The Video Vulture finally experiences The Room
The last time I ever visited Calgary’s late, lamented Uptown Theatre, the nice lady at the ticket booth asked me if I wanted any plastic cutlery.
I was puzzled. A big handful of picnic flatware was proffered, and I stood there for a second and a half, wondering what the hell was going on. “No thanks”, I finally answered with a weak smile, and went off to join the throng in the lobby, many of whom were equipped with plastic spoons from home, just in case the good people at the Uptown were out of stock, or worst of all, didn’t offer any disposable cutlery whatsoever. This should be interesting, I thought, looking at the cheerful crowd as they tossed footballs around and chatted excitedly about “Scotchka”.
It was October 22nd, 2011, and the Uptown was screening a ridiculously bad movie called The Room (2003) for the sixth time. The vast majority of the audience clearly knew exactly what they were getting into, but I was considerably less informed, having decided to attend the film “fresh”, with very little foreknowledge about what I was about to see. Terrible films are a passion of mine, but I tend to be a bit behind the times, revelling in cinematic oddities like The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916) or Darktown Strutters (1975) long after most sane people have forgotten about them. Here was a chance to let one of the newer “Best Worst movies” take me by surprise. One of the surprises was that the film had gone full Rocky Horror in the short period of time since it‘s first release, with enthusiastic shouting and projectile throwing now an expected part of the game.
I took a seat near the back, partly so I could observe the audience do their thing, and partly because I suspected that people would be throwing stuff. Sure enough, audience members were already getting accidentally beaned by a football before the film even started, but nobody seemed to mind. Then the lights dimmed, the words “Wiseau Films” appeared onscreen to tumultuous applause, and The Room began.
This movie fully deserves it’s reputation; it is indescribably terrible. The tender story of a relationship gone sour, the film continuously shakes up it’s dull premise with non-sequitur dialogue, ridiculous characters doing baffling things, little stumps of subplots that go nowhere, and an overwhelming earnestness to the whole thing that suggests that actor/writer/director Tommy Wiseau had absolutely no idea that his deeply personal magnum opus was a complete fiasco.
Meanwhile, the audience was having the time of their life, hurling plastic spoons at the screen and engaging in established “audience participation” routines that sound an awful lot like simple drunken yelling to the uninitiated. As the film went on, however, I started to appreciate the shout-backs more, perhaps because I was learning the game, or perhaps because they provided a welcome distraction from the god-awful story.
When the picture went fuzzy, the audience yelled “Focus! Focus!”. Then, they heckled a graphic sex scene with “Oh God! Unfocus!”.
Everybody in the theatre started chanting the “Mission Impossible” theme song when Tommy’s character started using the most sophisticated surveillance equipment he could find: a cassette recorder.
The first time the camera slowly panned along the Golden Gate bridge, I had no idea why the audience was chanting “Go! Go! Go!” followed by a disappointed groan when we cut away. Later, when the same thing happened but the camera finally made it to the other end of the bridge, there was loud cheering, and I figured out the joke.
I stated the evening feeling a bit miffed by all the inebriated yelling, but left the screening feeling energized and alive. This is clearly a film that needs to be seen in a theatre multiple times, with an enthusiastic crowd. As fun as my first viewing of The Room was, I’m sure my second viewing will be even better.
Sadly, I’m not sure when that will happen. Less than two weeks later the Uptown Cinema suddenly shut it’s doors, and it doesn’t seem like they’ll open again any time soon. The Uptown brought a lot of joy to a lot of Calgarians, and I’m glad that my last experience there was such a fun one.
Illustrated by TomB
First published in FFWD Weekly on March 22, 2012