Archive for September, 2009

You’ve Entered “The Room,” so Close the Door

It is safe to say that Tommy Wiseau has singlehandedly turned my notions of success and celebrity on their heads. I am befuddled. In 2003, Wiseau created—no, no, unleashed— a film called “The Room.” Why it is called “The Room” you may invent for yourself, since the movie makes its title irrelevant. The movie is bad. Let me say it this way: It’s terrible in a way that perplexes you with its awfulness. Not because it is poorly written or directed or acted or shot or contains poor special effects or has a storyline (that is its basic plot from one scene to the next) that in the most sympathetic sense of the phrase, is “illogical to the point of being mentally defective.” It is not a bad movie for any or a few of these reasons, but for all of them. And probably more. If ever a film set needed an intervention, this was it.

But so what? There are plenty of bad movies. They’re released, people see them or don’t, and they drift away into the past, never to be heard from again. This sort of thing happens all the time. However, in the case of “The Room,” the simplest question to ask becomes the most stifling to answer: why is this movie still around?

A Man on a Mission

A Man on a Mission

Oh, and it is (around). The film is shown at midnight on the last Saturday of every month at the Laemmle’s Sunset 5 in L.A. This has been going on for five years. For a few of those years, Wiseau paid for a billboard out of his own pocket to advertise. FOR A FEW YEARS, he did this.

First, let me tell you about seeing the movie. The easiest description is The Rocky Horror Picture Show crossed with Mystery Science Theater 3000 (In fact, check out the RiffTrax for it). People dress up like characters from the film, there is a sense that everyone in the theater is a part of the event, and everyone mocks the film.

Except with “Rocky Horror” the audience becomes a part of an established event, they are integrated into it. For “The Room,” the event people are there for is the tearing down of the film itself. The audience becomes the main event and the film itself is the sideshow. And let me tell you, the show is amazing. There is even almost a script to it. Boring exterior shots fall into 3 major categories, each of which has a corresponding chant: Shots with water in them are met with “Water!” The 5-10 with Alcatraz are met with “Alcatraz!” And any shot panning across a bridge is cheered with “Go! Go! Go! Go!” If the camera makes it from one side to the next before cutting to another shot, it wins and everyone cheers.

Characters constantly play football in the film (often under-handed tosses of 3 feet or less), so people throw a football back and forth around the theater (during the movie). A character’s mother announces early-on, “Well, I got the test results back. I definitely have cancer.” Anytime she enters a room or touches someone, everyone shouts “Cancer!” When the lead actress kisses someone, everyone makes a chomping, munching noise. There is an audience-imposed “Intermission,” and people leave the theater, even though the movie doesn’t stop.

Your Only Weapon Against The Room

Your Only Weapon Against The Room

Probably the most famous gag involves spoons. Somewhere sometime someone noticed a framed picture of a spoon in an apartment in the film. This information was distributed in some manner and people found it amusing. It is. Now, anytime the Spoon is in-shot, people yell, “Spoon!” and all of a sudden, hundreds of plastic spoons are thrown—in the air, at the screen, behind you, it doesn’t matter where, it just matters that you throw them. This happens at least 15 times during the movie.

But it’s not all scripted, there are random comments made here and there, and for the most part, at least in the theater I was in, people weren’t all talking at once and for the most part, the comments were really funny, and I got the impression over half the audience were regulars. Their timing was flawless, sometimes preemptively yelling out a set-up so that the actions on-screen became the punch line.

Going into the movie, I was curious to see what the attitude would be. Would it be 200 hipsters passing judgment on something “beneath” them? Would the comments be genuinely funny or coy and snarky? I was pleasantly surprised and utterly fascinated. There seemed to be one all-encompassing rule: Tommy Wiseau, himself, is off-limits.

All the acting is terrible, but one actor was singled out for total ridicule: Juliette Danielle, who plays Wiseau’s unfaithful girlfriend. If she is on-screen, the jokes are flying. And the thing is, her acting is bad, but it’s not any worse than anyone else in the movie. The reason she’s treated so badly is because her character mistreats Tommy Wiseau and here, that is the unpardonable sin.

From about 10pm on, people are lining up outside for the movie. By 11:15, the line is well-over 500 people strong and is wrapped around an area at least as large as a football field. A little later, the line’s down the stairs. About 11:45, Tommy Wiseau himself shows up to applause that can only be described as uproarious. For the next 15-20 minutes, he walks the entire line, greeting people and taking pictures. People run up to him, smiling, shake his hand, snap pictures, hoist out copies of the film for him to sign. Everyone is smiling. No one goes inside until he’s done.

When we do, he is standing in front of a large poster for the film and is again surrounded. Another 20 minutes go by. Wiseau goes to each theater for a 5-10 minute Q&A before the movie starts. This allows the theater to stagger the start times and avoids everyone exiting the theater at once after. It also allows Tommy to interact with his fans. His persona is like his film: weird, ridiculous, and so impossible to take seriously you can’t help but find yourself rooting for him. People ask him funny questions, like “What’s the difference between the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds?” (His response: “There is none.”) but there’s no trace of malice, only anticipation at how he’ll respond.

This is anti-cinema at its finest. The very tearing down of the film becomes the event. The destruction doesn’t precede the replacement for the film, it is the replacement. If the midnight showing consisted solely of entering a theater and silently watching “The Room,” there would be no following. People show up specifically because they are allowed to participate. And so in a way, Tommy Wiseau has achieved anti-celebrity, which is not the same thing at all, by the way, as infamy. Infamy is being well-known for doing something bad. Tommy Wiseau is well-known for doing something badly. Probably no one believes he is a great or even competent writer or director or actor or producer, but when his name shows up on-screen, people howl and cheer like he’s a rock star. They adore him because he has provided a setting for this event to take place and has allowed it to continue. People know how rare this is. This is an instance of anti-cinema started not by the artist but by the audience. Wiseau has gotten out of the way of his own movie, and people have responded by loving him for it, which inadvertently puts him back front-and-center of the whole night, which probably goes a long way toward his getting out of the movie’s way. It doesn’t matter that his film is terrible, because seeing the movie and making fun of it isn’t terrible. It’s enjoyable and great. Wiseau accidentally created something more entertaining and important to people than if he had made a good movie. He has provided the necessary conditions for a wonderful experience.

Sometimes, there are no words...

Sometimes, there are no words...

Which explains sortof why it is still around, though not how it came to be. In an age when movies are out of theaters in two months with $300 million in their pockets, this is a stupefying anomaly. It’s maybe the only time bad word-of-mouth has turned into good word-of-mouth (I’m resisting the urge to dub it “anti” word-of-mouth). It’s beyond even a cult classic. It is word-of-mouth that didn’t simply inspire repeated viewings and new recruits, it evolved the way the movie was viewed at all. It’s also specific to the current generation. This sort of thing seems out of place in the 80’s or 90’s. An ironic and cynical view of the entertainment industry and the notion of celebrity are so much a part of our culture right now that the idea of this movie sounds almost too good to be true. It seems like the quintessential example of American society. I have to admit when I first heard about it, I wanted to go to see the train wreck. But being there, seeing Wiseau and the way everyone treated him and acted, there is an underlying (and completely unspoken) sentimentality to it that took me by surprise. People are protective of him. When someone shouted that this was the worst movie of all time, they were immediately booed. The fact that people genuinely like him and actively refuse the opportunity to mock him is kindof moving. It goes against everything we normally do as a culture. Wiseau has disarmed us by allowing the whole thing to take place. Whether calculated or not, a gesture like that fosters admiration, not mockery.

But now here’s the thing. People absolutely do mock the movie, which wasn’t made as a joke. And it is so bad that if someone made that movie sincerely, then it’s possible and likely that that same person might be unaware how people view that movie. It’s hard to explain this way, because artistic ability and social intelligence are not inherently connected, but this movie is essentially Tommy Wiseau’s mind captured on film. It’s ALL him. Watch him in interviews. He seems to wear blinders to many aspects of his own artistry and audience. Is this okay? Is this a good thing? Is he deluded or wise? Does it matter that people don’t like his movie if they genuinely like him? Well… now here he said he’s adapting “The Room” into a musical and is trying to get financing to take it to Broadway. I hear that and think he can’t be serious. How can he expect it to succeed? It makes me think he’s not in on the joke, that he has mistaken the kindness of fans as an indication of quality. This material can’t sustain daily viewings. The audience isn’t big enough. Plus, does anyone in New York care that this was an L.A. phenomenon? Isn’t it more likely they’ll see it as just a terrible musical? Does he expect the musical to develop the same sort of following where people come in, throw spoons and mock it but love him? When these sorts of practical applications are made, the proceedings take on a sad quality.

It’s almost like Wiseau was created a fantasy of success that accidentally became a reality, but not in the way that he had hoped or maybe even realizes. I wouldn’t want him to read this article, but I do want him to be able to make a living off of “The Room.” I would be fascinated to see him make another film. Is that patronizing? Am I using him an artistic lab-rat at that point? Have I made him into a hypothetical situation instead of a human being? Or am I being too harsh? He’s a grown man, he’s not mentally disabled, he makes his own choices, and he wants to show his movie. He has an audience that genuinely likes him and wants to see his movie and enjoys the opportunity to make fun of it and is very up front about all those things.  I have no idea if Tommy Wiseau watches the film every month, but surely he has at some point. And so the question I want to know is, what does he think of what he sees?


Anti-Cinema at Its Finest

Here are two things for your entertainment, two different examples of delightful anti-cinema. Friend/writer/director Josh and I have been discussing this notion a lot lately, and I figured I’d let readers share in the fun.

1. Filmspotting co-hosts Adam and Matty read a scene from “Anne Frank,” by David Mamet (as one listener imagines Mamet might write it, regardless of what Mamet did or did not write for the film that has now been put on hold anyway).

2. Trailer for “The Room” – Here in L.A. this movie has acquired a kind of cult status, to the point that the film is shown the last Saturday night of every month, at midnight. I’m seeing it tomorrow night. It is a film that is said to go beyond the notion of “so bad it’s good” and enter into the realm of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” People come to the screening in costume, people yell and say lines along with the movie. I’m wondering what the vibe is going to be. Will it be over-bearingly pretentious or mocking-yet-pleasant. I’m hoping for the latter. In interviews with director Tommy Wiseau, he says the movie is supposed to be a black comedy, that he just wanted to make a movie for people to enjoy. And it begs the question: is the movie intentionally bad, or just bad? I’ll see the movie and report back.

Silent Education

Recently, my friend Tyler Smith, co-host of the great film podcast “Battleship Pretension,” organized a silent comedy night, and I realized just how limited my viewing had been. I’d seen “The General” and “Modern Times,” as well as Buster Keaton’s “7 Chances” and an assortment of his short films. I’d seen “The Great Dictator,” which is Chaplin, but not silent (though it retains much silent comedy). I knew of Harold Lloyd, but hadn’t seen any of his films.
It can be difficult to motivate people to watch silent films, comedy or otherwise; even for film lovers, the task can seem daunting. With a group night organized around the idea, it’s both easier to be motivated and more enjoyable for initial viewings. Comedy is better in a crowd.
One of THE most classic silent comedy images of all time.
One of THE most classic silent comedy images of all time.
Our schedule was set. We began with Harold Lloyd’s “The Freshman,” moved on to Keaton’s “Sherlock, Jr.,” then Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush,” and finished (the next day) with Keaton’s “7 Chances,” upon my request. It’s these three men, though– Lloyd, Keaton, Chaplin– who are the three, nearly undisputed kings of silent comedy. Within the trio, the most popular was Chaplin, but all three have plenty of supporters and among film lovers, the debate is sure to be endless, though this piece will contribute its two cents as well.
The Tramp
The Tramp
What is indisputable is that all three had distinct, amazing talent and timing. These are great comic actors. They were contemporaries, just as today we have numerous comedic troupes, of sorts, in Judd Apatow and David Wain and Jody Hill and Edgar Wright and Todd Phillips, and all of their unique comedic sensibilities. And while there are great physical moments in each of those writer/directors’ films, their weapon of choice is their great dialogue, which is not the strength of any of the silents. The closest thing to silent comedy I’ve seen in the past few years– and this was noted when it came out, even– is Pixar’s “Wall*E,” with its beautiful, wordless opening sequence and the way Wall*E himself had to communicate multitudes in limited, subtle facial expressions.

There is a clear hierarchy, though, for the silent trio. Lloyd is on the bottom, which is not at all to suggest that he is bad. There is a recurring gag in “The Freshman,” in which he does a little dance each time he meets someone new (check it out below), and the gag is so silly and disarming, it never wears itself out. Lloyd is at the bottom simply because he does the least. He acts, where both Keaton and Chaplin also write and direct their films. It shows. Lloyd is very funny, but his comedy does not seem quite is organic as the other two, in the way it seems to flow effortlessly from them. Chaplin is the next tier. Bound to his romantic whimsy and his little mustache, Chaplin’s comedy is more about sweetness than all-out hilarity. This is not a criticism, especially if you are looking for a kind-hearted comedy. He excels at using a singular setting for endless comedic opportunities.
The Great Stoneface
The Great Stoneface
But there can be only one king, and it is Buster Keaton. Where he leaves the rest behind is in his construction of a comedic sequence. In the underrated “7 Chances,” which, I am told he didn’t really want to make, the film builds for about 30 minutes with small bits of comedy in the midst of the plot. But then, all at once, the elements he’s set in motion combine and explode and he is propelled headlong into a non-stop, 20+ minute comedic action set-piece, which culminates with him running down the side of a mountain as hundreds of boulders come hurtling after him, as he tries to escape an angry mob of women, all dressed as brides. The camera cranes high above him, showing the full measure of the situation, and it stays on him longer than you’d ever expect. He operates on a scale so far beyond anything I’ve seen from Chaplin or Lloyd. In “Sherlock, Jr.” (made the year before) he combines that great physical aspect with his love of cinema (see clip below, beginning around the 1-minute mark or so). Consider what he is doing, first visually: the way the shot is composed as a frame within a frame so that we assume we’re seeing a regular shot of a movie theater. Then, he confounds our expectations of a movie screen and editing and continuity. Look how long that shot is used and how often. Keaton, in this sequence, combines technical, visual, and comedic elements to create something that awes us as much as it amuses us. “Sherlock Jr.” contains, essentially, a film within a film, except that the film-within-the-film is as long as the rest of the film. Keaton is the best because he is the best storyteller. He takes chances, he understands tone, he incorporates the movies themselves as an element in the fun, and he’s just the most original of the bunch.
If you have not sat down and watched the films of these guys (as I had not, as at some point, all film lovers had not), treat yourself to a healthy dose of all three. You may agree with me, you may not, but regardless, these films are made with such pleasure, and they are pleasing in a way that few things are anymore.

How Can You Be So Heartless?

In 1974, just as David Niven was about to introduce Elizabeth Taylor at the Academy Awards, a naked man streaked across the stage. Niven responded humorously (and Britishly). Not since then has there been a more visible prick onstage at an Awards show than Kanye West was at this year’s VMAs.

If you didn’t know, Taylor Swift won an award for best female video, beating Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” video (beloved my many, myself chief among them). During her acceptance speech, she was interrupted by Kanye West who then explained to the crowd that Beyonce made one of the best videos of all time. Roll tape:

Saying no more than that, Kanye is a really big asshole. But consider the details. Kanye wasn’t that particular award’s presenter. He got up out of his chair, walked onstage, took the mic out of the hands of the WINNER of the award, and then said something. It takes an even bigger asshole to do that. It takes an even bigger asshole still to take the mic away from the winner (after walking onstage during a speech for an award you did not present) and then tell the crowd that someone else deserved to win. It takes an even bigger asshole still to do so at the mother-fucking MTV Video Music Awards. On what planet, under the influence what kind of Government-grade, top secret hallucinogen must you be to believe so strongly in the everlasting importance of an MTV-designated award, not for the artistic or popular merit of any music, but of the video which dramatizes that music — and believe even more strongly that the winner of this year’s Best Female Video went to the wrong female (and, incidentally, which correct yet horribly unrecognized winner in this particular, specific category went on to win “Video of the Year” in what must have been an alarming and altogether mystifying turn of events) — that you take it upon yourself, Kanye, you piece of shit — who had no involvement with the (purported) should-be-winner’s video — to ruin the already fleeting, but nonetheless victorious moment of recognition from the actual winner –who, it turns out, did not appoint herself the winner, but was CHOSEN as the winner (by God knows who and not that it matters anyway)? In what state (of mind, of body, of soul) must you be in, to totally disregard all decency and basic human decorum, which a 1st grader can follow, in favor of your own pointless opinion about a ridiculous and

Got any raps with rhymes for "tactless"?

Got any Raps that Rhyme with "Tactless" ?

inconsequential award, that you absolutely must ignore the simple courtesy of letting someone say a (from what I saw) pleasant thank-you for an award they got through no fault of their own? Under no circumstances should this ever happen. But if happen it inevitably must, my humble feeling is that anyone sporting the hairdo (seen at the right) has always and forever waived the right to say word one on the matter.

There is talk of fining him. There is rumor of banning him from music-awards shows. This is well and this is good, but it misses the point. Kanye West, it would seem, needs a chaperone. Perhaps a schoolmarm who will rap his knuckles. Perhaps a parent who will spank his stupid ass when he acts up. This is the behavior of a child. This is the behavior of a pre-teen who thinks that his very existence insists that the world revolve around it and bend low to its every whim. He is a spoiled and stupid person; infantile in brain, inert in awareness of others around him. He cannot come out and play, because he does not know how to share. He cannot out-think the award-designators of MTV’s Video Music Awards (and what a sad fact this is). The way that it works young Kanye, and please take your finger out from your nostril and sit up straight, is that because Beyonce is getting the biggest award of the night, she needn’t win them all. It’s okay to let someone else be a winner, too, since the point may be less about winning and more about celebrating more than just one artist. (Hint: The names of the awards make this point for themselves). Your behavior is unacceptable. It is unthinkable and unconscionable. You have made a fool out of yourself. You are an ass, Kanye. Your behavior is reprehensible even to a Village Idiot. You are the Industry Idiot, and long will you reign. What a total fucking asshole you are. A fucking asshole, man.

(Beyonce, for her part, when accepting her award, made a brief speech and then had Taylor Swift come onstage to share in the moment. And let’s be real, when Beyonce has you out-classed, things are in sorry shape, indeed.)

Infinite Jest (I)

Because of the sheer size and literary scope of David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest, any singular attempt to write about it will be futile. So instead of giving a broad outline and a few highlights after I finish it, I’m going to write about it as I go along.

pinocchio-paradoxAs of page 100, there are only whispers of the plot, but more than enough themes and characters and literary devices to keep me busy. I’m forming a thesis in the margins, so we’ll see how accurate I am in another 1000 pages. Right now, the biggest compliment I can give to Wallace is his command of narrative, which is also to say narrative styles, of which, so far there are at least 5. Never are they unclear, though Wallace is by nature a very complicated writer. He defaults to wordplay and enjoys clause-filled technical explanations of chemicals, ingredients, and drugs. It might be daunting if you didn’t get such a clear sense that the book was, in fact, written to be enjoyed (and is immensely enjoyable).

As for his driving thematic, Wallace’s own complex/paradoxical paranoia takes center stage in almost every major character. We wait with a man for drugs to arrive for 11 pages, in which he explains that he has quit 70 or 80 items before, each time asking a different person to procure him one last stash, each time making that person swear never to get him drugs again, so that now he has to meet new people just so he has someone who will act as a third party to get him the drugs. There is Hal, who we see in a segment from his childhood, talking to a professional conversationalist whom he accuses of being his father in disguise, the production being the father’s only way to be sure that the son actually speaks and is intelligent. If you’ve read any of David Foster Wallace’s work before, these things will not surprise you, and if you enjoy the reflexive, confusing style of Charlie Kaufman’s films, you might feel strangely at home with this book.

I do.

Stop Following, Me.
Stop Following, Me.

One last thing. Infinite Jest contains 96 pages of endnotes, and instead of being one too many revolutions on the quirk cycle, the device contains my very favorite thing so far. Hal’s father, the late James O. Incandenza, left his scientific/athletic (I’m not quite sure what else) job late in life to make films. The novel spends a couple pages giving only a cursory history of him, in which we are directed to the endnotes for a 9-page filmography. Each entry contains standard information (documentary or narrative; black and white or color; running time; silent or sound) about his films, which include titles like: “Annular Fusion is Our Friend,” “Kinds of Pain,” “Every Inch of Disney Leith,” “Let There Be Lite,” “(The) Desire to Desire,” and “Sorry All Over the Place.” Also listed: “Infinite Jest” attempts I-V. Using only objective information, Wallace uses the filmography to (a) give us a piece of crucial information about the title of the book, (b) construct an entire character in a radically unique way, and (c) make us laugh. The summaries of the films are hysterical in a way equal to and greater than the very funny (though ultimately contextless) curiosities of something like John Hodgman’s The Areas of My Expertise. Hodgman’s is sortof an anti-book, and while it’s funny, its strands go off into nowhere and connect to nothing. Wallace’s absurdities keep us searching for where those strands have landed and keep us asking why. He takes the joke deeper into itself and also places it within the context of the novel, but without making it part of the novel itself. If he had explained the information contained in the filmography, the effect would be diminished, and it would become only another piece of plot. But a filmography is its own thing, so it is both itself and a narrative device. And if I am just spinning my wheels by this point, it is because I am having too much fun thinking about it all and don’t want to stop.

King For a Day

Swoop Me, Dragon!

Swoop Me, Dragon!

A full-spectrum birthday this year. Reading, writing, running, movies, dinner, friends, hanging out, drinks, the works. And so it went, and so it goes, and so I’m 26 and so what. Not an epic birthday, but then how could it be? If nothing else, I found the picture above and it made me smile. Can’t wait to see that movie. I’m in the swing of things, running-wise. I’ve been using a nice blend of podcasts and tunes, and I’ve been going 3-4 times a week, plus playing some tennis. And for my birthday, ’twas a fantastic little run.

Jason’s Truncated iJam Session:

Like a California King – Everclear

Fans – Kings of Leon

Nine in the Afternoon – Panic at the Disco (2x that shiz)

O New England – The Decemberists

You Rock My World – Michael Jackson

Teenage Dirtbag – Wheatus

You Don’t Know Me – Ben Folds (feat. Regina Spektor)

Crawl – Kings of Leon

3 Rounds and a Sound – Blind Pilot

95% of Editing is RE-Editing

Adam and I showed our film, “Trailer: The Movie” about a month ago and, after obtaining and settling into our LA apartment, we are back to work on it, re-cutting and improving the film. We’ve cut out 7 minutes of sometimes funny, sometimes superfluous material, making the film a bit crisper in its pacing. We’ve re-done nearly all the graphics for the film, making them both simpler and sleeker. We’ve solved the issue of the HD footage, so now the segments of the faux-entertainment show look…watchable. One of the best changes we’ve made is to the opening of the show, called “Bizz Buzz.” It is part “Entertainment Tonight,” part movie-junket, all trashy. Before we had just one screen with some moving light effects. Not very good. Below is the new and improved opening:

I came up with the initial concept, which only took Adam and I a few minutes to refine and map out (I contributed a stick-figure series of representations for the basis of the scenes). Took Adam a few hours to create the items and animate everything, which he did today while I was at a job interview. Major Kudos to Adam; somehow I feel like the amount of technical artistic creative work he has done has been overlooked. He’s kindof a genius sometimes.

Re-editing has been much easier than I thought. Watching the film, the things that needed changing were pretty clear. The actual time it took was surprising as well, only about four or five full days worth of work. Some things we watched and thought, how did we ever think that would make the cut? Well, sometimes you keep what you love even when it doesn’t work, so it goes.

Our deadline is Sept 21st. That’s the LATE deadline to the Sundance Film Festival for 2010. Now I know what you’re thinking: do we really think we have a shot at going to Sundance? Presumption aside, the smart money is on “Not a chance in hell.” There are thousands of entries competing for fewer than 100 slots in the short film program, we are submitting to the LATE deadline and doing so at the last possible moment, and our film is less than 10 minutes away from being considered a “feature film” (which for their festival is 50 minutes), which means that our film will eat up more time. So… all things considered, it’s unlikely at best.

But why in the world wouldn’t we at least try?

It Has Come to This

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September 2009
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