Our interview has been scheduled for 10am but the publicist warned me that Tommy Wiseau might call a little late; apparently he’s has been making a habit of it. She said: “I think this might be part of the film’s marketing mystique.”
The obvious response to a statement such as that is to ask what kind of perverse marketing strategy would actually intend to p-ss off journalists before they’ve had a chance to ask their first question.
But I know better. This is no ordinary film and nor are the publicity techniques that have helped shape it into one of the most unlikely cult movies in the last, well, ever.
In the world of cinema the popular expression “so bad it’s good” usually applies to productions spangled with cheap and gaudy special effects, such as horror and Sci-Fi movies. Wiseau’s notorious independent film The Room has proved, to some at least, that the same expression can apply to a melodrama that touches upon (“explores” feels too sophisticated for such a film) a range of serious and complex issues — including love, infidelity, betrayal, drug addiction, violence and death.
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Famously dubbed the “Citizen Kane of bad movies”, The Room has amassed a following of viewers in America who passionately celebrate its undisguisable awfulness. At late-night screenings people are known to throw footballs around the cinema and jog up and down the aisles at various points in the narrative. Most bizarrely, a tradition has emerged in which audience members hurl plastic spoons in the air when a particular painting appears on the screen. At the film’s Melbourne premiere at Cinema Nova, where it opened earlier this month, staff handed out the spoons free of charge.
At 10:18 the call from Wiseau comes through. His answers to my questions are long, sprawling and borderline incomprehensible. It doesn’t take him long to recite one of his favourite interview lines (which he says twice) in response to a question about the strange responses The Room has solicited. “You can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself but please don’t hurt each other,” he says.
Very little is known about Wiseau — particularly where he comes from and how he was capable of making a movie so cataclysmically bad. He speaks in broken but sometimes surprisingly eloquent English, in an accent that sounds vaguely Eastern European. About five minutes of our interview is wasted when I try to get to him to explain what kind of accent it is. Perhaps this is sensitive terrain — after all, it was a condition of the interview that the audio would not be uploaded.
“I’m basically an American slash citizen in America. So basically I did travel (to) several countries but I am American. My backgrounds are you know as follows — acting, school, production, film etc, etc. You could write a book about it.”
I make the point that his voice does not sound like a traditional American accent. But, frustrated that he’s being so elusive, I give up shortly after and move on.
“I don’t have a strange accent, I don’t have Middle Eastern accent, my accent is relate to education if you ask me. That is the story,” he says.
“Some of them (the media) — what they print is incorrect. They try to correct my age already. I am 41, I am not 100-years-old! You see again this is the thing what we have in America, this free amendment, pro-choice, people express themselves, and some of the establishment is, if you ask me, off the wall. Completely incorrect.”
With answers such as that, no wonder the media are messing up the facts.
In essence The Room is about a sordid love triangle between all-round nice guy Johnny (played by Wiseau), his conniving girl friend Lisa (Juliette Danielle) and his best friend Denny (Philip Haldiman).
It’s clear 15 seconds into the first scene that The Room will feature the kind of acting that — despite the American film industry’s generally low standards — is of a quality so shockingly abysmal that it smacks the viewer in the face like the proverbial sock full of pennies. Led by Wiseau (who also wrote, directed and produced) the cast demonstrate an incredible knack for flubbing even the simplest lines of dialogue. Prosaic lines such as “here you go, keep the change” and “let’s go eat” sound laughably unconvincing. When the script drifts into higher gears dramatically (or at least attempts to) and the cast are required to invest dramatic weight into their performances, the effect is like watching a train crash at an excruciatingly slow pace.
And that’s exactly what I say to Wiseau.
“Well you can name it that, I don’t know,” he says. “The way you said it, I think there is nothing wrong with that. I’m just like whatever, you know? I have nothing to say except I will say it is a roller-coaster ride.”
For the record: roller-coaster rides are fast, thrilling, visceral experiences. These adjectives do not apply to The Room.
“If you feel the acting is bad, whatever,” he says. “You see we have a process of rehearsal. Let me also straighten out something here, I don’t know if I said already. This is 12 years of my life, for your information. It’s not like I wrote this in one second, OK?”
The film cost about $US6 million, but you’d never know it. The Room looks a badly shot daytime TV soap opera. When I explain to Wiseau my theory that instead of investing all this moolah into the film he must have been involved in some kind of cash laundering or tax evasion he gets a bit shirty, delving into a long rant about how he had to change the crew four times because people were allegedly trying to tamper with his “vision” and how the film was the first in the world to be shot simultaneously on HD and 35mm formats. “That is a fact!” he hollers. The transcript is available on my blog.
The Room is dotted with eerily cold and clinical s-x scenes, n-ked images of the cast accompanied by sickeningly cheesy fingernail-down-the-blackboard soundtrack selections. I explain to Wiseau why I found these scenes so disturbing — because watching the human bodies connect felt like watching clumps of dead flesh pressing against each other.
“Well by the way, great observation, I like that,” he says. “In the editing room we decided to reshoot some of it, believe it or not, because it was too polished. I said wait a minute, we don’t want it too polished! Let me say to your statement, you know, we are part animals, part vampires. You see, human behaviour in certain situations — I say to myself, Tommy be nice — in certain situations we like to act in a certain way, OK? And this is why I like your statement. You make my day if you ask me.”
There is a lot about The Room that feels, well, suss, and Wiseau’s mysterious accent is just the tip of the iceberg. At a most fundamental level it is hard to believe that anybody could unintentionally make a film this bad. This leads to my theory about how and why the film was made — that rather than being a group of incompetent ninnies, Wiseau and his crew deliberately set out to make an über bad movie, with the intention of marketing it as one of the worst of all time. Understandably, Wiseau rejects this.
“No, that is not where The Room comes from if you ask me. That is a wrong statement,” he says.
“I will 100 percent disagree with you because again The Room is based on my work. 12 years of work. Very intensive research … There is certain symbolism and without the symbolism within The Room you would not have The Room. We cannot just say OK, we will make a bad movie because we feel like it.”
Could have fooled me.
The Room is currently showing exclusively at Cinema Nova in Melbourne, every Saturday at 11pm. The DVD is available on Amazon.
Luke Buckmaster’s full outrageous interview with Wiseau can be read at Cinetology.