subversive at points, almost intentional camp or parody), films like Birdemic, Anaconda or Silent Night Deadly Night, the work of Ed Wood and sometimes Roger Corman or Troma films. The Room stands out from any list of bad movies because of how passionately-made each and every moment in the film feels. It never falls into mediocrity. There is such genuine anger, lust and self-love throughout the entire film. There is raw, unedited emotion here; it is almost a documentary of a man’s fantasy as he tries to put all the pieces of his world together. The Room is David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive before Naomi Watts wakes up.
If you could sum up the ‘style’ of The Room in one scene, which would it be?
The moment that best sums up the film to me is the end before Johnny kills himself (Spoiler Alert!). Many of the bizarre elements of the film are present here:
1. Disregard for creating a ‘real space’ by the film’s set. The camera completely exposes the ‘staircase’ as a few wooden blocks that the characters step onto and off-from.
2. Wiseau’s exaggerated/strange performance. As he smashes items in the room he screams, ‘Screuuhhh tha whole wurrruld!’
3. Childlike innocence inappropriate for an adult. He grabs her dress, rubs it on his crotch and then sniffs it before tearing it in half.
4. Melodramatic small moments. When Johnny grabs the box containing the gun, it is originally opened. In order to get the moment ‘right,’ he closes the box and then opens it again.
5. Melodramatic big moments. The music swells, the editing slows the footage down, and Johnny sobs giant heaving breaths as he brings the gun to his mouth and says his final line, ‘God, forgive me.’
You famously labelled The Room as ‘the Citizen Kane of bad movies.’ What brought about this inspired description?
Calling The Room ‘the Citizen Kane of bad movies’ is one of the more mundane things I’ve ever said – I’m surprised it stuck at all! Mostly the comment was made because I believe this film will have an impact similar to Citizen Kane in that it will be #1 on the list of ‘Top Bad Movies’ for decades. But it should be noted that there are more than a few similarities between the two films. The most obvious being the scenes in which the protagonists smash their rooms apart after being left by their wives/future wives. There are others too, but you can look for them on your own.
The film has been running for over ten years now, branching out to the UK, Europe, New Zealand and Australia. What do you put this ever growing phenomenon down to?
The Room is a phenomenon because it is the perfect storm of incompetency and passion. But it also contains a serious intellectual component. Watching the film is like watching a child throw a temper tantrum all the while deconstructing the language and grammar of mainstream Hollywood cinema. Yet the film isn’t satire; the audience needs to laugh at it and make jokes out of it to turn it into satire. As Susan Sontag noted, camp is something people do. The pleasure of watching The Room comes from interacting with it. It’s like a game. I think most audiences know that the cinema-machine is designed to put us to sleep and fill our heads with ideas and dreams; The Room is the exact opposite of that. It activates the audience and gives them control. It is an intellectual and social EVENT. That’s why watching The Room on your own isn’t quite as much fun.
Will The Room be running in fifty years? Or even a hundred years?
I think The Room will be running in fifty years, but not with the success it has now. Part of its success depends on a type of nostalgia. Younger audiences love this movie partially because of how ‘nineties’ it feels. Most of the sex scenes feel like they belong in a ‘Boyz II Men’ music video. Part of the strangeness of the film is the recognition that the decade is completely wrong. This won’t be as clear five or ten years from now. I’ve been teaching filmmaking and screenwriting since I saw the film in ’07. I’ve used bits and pieces from the film in every single course I’ve taught since then. Whether it’s still screening publicly fifty years from now, I couldn’t say. But I bet it’ll still be part of curriculum in some film schools.
Final question. Tommy Wiseau: genius or lucky as hell?
Tommy Wiseau transcends questions of genius and luck. He is a gift from the film gods to film fans. I seriously think part of his success is that he’s a reminder that no matter how badly we fail at something, there’s value in our passion. We can relate to giving something our all and failing. When we watch the film with other people and interact with it, we celebrate that passion.
I don’t think people mock the film with anger or hostility. I think they mock it with love. Tommy represents a childlike innocence to a lot of people. Despite the films abhorrent sexual politics (‘women are evil’), or perhaps because of it (isn’t that just the adult version of ‘girls have cooties’?), audiences forgive him because it all seems so honest, like it comes from a place of heartbreak, as if an entry in a diary after a breakup. The Room: ‘Dear Diary, Lisa broke my heart. Women are all evil! They are all out to get me! And my best friend betrayed me. I don’t have a friend in the world.’ Whether referring to men or women, who CAN’T relate to feeling that way at some point?
The night I met Tommy, I watched him step out of a cab at the Ziegfeld Theatre in Manhattan to be greeted by hundreds of screaming fans. My New York friends told me, ‘Al Pacino could have stepped out of that car and no one would have reacted like that.’ I watched as he hugged two young women who immediately burst into tears. As he autographed one of their footballs, I saw in her face an emotion that I feel so often when watching the film: pure ecstatic joy.
Many thanks to Ross Morin. Check out the trailer below!