Cinemas are hugely important to me. Being sat in the dark, nothing in my line of sight apart from a huge screen, and surround sound that envelops me in the experience. No distractions, just the feeling of being completely immersed. That's why I’m so conscientious at the cinema - I have a very short fuse when it comes to people behaving badly in a screen, and thus I try to conduct myself with the same decorum that I expect from others. Quiet snacks are fine as long as they aren’t pungent. Loud snacks are OK as long as it’s a loud film, so I can meticulously time my crunches and rustlings with explosions or jump scares, and even then I’ve been known to freeze mid-crunch, waiting for the popcorn to soften and eventually dissipate to mush. Talking is an absolute no-no unless I'm politely asking others to be quiet, or impolitely shushing.
This cautious conduct is my behavioural default on every cinema visit, except for one film in particular. A film I go to see once a year. A cinema visit where I behave terribly on purpose, and openly revel in breaking every rule in my book. That film is The Room.
If you’re not familiar with The Room, I’ll reassure you that I’m not the only one behaving this way. Yelling, screaming, shouting, clapping, chanting and throwing things; these are all key components of a screening of The Room. Late night showings of this so-bad-it’s-good cult classic, usually hosted at independent cinemas and regional film clubs, truly have to be experienced to be believed. My venue of choice is the legendary Prince Charles Cinema in London, where The Room’s director & star - Tommy Wiseau - is usually in attendance.
You might be wondering what Tommy makes of all this revelry. His film is widely considered to be one of the worst films ever made, and he was recently crowned the winner of the ‘best-worst performances’ on the Prince Charles Cinema’s social media polls. Tommy is an enigmatic guy, but his attitude towards The Room seems fairly well documented, not least in the 2017 film The Disaster Artist, based on a book of the same name (written by Tommy’s co-star Greg Sestero) about the making of The Room. The film beautifully captures what a beloved figure Tommy is, and the significance of what he has inadvertently created for people. It may not be what he intended, but it’s a source of joy for many, and a hugely important part of programming for certain independent cinemas. Q&As with Tommy at the Prince Charles are always respectful; he’s treated with dignity and kindness by the audience. He’s cemented his place in film history, and then some.
The screenings themselves are obscenely fun. I have no doubt that my enduring effort to make zero noise under normal cinema circumstances is what makes The Room such a riotously joyful experience for me. It’s an immensely satisfying blend of catharsis and guilty pleasure; a kind of communal rowdiness akin to live music in a pantomime-style atmosphere. It creates a wonderful sense of community and camaraderie amongst fans. The audience interactions with the film are numerous and vary from country to country, and it's difficult to remember them all, but here are few of my absolute favourites:
The clap along The gratuitous and lengthy sex scenes are when many of us will take a toilet or bar break. There’s only so much belly button copulation one can bear to witness. For those that stay, the slow clap for the duration of the scene is a must. It’s really quite surreal and should be experienced at least once.
Because you’re a woman! Reserved for the most sexist lines of dialogue in the film, such as “he supports you, he provides for you, and darling, you can’t support yourself” to which we loudly retort “because you’re a woman!”
Random games of catch happen a lot in The Room. Throwing balls around the screen is an absolute no-no, so instead, we simply count each time a ball is thrown. It’s oddly exhilarating.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco
We love an establishing shot. It repeatedly clarifies that, indeed, we have not yet left San Francisco. It also means we can shout this over and over again.
When I first attended a screening of The Room, I had no idea that people actually flung plastic spoons at the screen. This is born from the framed stock images on display in the apartment in The Room, which feature various pieces of cutlery. The moment they appear, a rousing chorus of “spoons!” echoes around the screen, accompanied by flurries of plastic spoons raining down all around you. I was keen to join in on my first visit, so I just grabbed the spoons that landed in my lap, but I quickly ran out as I was sat towards the back. The sweet spot is around the fourth row from the screen- the spoons are pretty much self-replenishing there.
Go! The Golden Gate Bridge is long. As the camera pans across it, chanting ‘GO’ at increasing speed and volume is an absolute must. We celebrate emphatically when we make it all the way across. Sadly, this doesn’t always happen.
Shut the door!
This is one of my absolute favourites. In The Room, characters are constantly entering the apartment and leaving the door open behind them. The vehement urgency with which we scream “SHUT THE DOOR!” reaches hysterical levels. I always feel like the blood vessels in my face are bursting on this one.
For lovers of cult flicks, fringe cinema, midnight mondo trash and genre allnighters, the mayhem of late-night screenings is familiar territory. Despite my connection to horror films - a genre ripe for the midnight experience - I still regard cinemas as almost churchlike in their purpose; a quiet sanctum where films can be presented and absorbed in the absence of exterior influences. The sheer contrast brought about by films that reward active participation is exhilarating to me. These are the films that have the power to completely transform these spaces, and create communities, legacies, and traditions within them. And that is not something to be shushed.