On a lazy Saturday a couple of months ago, a friend of mine suggested we watch what was described to her as "the worst movie ever made." Little did I know this would be a watershed moment in my relatively short, banal life. The movie my friend was talking about was The Room, a classic, of sorts, written, directed, starred in, financed, and produced by Tommy Wiseau, an aspiring middle-aged filmmaker with an ambiguous central European accent. Thanks to Wiseau, within 99 precious minutes I learned about life and the beauty and grace of playing extremely close-range football in tuxedos. (But mostly I learned about life.) For any of you who have not seen The Roomfind a local screening, download it, raid Tommy Wiseau’s house if you have to. Just get it somehow.
"Maybe The Room exists to give contrarians freedom. It's just too much work to figure out why to hate it."
By now the story of the The Room's rise to midnight movie staple is fairly well-known: Self-distributed and paid for entirely by Wiseau, the movie was released in 2003 in Los Angeles with little successat least, in the conventional sense. Word slowly spread about the "Citizen Kane of bad movies," and by 2006 The Room's boosters included slacker royalty David Wain and David Cross. Monthly screenings, à la The Rocky Horror Picture Show, began to take hold in Los Angeles, and in 2008 the movie's greatest hitsof which there are a considerable numberbegan showing up at all ends of the internet. If a 5,500-word treatise in last month's Harper's is any indication, The Room has since gone above-ground. Its website currently lists screenings in seven countries, many no doubt replete with fans dressing up as their favorite characters and yelling their most inane lines. Wiseauas full of broken English and confusing clichés in real life as he is as "Johnny," the The Room's lovelorn protagonisthas become a minor celebrity.She doesn't deserve all the credit, but Lindsay Robertson has arguably been for Tommy Wiseau what Paul was for Nazareth longhairs. As one of the founding editors of Videogum, the pop-culture spinoff of cranky music blog Stereogum, Robertson in 2008 took seemingly every last opportunity in service of "[convincing] you that this convoluted, nonsensical story of a love triangle gone hilariously bad is worth an hour and a half of your time." Though The Room is no longer her beatshe now freelances for New York Magazine's website and for Jezebelthe 33-year-old Brooklyn resident has hardly forgotten the likes of one Tommy Wiseau. In the following interview, which was conducted by email and has been edited for clarity, Robertson discusses the many terrible ingredients of The Room; those people who would attempt to ride the wave of horrible cinema; and what it's like to watch an awkward sex scene next to an actor who appears in said scene.
Gelf Magazine: How did you come across The Room?
Lindsay Robertson: In 2007, my friend Stephanie got a new roommate, a guy from LA, and he was watching his bootleg DVD one night when she came home, so she watched, too. Then she wouldn't shut up about it for weeks, trying to get me to see it. My answer was: 1) the name sounds like a horror movie; and 2) I don't want to watch an entire movie just because it's bad. But finally she brought over the DVD and said "Will you just give it 15 minutes?" So I did, and of course I was hooked. I've used the 15-minutes gambit on everyone I've forced to watch the movie, and every single one has watched the whole thing and gotten obsessed.
Gelf Magazine: Why do you think this movie in particular has captivated so many people?
Lindsay Robertson: Because it's not boring. Most so-bad-they're-good movies have scenes you have to just sit through to get to the bad/good stuff. But in The Room, every scene is its own individual masterpiece. Also, no matter how popular and well-known The Room gets, everyone who watches it feels like it's their own amazing discovery.
Gelf Magazine: You've mentioned before you think The Room is an "incredibly important cult phenomenon," yet you also say the whole thing is ridiculous. What is it that makes it an important cultural artifact?
Lindsay Robertson: Because, as Tom Bissell said in his amazing Harper's piece on The Room (which should win journalism prizes), The Room can never be duplicated. The movie was an exercise in complete un-self-consciousness, and you can't be un-self-conscious on purpose. There will be other bad movies, of course, but it's unlikely that the stars will align and another director like Tommy Wiseau will have the money to realize his vision with literally no input from any other person. I don't think even Woody Allen gets to do that, actually, when you think about it.
Gelf Magazine: The Room has attracted major web buzz, and yet I have many friends who still haven't seen it. Is this a phenomenon unique to this film, or a product of the volume of choices that are out there for cultural consumers?
Lindsay Robertson: Well, it has such a boring name, for one. I really think it comes down to people not wanting to be forced to watch something. At least with my friends it does. I have to beg and plead, and then finally they watch it, and for the next three weeks they're peppering their speech with "How's your sex life?" and "Oh, hi doggy," and emailing me links to interviews with Tommy and Room trivia, and I'm like, "See? I told you you'd be obsessed."
Gelf Magazine: Although Wiseau has described his movie as a "black comedy" (whatever that means), it certainly seems like this was a serious effort aimed at showcasing his acting and directing chops. Did you glean anything from listening to him speak at the NYC screening?
Gelf Magazine: Over the course of the film, are there any characters that you do end up connecting with? Did you ever feel yourself empathizing with any of the situations presented in the film?
Lindsay Robertson: Huh. I guess I empathize with the dog at the flower shop. That's it. Oh wait, no, also Mark in the beginning, because I, too, have told someone I was very busy in order to get off the phone. I think we can all relate to that.
Gelf Magazine: It's interesting how many people are drawn to this movie: The acting is abysmal and the scenes are so disjointed, it's almost as though you are watching a high-school film project gone terribly wrong. Do you think part of the draw of the film is the feeling that you are part of a great inside joke?
Lindsay Robertson: I think that's the main draw. The Room brings people together for that reason. And I don't think, realistically, it can get that big. Like, I don't think we're going to read that the Obamas screened it on movie night in their family room at the White House. So to some extent it will always feel like an inside joke.
Gelf Magazine: Have you (gasp) met anyone that hasn't liked The Room?
Lindsay Robertson: Not a single person. Even the grumpy contrarians love it, and I think that makes sense because contrarians are used to always going with the counter-response to what they calculate to be the main response, but then something like The Room baffles them too much and liking it seems like a comfortable position for them. They can just enjoy it. Maybe The Room exists to give contrarians freedom. It's just too much work to figure out why to hate it. I don't think I could be friends with someone who didn't like The Room, because I think it would be a sign of intellectual dishonesty. I think they would be lying to both themselves and to others. It would be like if someone didn't like Louis CK's comedy: Forget you, it's not even subjective at this point.
Gelf Magazine: Reality TV, which is so omnipotent, makes up for weak plots with glitzy production. Do you think it's refreshing for people to see such a lack of artifice in The Room?
Lindsay Robertson: Yeahnow that the most popular kind of entertainment is people, as themselves, trying as hard as they can to become the biggest laughingstocks and total jokes that everyone actually truly looks down on and hates for real, where do we get our old-school-style unintentional buffoons, other than in politics? I do, though, think The Room was more fun when Tommy Wiseau wasn't doing interviews or being a presence.
Gelf Magazine: Do you think this movie will spark others to try to outdo it in hopes of gaining a similar cult following, or just as a homage?
Lindsay Robertson: Unfortunately, yeah. I think a lot of overzealous people with good intentions are trying to frame other bad movies (that may or may not have been influenced by The Room) as "the next Room." Like Birdemic. Birdemic is certainly bad-funny in parts, but nothing even happens until 45 minutes into the movie! It's basically a YouTube clip's worth of funny and definitely not a reason to go to a movie theater at midnight. Unless you're in college or something.