Culture, Humor, Movies, Spirituality — January 27, 2012 1:11 pm

The Cult of the Terrible

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Some things are so absurdly bad, that they enter the arena of the mythical.

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Those of you who are familiar with Turkish Star Wars or Hard Ticket to Hawaii know what I’m talking about. It takes a certain brand of ineptitude to bring together in one cinematographic work the adequate proportions of flaws to create gold. In this regard, the greatest alchemist of the infamous is probably Tommy Wiseau.

Wiseau was made famous by his outlandish movie The Room, and was soon deemed a madman by some and a genius by others. Upon its first screening, the movie, advertised as a romantic tragedy, was received with disbelief for 5 minutes, and with laughter for the remaining hour and a half. Wiseau, being the director/producer/writer/main actor of the movie (and shining by his incompetency in each of these things), quickly rechristened it a dark comedy. This claim was soon discredited by the cast and crew of the movie, who explained with great depth how terrible everything about the movie and the process of making it was.

Everything in this movie is terrible.
The acting is cringe-worthy, the story is flat and has more holes than my sock collection, characters appear and disappear out of nowhere throughout the film, the camera randomly gets out of focus, and it contains a number of awful awful (awful!) never ending sex-scenes that are still used to this day by the Church of Latter Day Saints to scare their youth out of ever having sex.

Here is the thing: The Room is so bad that it started finding a cult-following. And by cult, I mean cult. Since its release in 2003, the movie has been screened monthly in theaters in California. Every month, entire theaters are devoted to the movies for midnight screenings and fans drive from miles away to wait in line for a taste of Wiseau’s genius.

Almost ten years later, the phenomenon has become global, screenings of the movie can be found across the world, in Australia, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom… A video game was even created based on the movie. The most famous of these screenings is most certainly the one at the Sunset 5 Laemle theater (now closed, pictured above), where Tommy Wiseau himself would infallibly show up, shake hands or toss a football with his fans, and do a Q&A before the movie was screened, sometimes even gracing the audience with his favorite Shakespearian sonnet.

The screening of the movie itself is a kind of euphoric chaos. The audience will yell at the screen, throw spoons at it, comment out loud, point at inconsistencies, get up and out of the theater at key moments, the whole experience being riddled with laughter and shouts. Here is a particularly interesting instance where the audience throws plastic spoons at the absurd framed spoons on the coffee table.

 

 

I have now been to three of these screenings, and am hoping to go to many more. What struck me as fascinating from the onset is the extremely religious nature of the whole thing. I am not making this up. People gather monthly for this unreal, communal, uplifting experience; and to be honest, from an uneducated perspective the whole thing would not look very different from a certain brand of charismatic church services. The screenings even have their own form of liturgy: people know when to throw spoons (when they see framed spoons), when to yell (all the time), what to yell (in reponses to some lines), when to be quiet (for the best lines), when to get up (during that awful sex-scene), when to throw a football. There are rules that organize the chaos and bind the audience in an exciting and powerful experience. Just have a look at what people have to say before and after the movie:

 

 

Something happens beyond making fun of a bad movie during these screenings, something deeply seated within the human experience, and that is shared within many religious traditions. I have heard members of the audience jokingly (but maybe not so much?) talk of having mystical experience during the movie. If you are not easily offended and have a gut to endure terrible movies, I can only warmly recommend you to buy tickets to the screening the nearest to you.

You will not regret it.

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