Tuesday, 17 August 2010

On the greatness of Tommy Wiseau's The Room

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“You must be kidding, underwear – I got the picture!”

The Room is a celebrated cult phenomenon (the latest in a long line of movies dubbed the ‘worst ever’) and, as such, has unsurprisingly spawned a great deal of discussion. I want to take a slightly different approach to it than many, however. Rather than focussing on a run-down of its countless dreadful pleasures or the participatory culture that has sprung up around it, I want to look in detail at one short sequence to try to explain something of how it works, and what this can tell us about the film as a whole. I have a few reasons for doing this.

Firstly: although one of the great things about the kind of cult fandom The Room has attracted is that it encourages a focus on details (The spoons! The football!), I haven’t read many accounts of the movie that try to discuss how these details add up to form patterns of (wonderfully absurd) meaning within sequences or the film as a whole. Secondly, one thing I find slightly offputting about fan screenings of the film is that they tend to fetishise these marvellous individual details to the point where noticing them (and yelling out the traditional responses to indicate that they have been noticed) drowns out any sense of the peculiarly unorganically-organic flow of their scenes, and of the movie more generally. The extreme oddness of how The Room’s scenes feel as scenes (not merely as successions of quirks) is one of the things that makes the film so brilliant, and I think a close analysis should allow me to capture some of the feeling of this.


Finally, I want to look at The Room in this way partly simply to reward it for being the extraordinarily entertaining and fascinating thing that it is. In her excellent blog entry about teaching the film to students, Amanda Ann Klein suggests that watching ‘bad’ films like this one “makes us feel better about ourselves”, arguing that “when we watch The Room and mock it we are essentially saying ‘I am better than this. I am superior to this’.” There is doubtless an element of truth to this: the very act of enjoying something for its ‘failings’ does necessarily involve a kind of assumption about one’s own superiority. Yet a part of me also wants to resist this characterisation of my relationship to the film. I can honestly say that I deeply love this movie in no less a sense than I deeply love, say, Vertigo (which, incidentally, as another San Francisco-set tale of romantic obsession, has its parallels in The Room: the two even share some locations!). The nature of this love is certainly different, but it is no less real. This is an important point to make about cult pleasure in general. As with Trapped in the Closet, I value The Room not because it is ‘bad’, but because it is ‘bad’ in very special and very strange ways – ways that are unique to it alone, and which, even after multiple viewings, I still can’t quite master. In order to feel superior to something one must first feel one understands it; I am far from being able to say this of The Room. Close analysis is a way for a critic to show that s/he is not above a film, passing judgment from on high, but rather wants to live up to it by briefly existing within it, exploring its intricate workings, honouring it with time and attention. For me, The Room most certainly deserves such treatment.

So – to begin.

Some context: the film tells the story of Johnny (Tommy Wiseau - also the writer and director) and the way in which his life unravels after discovering that his fiancé (or, as she is only ever called, “future wife”), Lisa (Juliette Daniel), is cheating on him with his best friend, Mark (Gregg Sestero). From this basic set-up Wiseau is able to weave a rich tapestry of confusing secondary characters, sub-plots, and superfluous scenes; I want to look in detail at one of these scenes. It’s approximately two minutes long, and is based around Johnny’s friend Mike (Mike Homes) recounting to Johnny something we saw in an earlier scene about fifteen minutes previously – specifically: that (a) he and his girlfriend were caught almost in flagrante by Lisa’s mother (Carolyn Minnott), (b) they left quickly, only for Mike to realise that he had left behind his underwear, upon which he (c) embarrassedly returned to retrieve it. It is a scene whose many glorious mysteries I have (despite the grandiloquence of my build-up and the length of what follows!) only begun to unravel. You can watch it below.



Let’s break our consideration of this scene down into a few parts. First:

Redundancy

The first thing to say about the scene is that it is entirely redundant to the plot. This is also partly why it can stand as a beautifully representative moment of the film, since excessive narrative redundancy is one of The Room’s defining and most endearing characteristics. This scene, however, is not merely redundant in the way that, say, Denny’s dramatic encounter with a drug dealer is (which, like Claudette’s revelation that “I definitely have breast cancer”, establishes a major sub-plot that is never to be revisited) – no: this scene takes redundancy to the next level by existing solely in order that we may be retold of something which we have already witnessed: Mike’s “underwear issue”. To pile inconsequence upon yet further inconsequence, the original event to which the anecdote refers was itself wholly surplus to narrative requirement, a moment of ‘comic relief’ whose relevance we have already likely had cause to wonder at. Indeed, since Mike takes part in no other significant action throughout the entire film, the whole reason for his character existing – as difficult as this is to countenance – seems to be solely to take part in the original incident, and then tell us about it again.

As such, one of the most magnificent things about the sequence is that it forces us to grapple with the question of why, in a film so prepared to summarily drop what in any other movie would be major plot points, are we being subjected to such a lengthy reminder of something this meaningless? Our bewilderment is only heightened as the scene continues: we are already initially surprised when Mike begins to tell Johnny about the incident, and grow moreso the longer he goes on (“Go on, I’m listening,” urges Johnny, and later, “Tell me more…”); then, when Denny enters the discussion continues, our surprise now heightening to become incredulity; finally Mark arrives and the characters are, somehow, still talking about Mike’s underwear. By this point our inner Aristotlean, who craves order and motivation in our art, is screaming, “NO! NO!! NOOOO!!!” while at the same time the mischievous part of us that desires precisely this kind of assault on storytelling logic – the part that deeply loves The Room – is satisfyingly murmuring, “Yes, oh yes, OH MY, YES…”


So why is this scene in the movie? One answer seems to be that it is an attempt to show day-to-day life, and, as such, needs to be understood in the context of the way in which The Room constantly seeks – and spectacularly fails – to achieve a sense of naturalism.

Naturalism and performance style

On one level the scene is clearly meant to be a demonstration of the minutiae of everyday life, which here consists of friends chatting about the funny things that have happened to them lately, and – crucially – a casual catch-and-throw football session. This activity famously crops up an awful lot in The Room (leading to the ubiquity of American footballs at fan screenings). Indeed, throwing a football around seems intended by Wiseau to almost be a basic signifier of ‘normality’: this is, the film suggests, simply what men do when they get together. Unfortunately (by which I of course mean fortunately), two things significantly scupper this sense. Firstly, there is the fact that it happens quite so emphatically often, thus highlighting the extent to which it is being used as a flashing sign that reads “This Is Usual, This Is Real Life – You Probably Do This Too”. Secondly, there is the notorious tininess of the distances that the ball is always being thrown, which draws attention to the fact that the action’s other function is to serve as a strikingly strange answer to the perennial question faced by film directors: what should characters be doing whilst talking? (The games of catch don’t just accompany throwaway ‘comic’ sequences like this: at other points it also goes hand-in-hand with serious heart-to-hearts.) First and foremost, the characters need to be close to each other when throwing a ball so that dialogue can take place; the resulting oddness is merely a brilliant side-effect.


What the attempted naturalism also causes is an awkwardness brought on by what appears to be the extensive improvisation going on in the scene, leading to odd, mis-chosen words and phrases. For example: Mike setting up his story by saying “I’ve got a little bit of a – a tragedy on my hands…”; the bizarre wonderfulness of “me underwears” (that strange mis-hitting of casualness again); Mark’s weird questioning, “Underwear? What’s that? Underwear, man…?”, and so on. Of course, what makes all this quite so peculiar is the clash with the extreme un-naturalism of everything surrounding such statements. It would be difficult to find many melodramas that fail harder than The Room does at convincing us that they are presenting a credible world, yet here its actors are, visibly straining to replicate the messiness of real-life conversation. Maybe in another film, with other actors, lines like “I don’t study like that” / “He doesn’t” might convey the awkwardness of speech, but here they convey the awkwardness of Tommy Wiseau’s unique conception of filmed drama. If it has not been felt already, the unbridgeable gulf between these two modes – ‘naturalism’ and whatever it is that The Room offers – comes crashing spectacularly and deliriously into focus when Mark somehow manages to send Mike flying into the trash can, supposedly causing him to be hurt badly enough for someone to ask whether he needs a doctor.

Ending scenes

Speaking of the ‘accident’, this needs to be seen in relation to the great difficulty The Room has with ending its scenes. Apparently completely unwilling to indulge in (or perhaps functionally unaware of) the accepted convention of cutting away from a scene which has run its course, Wiseau instead seems to feel the need to have characters exit the space where a scene has taken place. As well as the ubiquitous “Oh, hi!” which will often begin sequences, “I gotta go” is one of the most repeated phrases of the movie (as this montage makes clear). It is almost as if Wiseau is afraid that the viewer will be confused unless s/he has been explicitly told scenes have begun and finished. Occasionally, as in this scene (as well as in another entirely extraneous football-throwing-gone-awry sequence) Wiseau even resorts to an act of unexpected violence to bring the action to a close. These mini climaxes come at the expense of earthly motivation, and have precisely the opposite effect to the one intended: far from providing closure for the scenes they belong to, such moments open up whole new sets of questions – “For what conceivable reason did that just happen?” being chief among them. (The confusion is even more extreme here because of the shift in tone caused by the music, which changes in the final seconds from the comic oompah-pah that helpfully underlined the joviality of the football-throwing, into the dark, moody strings that accompany Mike’s treacherous tumble. How seriously are we being encouraged to take this injury?)


The wonderfulness of Johnny

So why does this ‘accident’ take place? One answer comes in the scene’s final moments. “Mike, listen,” says Johnny as he helps his friend up from the floor, “if you need anything call me – anytime, alright?” With this it becomes clear that this moment is another of many in the film which serve to reinforce quite what an outstandingly great guy Johnny is. Mike needs to be hurt, in part, so that Johnny can show him compassion. The same thing motivates the whole discussion of the underwear: it is Johnny’s desire to be a good friend that prompts Mike to keep talking (“I’m listening…”), as well as Tommy’s exclamation “That’s life,” which is delivered with a mysterious and undue emphasis on the word “life”, transforming throwaway platitude into wistful philosophical observation. (In retrospect it might remind us of his later pained cry to Lisa, “Do you understand LIFE? DO you?!” Clearly Johnny does understand life only too well, and knows that it sadly necessarily consists of such things as underwear “tragedies”.)

One the most fundamental pleasures of The Room is the way in which it unsuccessfully tries to be a bizarre paean from Wiseau to himself, presenting him as a great and loving man who becomes the undeserving victim of all around him (“Everybody betrayed me!” is his later anguished exclamation). Yet, as this scene shows, his character’s goodness is often expressed in ways that are by turns unimpressively conventional (buying Lisa red roses and calling her his “princess”), awkwardly expressed (being a good customer and kind to animals, always being interested in friends’ problems), and deeply weird (sort-of adopting a teenage boy [Denny], letting friends [like Mike] use his apartment for sex). The ultimate result of this is that the film comes to feel like a parody of the masculinist narcissism that lies at the heart of its conscious project, exposing the fact that this troubling ideology is troubling, and opening it to ridicule. This is one of the many things that contributes to making The Room not just a ‘failure’ but a fascinating “passionate failure” (one of Sontag’s descriptions of camp). Wiseau has poured his heart and soul into this fevered tribute to himself, and it is a mark of his specialness as an artist that his heart and soul can produce a tribute that ended up feeling this consistently baffling, and this unintentionally self-critical. I do not say this ironically.


Intention and the greatness of Wiseau

As I have suggested before, trying to work out a filmmaker’s intentions is a very important part of the process of cult pleasure; but the matter doesn’t stop there. We certainly need to assume that Wiseau was not intending to make a self-parodic comedy in order to laugh at The Room in the way that we do, but appreciating the film for reasons other than those intended does not necessarily mean that we should automatically call Wiseau a ‘bad’ artist. Although the wholesale removal of the ‘intentional fallacy’ from our critical appreciation of art can certainly go too far (causing us to forget that artworks are indeed made up of a series of decisions) we are nevertheless surely long past the point at which we consider greatness to reside wholly in an artist’s conscious intentions.

To return briefly to Vertigo, my earlier example of a film which I love in a more ‘straightforward’ way: most of my admiration for this film comes from my appreciation for what I take to be Hitchcock’s extreme skill as a filmmaker, but by no means all (ignoring, too, any arguments we might want to make about collaboration). I don't know, for instance, to what extent Vertigo is the product of Hitchcock consciously working through his troubling psychological issues with women, or precisely how aware he was of what a damning critique the film offers of masculine possessiveness and domination – nor, importantly, do I need to know. The film is a great work of art regardless of such matters, and Hitchcock is a great artist for having made it. In order to appreciate The Room as a great work of art, and Wiseau as a great artist for having made it, I admittedly need to disregard the link between greatness and intention to a significantly larger extent than I do in the case of Vertigo. The principle, however, is the same, and the judgment requires me simply to place the two films at different ends of one single, sliding scale – not to use two different scales altogether (say, one scale charting ‘happy accidents’ and their beneficiaries, and another measuring ‘great artworks’ and their creators). As with Hitchcock and Vertigo, whether intentional or not, the endless complexity, fascination and enjoyment that I gain from The Room would, finally, simply not be there were it not for Wiseau - and, while I have no doubt that it will seem to many (perhaps most?!) that I am already giving this film far too much credit, I would maintain that I still haven’t managed to get very far in explaining the beauties of even this scene.

When I am this sure of the hidden treasures a film holds – when I feel a desire this strong to rewatch, discuss and explore – I can’t help but feel that I am in the presence of great art. Those who don't agree are invited either to leave their stupid comments in their pockets, or alternatively write them below.
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21 comments:

  1. James, wonderful piece! I especially love your analysis of the underwear scene (the recap of it, not the original). The original scene is, as you mention, placed in the film for some comic relief. It has no bearing on the plot. Thus, the recap of the incident--which is unnecessary since WE WERE THERE--become especially redundant. But we can't just write this moment off as Wiseau's failure as a director. As you so generously point out, this scene is Wiseau's attempt at "naturalism"--buddies laughing over a funny incident. The fact that it doesn't work highlights how arbitrary the rules of Classical Hollywood Cinema can be. We squirm when watching THE ROOM because Wiseau either ignores the basic rules of CHC ("I definitely have cancer!") or adheres to them too strongly ("I gotta go!"). Watching THE ROOM is like listening to someone who has just learned a new language and its grammatical rules and is following them either too rigidly or not all.

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  2. Thanks for the comment, Amanda! I certainly agree about the way the film highlights the conventions of classical Hollywood. I would also say that it makes us more aware of the basic level of skill required by even modest or undistinguished filmmakers in order to ensure that such 'rules' DON'T come across as arbitrary. In a way it's an object lesson in quite how much there is that can potentially go 'wrong' in even the most uninspired or conventional films. (Having said that, of course the WAYS in which these things go 'wrong' here are absolutely brilliant, and as such - in a way - feel wonderfully 'right'!)

    What do you make of my slight challenge to your idea about The Room making us feel better about ourselves? As I say, to an extent I think your point absolutely valid, but I would also say that I (and, I would guess, others who truly LOVE the film - who go to screenings again and again and again) get such degree of fascination and pleasure out of the film that my pleasure can't be fully explained in these terms. I actually ADMIRE Wiseau for being able to make this!

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  3. Oh, hi James. Thanks for this piece. I've been chewing it, and our real-life, pre- and post-Room viewing conversations over, and here are some points, clustering around the issue of intention you raise at the end of the above.

    1 You say you don't need to know about Hitchcock's conscious intentions whilst making Vertigo and 'The film is a great work of art regardless of such matters, and Hitchcock is a great artist for having made it.' You then say 'In order to appreciate The Room as a great work of art, and Wiseau as a great artist for having made it, I admittedly need to disregard the link between greatness and intention to a significantly larger extent than I do in the case of Vertigo', but if you are loosening the link then does it still follow that Wiseau is a great artist if The Room is a great work of art?

    2 I think you're absolutely bang on in the above when you measure the film we have against Wiseau's intentions, which we can deduce from that film: 'attempted naturalism'; 'With this it becomes clear that this moment is another of many in the film which serve to reinforce quite what an outstandingly great guy Johnny is'; 'One the most fundamental pleasures of The Room is the way in which it unsuccessfully tries to be a bizarre paean from Wiseau to himself'.

    3 I think we can marvel at, be captivated by, and want to spend time with The Room without it necessarily following that it is great art (still less that Wiseau is a great artist). I think (as I've already intimated) we're on firmest ground when we're measuring the film against the conventions it fails to successfully inhabit. I'd add at this point that I don't think this necessarily needs to generate 'superiority' simply and straightforwardly. It can be more ludic than that: we're fascinated by the kinds of gaps and fissures that can open up when the conventions aren't fulfilled, which returns us to those conventions themselves with fresh eyes.

    4 But of course there is, as you say, this remainder. Wiseau's emotional attachment to his material is clear. In one sense, the movie communicates the director's concerns with a peculiar force: the force of emotions that we can appreciate as sincerely and deeply felt, but which we're not given the means to share, only observe as histrionic outbursts. But again, this does not necessarily entail that Wiseau is a great artist.

    As I hope you can see, I agree with a lot of what you say, and I'm working with the same triangle (filmmaker(s), conventions, viewer), but I'd alter the emphases and the conclusions.

    Keep it comin'!

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  4. This is some great analysis. I'm not totally convinced about The Room's status as "great art," but that aside, I love your observations about how strangely functional each component of this scene is: the football-tossing, Mark knocking Mike over, the compulsive greetings and farewells. Although each one runs counter to our expectations about what makes "good" cinema, they still have their own reasons to be in the film per Wiseau's skewed logic.

    Of course, as you point out, those reasons are largely dependent on Wiseau's own narcissism and his attempt to portray normal "friendly" interactions. I think this is part of what's so intriguingly person about The Room: these basic stylistic decisions are very visibly rooted in the writer/director/star's emotional troubles and idiosyncratic worldview.

    So thanks for the close analysis. Anyway, how's your sex life?

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  5. Oh hai. This is an outstanding piece of film criticism. Bravo, sir. I fully agree with the sentiment that THE ROOM can't be fully explained (nor dismissed) by putting the emphasis on the "so bad" portion of the "so bad it's good" label. For indeed, there is a certain je ne sais quoi required to make something so functional out of such spectacularly dysfunctional ingredients. How many thousands of filmmakers have made terrible (or halfway decent for that matter) movies with little to no entertainment value? (Let's ignore, for the sake of argument, that entertainment value is wholly subjective. I'm sure everyone can think of gaggles upon gaggles of films that are competently made but hold no personal entertainment value.) There are Hollywood movies with big budgets and real talent involved that, in relation to THE ROOM, obey the laws of drama set forth by Aristotle and, say, Syd Field, and all authorities in between. But how many comedies are as gut-bustingly funny as this drama? To make something THIS out of tune, THIS tone deaf to the dynamics of real life and every day human interaction, while aspiring to tell a tale with "the passion of Tennessee williams"... well it requires a savant-like aptitude for unintentional comedy only possessed by someone with real vision, however derailed that vision might be. Tommy Wiseau is an auteur. THE ROOM is a glorious accident, a perfect storm of mistakes. The reason it succeeds so perfectly at "making us feel better about ourselves" is because it is 100% sincere in its total misdirection. Had Wiseau gotten more of the elements "right", THE ROOM would be forgotten as quickly as the thousands of other films made in 2003 that aimed somewhere near the middle of the road, and hit it. My only regret is that the intervening years have most likely warped his sensibilities, and if Wiseau is ever inclined (or allowed) to make another film, he may not be able to catch the same lightning-in-a-bottle bizare badness that makes THE ROOM so good. I hope all this makes sense, it's late and I've been rambling. I just discovered this post through the Facebook fan page for THE ROOM and felt compelled to comment. Thanks. Now, uh... I gotta go.

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  6. Thanks so much for the comments, guys! I’ll try to briefly address the hesitancy of James and Andreas to call Wiseau a “great artist” (I should say that I slightly share it! The claim is obviously somewhat hyperbolic and polemical, but nevertheless at the moment feels right)…

    James says: “I think... we're on firmest ground when we're measuring the film against the conventions it fails to successfully inhabit.”

    I agree that we’re on firmest ground here – but I also see this as just the starting point. What makes The Room special isn’t just that it fails; it is rather the particular NATURE of its failures – which are unique to it alone, and which constitute the grounds of its specialness. In its own inverted way, this is actually a related (if inverted!) point to the classic argument about Hollywood auteurs: we can’t just stop at saying that they use established conventions – we have to pay attention to the WAY they use them, since this is what defines their artistic personality. As Zack says, many films fail to use conventions effectively, but it is only The Room that mis-uses them in THIS way – this marvelous, beautiful, continually fascinating way.

    Though it isn't the one he consciously intended to create, Wiseau nevertheless HAS an artistic personality – and a very distinctive one at that! No one else could have made The Room in the way that Wiseau did. Because the way that he made it resulted in a work which I gain such extreme pleasure and interest from, I consider the film great. Because no other filmmaker could have made it great in this way, I consider Wiseau a great artist.

    BUT - this is the question, isn’t it: can we make that leap from pleasure/interest to greatness when we so keenly feel that the nature of this pleasure and interest is other than that which Wiseau consciously intended? My gut feeling is: yes we can. The leap from pleasure/interest to claims of greatness doesn’t bother me when talking about other works of art and their artists: I don’t need to feel secure in Hitchcock’s conscious intentions in order to feel that the pleasure/interest Vertigo holds for me makes it a great work of art (as far as I am concerned), and him a great artist. Therefore – dot dot dot…

    However, a second BUT – While I might not be concerned with what an artist consciously intends, there is still the question of what an ARTWORK intends: what Umberto Eco calls “the intention of the text”. It is easy for me to argue that Vertigo – regardless of whatever Hitchcock himself may or may not intend – encourages me to take it in the way that I do. I’m very aware that I can’t say the same of The Room. We might say (too bluntly) that The Room, as a work of art, is trying to make me appreciate it ‘seriously’, and I am ignoring this encouragement. And yet, is it not also making conflicting demands, which are perhaps equally valid? Hasn't the artwork perhaps taken on a life of its own, which in fact alter its ‘intentions’? We’re getting into very flighty territory here, granted. However, I’m always more inclined to trust the tale rather than the teller, and in this case the tale seems to be asking me to laugh my ass off.

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  7. P.S: Zack, you worry that “the intervening years have most likely warped his sensibilities, and if Wiseau is ever inclined (or allowed) to make another film, he may not be able to catch the same lightning-in-a-bottle bizare badness that makes THE ROOM so good”. I share your fears! It's very difficult to be so wonderfully, unselfconsciously ‘bad’ when every single one of your fans is forcing you to become conscious that your ‘badness’ is precisely what they value. This is something I’ve talked about in relation to R. Kelly and Trapped in the Closet: he took a break between the first and second lot of chapters, during which time the nature of the fandom surrounding the project had clearly influenced him. If you’re so inclined, you can read my piece on that here: http://thelesserfeat.blogspot.com/2010/01/crazier-than-fish-with-titties-naive.html

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  8. Great stuff. I agree with Zac and subscribe to the Les Dawson school of being good at being bad. Anyone can play the piano badly, but to play the piano really badly, you have to know how to play it well.

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  9. I agreed with all of this article, until I saw an interview with Mr. Wiseau himself, and I instantly knew that his intention was to make it a good film (and that he seemingly lacks the capability to write a purposefully bad film). So while I enjoy it in the way you do, it leaves the claims that he is a great artist self-generated and down to opinion, really.

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  10. Joey & Anonymous - I'm a bit confused, because I'm specifically arguing that Wiseau did NOT intend to make a 'bad' film! What I'm questioning is whether an artist needs to achieve their conscious intentions in order for us to call them great.

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  11. Hai Everyone!

    I just watched The Room after playing a video game tribute to it on newgrounds.com (a highly recommended experience as it humorously attempts to rationalize much of the film's events), and I am perplexed and amazed that I sat through the whole thing and even enjoyed it!

    I have my own theory as to the motivation behind the football in the alley/underwear recap scene. I believe that Wiseau intended it to add tension between Mark and the "circle of friends", that is to say, Mark interprets Mike's underwear dilemma as actually referring to the discovery of Mark's betrayal. Mark asks Mike for details to a sexually sensitive issue that they all were discussing, to which Mike suddenly shies upon, which results in Mark's "accidental" aggression. I think that Mark was attempting to shut Mike up about his cheating, which he assumes is the underwear issue they were discussing. This can be giving the director too much credit, but I have experience on horribly made movies, to which I've worked as a sound engineer on many.

    The films I've worked on that are un-watchable (click on my imdb link and guess which ones they are) had first time directors who thought they were God's gift to not only film, but the world. They all had dreams of their films making top-ten lists and undisputed financial success. They failed in their inability to listen to others criticisms, and basic knowledge of filmmaking concepts.

    What perplexes me is this: I cannot sit through any of these films I've worked on, yet Wiseau's film (which carries many similarities, bad dialouge, bad acting, bad everything) is pleasurable.

    There are many bad films, but few of them capture our interest. I have to say that after some thought, it's gotta be Wiseau.

    The Room is a document of him, and he is interesting to watch. We are confounded at his decisions and are engaged in the process while watching, instead of automatically dismissing the material. He is not a great artist, just a person who captures our interest.

    I hope, that someone makes a documentary about him and The Room, rather than him making another movie.

    That's my two cents.

    Oh, Hai Doggie!

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  12. What if The Room is the unintentional (or perhaps intentional) portrayal of the awkwardness and social disconnect that Wiseau experiences in his own everyday life? I think he could never fully grasp what qualifies as normal, social behavior, and the movie is his expression of his own frustrations. I had the opportunity to talk to him for about 5 minutes the other day. To me, he seems to be in real life every bit as nice and compassionate as "Johnny" but also every bit as awkward in social settings. And, if The Room is a deliberate expression of these feelings, then I'd say that qualifies Wiseau as a "great artist".

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  13. Even though to a great extent it's really arguing about semantics, I don't think any case can be made that an artist is any less "great" because of lack of intent. Just imagine this in the context of a different medium, like painting. If Wiseau's obvious "disorder" made him create bizarre paintings, would we hesitate to call him a genius, or question that is, in fact, his disorder that is the foundation of his work?

    In fact, I'd go even further than that: I think any artistic genius involves, by necessity, a lack of intent. That is why we instinctively recoil from the idea of great art being created by a computer program. On some level, it has to be subconscious. And lurking beneath the comedy of errors in The Room (the "failed" attempt to create a film), is this erroneous portrayal of social interaction which involves I think the idea of the uncanny, insofar as it so closely resembles reality -- without quite getting there -- that it deeply creeps us out.

    The Room is hilarious, it is uncanny, and I don't think a fully sane director could have created it.

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  14. Thank you for this exceptional piece. Finally some words are being expressed about this film that I agree with and feel are necessary. I just interviewed "the wiseau" for 90 minutes in west Hollywood at the beginning of the month. It was insane and eye opening, and I am working on my own piece. I too have not wrapped my arms even halfway around this "miracle" of a movie. But I will continue to enjoy trying. Your wonderful piece and some of the interesting comments that followed add to the ride. Bravo!

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  15. Great analysis of the scene, but I think Wiseau's intention in ending the scene with the ill-fated hand-off was to establish the superhuman strength of Mark. With Mike's beat-down, the stakes are raised and the audience waits with baited breath for the inevitable confrontation between Mark and Johnny, thinking to itself: "All Mark did was give this guy the football and he went crashing through some garbage cans! Imagine what he could do to someone if he really tried!"

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  16. I think it's really rather simple.
    Tommy Wiseau is indeed a genius, a master in the use of "serious humor". Which is to say, an event meant to be perfectly serious where one will find it so unconventionnal to be humorous.
    The best example I can think of is... say a girl you know from journalism class has a crush on an editor. She happens to meet him in a café where you're also enjoying coffee a few tables away, and you clearly hear her blurting out "Do you find me attractive?" or something to that effect, to which the editor splurts out his tea from his nose and blushes ferociously.
    It's a very serious scene where your journalist classmate confesses her emotions to an editor, but you can't help, from a third person perspective, to laugh at the sheer absurdity of the situation and the editor's reaction.
    It's a very serious situation that's unintentionally comical to those that aren't involved.
    It's like watching a comedy where, the characters are very involved in the story but the events are completely ludicrous, and that's what makes The Room so addicting.
    Nearly every single scene masterfully depicts what is known as "serious humor".
    And who doesn't like watching a comedy?

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  17. Mondestrucken6 June 2011 18:44

    Excellent analysis. I was particularly struck by your pointing out that scenes have to have an explicit beginning and an explicit ending. It is almost as if he were shaping the scenes the way a play is staged. The curtain will be coming down or the lights will be dimming, but you have to let the audience know, so that they can applaud and wait willingly for the curtain to come up on the next scene.

    Wiseau has not made the conceptual leap to cinematic editing. For example the flower shop scene, which is ridiculous in the way it tries to cram the details of purchasing some flowers into less than 30 seconds. Run in, ask for flowers, the shop assistant extends her hand off screen so that someone can slap some flowers in it. It costs this much. Throw down the money, and "keep the change." Greet the dog and run for the door. How much more effective to show Johnny looking through the shop window, considering the beautiful display, and then we see him coming home with the flowers. We can figure out where they came from, Tommy! Really, we can!

    The famous edit in Lawrence of Arabia that cuts from the extinguished match to the sunrise on the desert would be beyond his scope. He would have to show Lawrence packing his suitcase, like any of us care about that detail.

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  18. Many of these comments were written before Director Sandy Schklair came forward. I wounder what your thoughts are about his supposed involvement?

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  19. Great analysis. I won't comment further, I just feel The Room is a fantastic article of outsider art, and analysis is valuable and relevant! Congrats. - tom

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  20. This is a marvellous close reading of the scene, which like so many in 'The Room' continues to bewitch me with its compound illogicalities each time I see it. Wonderful comments too.

    One of the other things that strikes me about the film is that the arbitrary placement of almost identical scenes (think Lisa and Claudette's interchangeable dialogues), the sudden bursts of nonsensical melodrama and the almost total eschewal of accumulative narrative momentum - let alone a Fieldian three-act structure - combine to give the film its own form of narrative verisimilitude.

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  21. I've recently stumbled upon this film, and I need to make sure that I'm not completely crazy, but I swore there were homosexual undertones in the film. It could be from the most recent film class I had where we focused mainly on sexuality, but I think the redundant underwear scene is at least one good piece of evidence. Not to mention the fact that all the male characters dislike relationships with women. It sort of reminded me of Gilda (I immediately picked up on the gay undertones of this movie too and thought I was crazy! But turns out I wasn't!). Maybe people don't want to read too much into The Room because they are mourning the 99 minutes of their lives that they'll never get back, but I think there are parts that deserve analysis. Or maybe I am crazy and should make a terrible movie about it with homosexual undertones that only other crazy people get!

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