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Fame builds for ‘The Room,’ a movie so bad it’s good

“The Room” has been nicknamed “‘The Citizen Kane’ of Bad Movies” — a film so bad that it has worked its way into American pop culture.

From the moment it premiered, the cult-like following grew among Los Angeles fans of “so bad they’re good” films, drawn by “The Room’s” disjointed love triangle among a banker, his fiancée and his best friend; bad acting; gratuitous sex scenes; dialogue penned by a limited speaker of English; and production values so poor they leave viewers wondering where the $6 million budget went.

The movie’s popularity has grown internationally, culminating in the announcement earlier in the year that a Hollywood film about the making of “The Room” will be produced by Seth Rogan and star the Franco brothers, James and Dave.

James Franco even mentioned it during his opening monologue on “Saturday Night Live” last weekend.

Now, the room is screening locally, Dec. 11 at 8 p.m. at Snappers Comedy Club in Palm Harbor. Admission is $10.

Host Gene May, who owns the rights to show the movie in the Tampa Bay area, said those who have never seen “The Room” can expect “a cinematic train wreck” and an experience akin to watching “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

“The Room” has spawned audience rituals, similar to the character costumes, singing and dancing and tossing of toast and rice during “Rocky Horror” screenings.

Fans of “The Room” dress in tuxedos, scream “Who are you?” with expletives at characters who appear out of nowhere, drink the scotch-vodka blend “Scotchka” like characters in the film, and toss things about.

“We provide cheat sheets to first timers, as well as plastic spoons and Nerf balls to everyone,” May said. “So no one will feel left out when the insanity begins. They’ll know when to yell what and when to throw things.”

“It’s a strange phenomenon,” said actor Greg Sestero, who portrays Mark in “The Room” and penned the book on which the movie is based. “Everyone is amazed by it because it does not make any sense and keeps going and building.”

It’s a phenomenon that Rhonda Shear understands.

Before founding the intimate apparel company Shear Enterprises, she was famous for hosting USA Network’s “Up All Night” in the 1990s, showcasing bad movies.

“It’s mindless entertainment and a guilty pleasure – like porn without the porn,” said Shear, who lives in St. Petersburg. “And when it comes to films like that you don’t want to think. You won’t understand anything anyway.”

The popularity of “The Room” is bolstered by how badly it misses the mark, said Tyler Martinolich, a film and media arts professor at the University of Tampa

“Unlike other campy cult classics, the creators of ‘The Room’ seem to be under the impression the film is a serious romantic drama,” Martinolich said. “The film is unequivocally bad, but watching it — especially with friends — allows for the audience to be in on the ultimate inside joke.”

Tommy Wiseau, creator of “The Room,” has called it a dark comedy that was made badly by design.

“No one believes him,” host Gene May said. “You couldn’t make a movie this bad on purpose. That’s what makes it so great.”

Wiseau is described as himself a European millionaire, but where and how are not clear.

He wrote a 500-page book he couldn’t get published so he decided to turn it into a film he would produce, write, direct and star in.

He had no prior experience in filmmaking. And it shows.

Rather than recording scenes on an actual apartment building roof, for example, he projected a roof onto a studio green screen. It looks like a green-screen roof.

Other scenes are out of focus, poorly framed or both.

The story is filled with side plots that are never completely explained, like the party scene where character Claudette drops the bombshell that she has breast cancer. Her friends barely react and her illness is never again mentioned.

Then there is Denny, who is violently attacked on the apartment roof by a drug dealer to whom he owes money. No other mention is made before or after about Denny’s drug problem.

“Tommy would show up with an idea every day he wanted to get into the film,” actor Sestero said. “At one point he wanted to include a vampire subplot and have a car drive off the roof. It was always interesting.”

Wiseau also seemed to lack understanding of American culture, May said.

Throughout the film, for example, the lead male characters discuss their problems while tossing a football. But they never stand more than a few feet from one another and often throw the ball underhand.

In one favorite scene among fans, they play catch in an alley while wearing tuxedos.

The fans’ spoon-tossing ritual arises from a framed photo of a spoon that appears in the background in several scenes.

“It just doesn’t make sense why it is there and so important that it has to keep being shown,” May said. “And it’s awesome.”

In June 2003, Wiseau rented a theater in Los Angeles and advertised “The Room” on billboards across town.

Word quickly spread about how bad it was.

By 2004, there were regular midnight screenings in L.A. attended by Hollywood celebrities.

Wiseau sold screening rights across the U.S., as well as Canada, Australia, England and New Zealand.

Gene May bought the rights for the Tampa area in 2010 and said negotiating with Wiseau was as bizarre as the film.

“The contract reads like it was written by a demented child,” May said with a laugh. “His emails are written in broken English. I’m not sure what I have the rights to do to be honest.”

While the movie is available on DVD, actor Sestero agrees it’s best seen with a crowd.

“Even I still like to sneak into screenings to see it with the audience participation,” he said. “The phenomenon really comes alive in that way. It’s fascinating to watch.”

Sestero said it does not bother him to be known as one a star of the worst movie ever made.

“I could have had parts in 20 great movies that no one ever remembered,” he said. “‘The Room’ is impossible to forget.”

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