The Late Shift: The Room



The Aftermath
  • The Aftermath
If there's one thing you need to know about this column, it's that it's basically a flimsy excuse to spend more hours of my life watching and talking about Tommy Wiseau's magnum opus, The Room. I'm not terribly proud to admit this, but after six screenings, hundreds of spoons thrown and a 30-page sociology paper about midnight movie audience social structures, I have become an expert on this ridiculous bit of cinematic terrorism.

Oh, who am I kidding? I'm totally proud of that. And, for whatever reason, the prospect of seeing another double shot of televisions chucked through windows, footballs thrown underhanded and misplaced “underwears” at The Belcourt had me downright gleeful. So gleeful that I bought tickets for my seventh and eighth visit to The Room as soon as they went on sale and demanded that everyone I know come with me.

But not everyone feels the same way that I do.

A few years ago, back when I was still a lowly intern at this publication, occasionally controversial film section contributor Michael Sicinski wrote a review of The Room in which he said “the film is a complete waste of time” and suggested that members of the Wiseau cult were “late-pomo ironists … desperate for some lame item to feel superior to.”

Obviously, as an honest fan of this dumb pile of garbage who still has this review all up in my craw, I resent that suggestion like hell. But, at the same time, I do understand why he said what he said. Sicinski's review clearly came from a place of seeing the movie in the comfort of his own home, watching critically from a DVD screener with an understanding of the backstory and cult following that surrounds it. In other words, he watched this movie like it was a regular movie.

Which is to say, he was doing it wrong.

What you need to remember about The Room (and, to a certain extent, Rocky Horror) is that you aren't paying to watch the movie. You're paying to engage in a social experience that happens to include a movie. You're paying to throw spoons, cheer at a pan over the Golden Gate Bridge and leave in disgust at the movie's fourth sex scene. Roger Ebert once said that he couldn't imagine “anything less interesting than watching Rocky Horror by yourself” and that sentiment couldn't be any more true for The Room.

The key difference between Fright Night, which I didn't find particularly successful as a midnight movie, and The Room, which is almost too successful, is that watching The Room at midnight at The Belcourt (or any other movie theater) fundamentally changes the movie experience. On its face, The Room is just another bad movie with questionable acting and a story structure so corroded by plot holes that it very well may collapse in on itself. But in a theater, there's a bizarre communal joy that comes from the audience reclaiming this awful movie. If this were a sociology class, I might call this bricolage. But it isn't, so I won't.

All that aside, I noticed a few things on Friday and Saturday night:

  • Scotchka, the horrific mixture of Scotch and vodka that has inexplicably become the drink of choice at Room screenings, wasn't being officially advertised at either screening. I heard that they simply didn't have enough Scotch, but I choose to believe the Belcourt staff was just concerned for our safety. For good reason too — an amateur would probably get wrecked off just one.

    That didn't stop people from buying it, of course. I had a sip of Scotchka on Friday night (thanks, new friends from Columbia!) and it's absolutely vile. It tastes like nothing, then like burning. As much of a proponent of the Room experience as I am, this is not a necessary (or recommended) part of it. Seriously. Please don't drink this horrible drink. I'm begging you here.

  • Despite being nearly sold out on both nights — the last numbers I heard were less than 100 tickets left on Friday and down in the single digits left on Saturday — there were surprisingly few people dressed up as the dudes from the picture. There were, however, lots of ladies wearing red dresses. Whether or not that was by design is up in the air.

  • The crowd skews a lot younger at The Room than the previous midnight movies. If I had to take a guess, I'd say the average age was somewhere in the early-to-mid 20s, whereas the Fright Night and Re-Animator screenings were more late 20s, early 30s. It's also a bit older than the Rocky Horror virgin crowd and a bit younger than the Rocky Horror old hands.

  • Speaking of Rocky Horror, Little Morals MC Ryan Williams was at both screenings and puts us all to shame on the comedy tip. That dude's funny. If you want to get schooled on how to make jokes at a moving target, sit in the back of the theater and pay attention. Also, not to toot my own horn or anything, but I managed to get in a couple of good ones myself on Saturday. You wouldn't believe how satisfying it is to make a handful of total strangers laugh.

  • Friday night was dominated by people who were new to the movie. And I mean dominated. Maybe half the theater hadn't seen The Room before, which took co-MCs Bob and Jason aback. Friday night was also a bit rowdier, with more football and more noise (though not necessarily funny noise). Comparatively, Saturday has zero football antics and lulls where no one was shouting anything — which is really for the best.

  • Most mystifyingly, the girl sitting next to me on Friday managed to fall asleep during the movie. Even with spoons raining down from the heavens. Even with everyone shouting like lunatics. That takes talent.

  • By the end of both nights, so many spoons were thrown that Belcourt employees were using snow shovels to deal with them all.

The key to enjoying this movie (and the circus that overwhelms it) is to remember that you get out what you put in. If you're willing to roll with it, then you'll have a good time. And that's my main counterpoint to Sicinski's review — there's nothing ironic about what happens at The Room. We're not all sitting, arms crossed, and scoffing at how shitty this movie is, we're celebrating how shitty this movie is in a way that's intensely sincere. That's what makes the eighth time seeing this movie as satisfying as the first time, why I'll be just as excited to see it again when it rolls through town next time.

Next weekend: My joyride comes to an end as I force myself to take in the first midnight movie that I'm actively dreading — the surrealist anti-comedy wonder that is Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie. I expect to get through it by replaying the trailer for Battle Royale (!!!) in my head.

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