October 10, 2013 (Kensington) – The Ken Cinema in Kensington, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, is one of only two regularly operating single-screen theaters in San Diego (the other being the new Digital Gym Cinema in North Park, which opened up in April this year). The Ken is known for two things, the first being San Diego’s home to unique, niche films (as I’ve written about before).
But for die-hard fans of more mainstream fare, the Ken offers Midnight Madness. In an age of rapidly dwindling repertory theaters (movie theaters that specialize in exhibiting older, classic films), the Ken - at least at midnight on most Fridays and Saturdays - is as close as it gets. The new season of Midnight Madness will offer Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Shining, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
When the Ken isn’t showing classic movies, they have The Rocky Horror Picture Show. They also have a little oddity of a film called The Room, which turns 10 this year.
My first introduction to The Room was in early 2011. My three best friends had seen it in late November 2010 after learning about it on TV, but at the time I was reeling from my mother’s untimely death from breast cancer and they probably thought I wasn’t in the mood. I finally saw it months later and it was, for lack of a better word, interesting. Like Troll 2, it’s an enjoyably bad movie that’s only gotten more popular with each passing year, with screenings taking place almost every weekend in Los Angeles since its original two-week run in Los Angeles in 2003.
The movie was written, produced, and directed by Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau also stars in it as Johnny, a banker who is engaged to be married to the lovely Lisa, who realizes she doesn’t love him. She has an affair with his best friend, Mark, and the affair results in tragedy. Wiseau will appear in person at the Ken tomorrow night and Saturday night.
When I was offered the opportunity to interview Wiseau, I didn’t hesitate to take it. The interview took place on a weekday afternoon by phone.
One thing I had to ask him was the meaning of the title. In the DVD featurette, Wiseau spends a few minutes explaining the title, but as a friend of mine put it, it makes less sense than the movie, if that’s even possible. His explanation is brief, and is essentially the same as on the DVD. “You have in your house, or wherever you go, your own special place. That’s basically [what] I call the room,” he said. The more I think about it, the more it actually makes sense. I didn’t think to ask him further, but to me the most logical place is Johnny’s bedroom; that’s where the movie’s four infamous sex scenes – three of them in the first 30 minutes alone! – and the tragic ending take place. “A lot of people say ‘sex scene,’” Wiseau tells me. “I don’t call it ‘sex scene,’ I call it ‘love scene.’”
From the beginning, Wiseau was quick to point out a few misconceptions about The Room. Contrary to popular belief, it “did actually very well.” Wiseau further elaborated, “We had a contract with the theater to screen the room for two weeks” for Academy Award consideration.
The Room got nary an award, but Wiseau “got so many e-mails, thousands of e-mails, I’m not exaggerating. And I said, ‘OK, let’s screen The Room in the Wilshire.’ And then I got into trouble with the Fire Marshal because so many people showed up and people…were sitting on the floor.” Afterwards, Wiseau found a better venue, and “that’s when everything started.”
A student of screenwriting at California State University, Fullerton, I know a lot about screenwriting and story structure. Which is why I was taken aback by several scenes that brought up serious issues, but forgotten in a matter of minutes. Lisa’s mother, Claudette, casually says to her daughter early in the film, “I got the results of the test back. I definitely have breast cancer.” Not once during the film’s remainder is this subject brought up again. In a later scene, Denny, a young man whom Johnny took in, is confronted on a rooftop by a thug named Chris R, demanding his drugs. At one point he puts a gun to Denny’s head. Johnny and Mark arrive just in time to incapacitate Chris R and take him to the police station. After a stretch of awkward, repetitive dialogue between Claudette, Lisa, and Denny (“What kind of drugs????” Lisa repeatedly cries, getting increasingly shrill. “It doesn’t matter!!!” repeats Denny. “It matters a great deal!” yells Claudette. “You’re not my ****ing mother!” an exasperated Denny screams in response.) Once the scene ends, so does all references to this scene.
Wiseau explains why: “I wanted to put everything relating to human behavior, from cancer to drugs,” Wiseau explains. However, he was limited to “99 minutes.”
While The Room only superficially deals with breast cancer and drugs, Wiseau speaks at length about the two subjects. “I interviewed a couple of people who actually did have a cancer. One of my best friends, she has breast cancer. They cut her breast and I was just completely shocked. I said, ‘Are they doing this kind of stuff?’”
“I feel very strongly that…we’re on the way to finding better treatment as well as a cure for cancer.”
“’What happened to Chris R?’ people always ask me,” Wiseau says. While he doesn’t divulge that information, he offers a “little secret, just a tiny little thing” that Denny “actually sells marijuana to Mark.” (In one scene, Mark is seen smoking a joint.) And also, he’s selling drugs as well. “You see, all this seems not connected, but in the movie, I have such a limitation.”
By the way, what kind of drugs were they?
“Any drugs, you name it,” says Wiseau, chuckling. “From LSD to marijuana.”
In addition to being a filmmaker, Wiseau is also a clothes designer. Contrary to an Entertainment Weekly article, Wiseau did not “import leather jackets from Korea.”
“Next month we’ll have underwear. There will be Tommy Wiseau jeans before Christmas.”
For those who have never seen The Room, Wiseau offers simple advice: “Don’t expect too much, but hopefully your life will be better when you see The Room and to give the credit you can. Otherwise, I don’t expect you to love The Room.”
“I would advise somebody who didn’t ever see THE ROOM and say, ‘Hey, you know, you may not like it, but that’s OK with me.’ And I say that very openly.”
“Some people apologize and I say, ‘Look don’t be apologizing, you can say whatever that you want,” he says “Actually I love it when people are very sincere about it.”
Another talked-about scene is the one in which Johnny, Mark, Denny, and a mutual friend toss a football while wearing tuxedos. It’s an odd scene, one that makes little sense. So why does this scene exist? “You don’t expect this kind of stuff,” Wiseau explains. “I personally never saw in my entire life people playing football in tuxedos, except in The Room.”
The cast and crew (the latter of which changed several times during the production), were similarly confused. “Somebody wrote that we did not have a script, which is an incorrect statement, but nevermind about that. I have a tendency to give the actors just pieces [of the script at a time].”
“We have people actually come to the screening of The Room with a tuxedo and a football,” Wiseau says.
The Room plays tomorrow night and Saturday night at 11:55 at the Landmark Ken Cinema. Tommy Wiseau will appear in person.
Brian Lafferty welcomes letters at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @BrianLaff.