Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 film The Room is by many accounts the worst movie ever made. The plot barely makes sense, the set design is comically inept, and most of the dialogue sounds like it was fed through Google Translate multiple times. Yet for 14 years, people have been congregating at midnight screenings all across the globe to watch what some call “the Citizen Kane of bad movies.”
The production of The Room is the stuff of legend. The script started out as a 600-page book, which Wiseau translated into a stage play before finally settling on a screenplay. He allegedly raised money to shoot the film by importing and selling Korean leather jackets. He also simultaneously shot the entire film on two cameras, one 35mm and one digital, because he says he didn’t understand the difference between the formats.
I talked to Tom Bissell, who co-wrote a book about the making of the film called The Disaster Artist and has seen the film more than 100 times. He says:
It’s fascinating to watch somebody who has total belief in themselves and no evident talent for the medium they’re fanatically pursuing to throw themselves into the maelstrom with as much force and enthusiasm and boundless belief in themselves as Tommy does in that movie.
According to Bissell, the film gets its “bizarro power” from the fact that it’s “a movie that was made by someone who had maybe seen some movies but didn’t really understand how they were supposed to work.”
Despite the film’s incoherency, audiences ritualistically throw plastic spoons, shout call-and-response lines at the screen, and toss around footballs in the aisles at monthly screenings. Knowing all the inside jokes and participatory cues gives viewers what sociologist Pierre Bourdieu termed “cultural capital.” People who know when to shout specific lines or when to hurl spoons are deemed Room veterans.
Contrary to what you may think, researchers have found that an appreciation of this kind of “trash cinema” can actually indicate higher levels of intelligence. Trash films share more characteristics with avant-garde art films than they do with typical commercial Hollywood fare. Audiences are drawn to both “trash” and “art” films for many of the same reasons, like their transgressive nature and their rejection of mainstream aesthetic norms.
Watch the video to learn more about The Room, and pick up Bissell’s book (which he co-wrote with Greg Sestero, one of the film’s stars) to read many more legendary stories about the production of the “best worst movie.”
Special thanks to Stephen Goldmeier for permission to use his photo in the video.