We took Tommy Wiseau on a tour of downtown Toronto last week. Here he is at U of T, with a very important message.
The Room has become this century’s most prominent (and maybe only) contribution to the genre of film known as “cult.” It had never dawned on me how apt a descriptor that term—cult—really is, until Friday night when I was waiting outside the Royal Theatre to buy a ticket for a 9:15 showing of The Room at which its director, Tommy Wiseau, was going to appear for an audience Q-and-A.
The person behind me was a big guy in a hooded sweatshirt. He was there with a girl about his age who kept hugging him for warmth, and who it is therefore safe to say was his wife or girlfriend. I told him I’d never seen the movie before.
“Oh man, really?” he said. “It’s terrible. I’ve seen it probably 13 times.”
The box office was scheduled to open in about 20 minutes. We were in a line that stretched perhaps 30 feet down the sidewalk to the west of the theatre entrance.
“I’ve heard they’re only selling 40 tickets at the box office,” the guy told me, an edge of anxiety in his voice. Tickets had also been available online, but the advance allotment for each of the two Friday shows—the first two of five scheduled Wiseau appearances over the weekend, with others to be on Saturday and Sunday—had already sold out, making waiting on line a last resort.
“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “Per show?” He wasn’t sure.
And so we waited.
As we stood there in the crisp-but-not-cold weather, a black-suited figure with long black hair, sunglasses, and weirdly pale skin strode out of the theatre’s entrance. For some reason, he was wearing two belts: one around his waist, where belts normally go, and another around his upper thighs. My pal shouted: “HEY TOMMY!” The two-belted stranger was none other.
Wiseau walked the length of the ticket line, nodding at fans and high-fiving them. My friend reached out and shook Wiseau’s hand. Then he took out his cellphone and snapped a picture of the director’s back, as he receded into the distance.
“You touched him!” said the guy’s girlfriend. She was glad that her man had had a moment with Wiseau, and so was I.
A few minutes later a pair of hawkers began walking up and down the line holding DVDs of The Room. The deal, they bellowed to the crowd, was that you could pay $20 for a DVD, and then have a private autograph session with Wiseau, where he would presumably dispense, to you and you alone, some morsels of that famously gnomic Wiseau-ian wisdom. (“You can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself, but please don’t hurt each other” is to Wiseau as “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is to Karl Marx, or “Judge not lest ye be judged” is to Jesus.)
“I’ll do it,” said my friend to one of the DVD guys. “Is there an ATM inside?”
That amount of money, I would say, is pretty steep, considering the product. There are several long and harrowing sex scenes with Wiseau (who stars) front and centre—he may have been expecting his pale ass to be some kind of soft-porn enticement to late-night cable viewers. Expository information revealed within the first 15 minutes is repeated throughout, as though the movie was made with audiences of amnesiacs in mind. Characters appear on set with no introductions and then play pivotal roles in the plot. I could go on for 20 more paragraphs. (Others have.) The Room is hilarious, for sure, but that’s because it’s awful.
What is it about weird movies that encourages this kind of fervor? I would guess that it has something to do with their inexplicability. All cults require mysteries, and if there’s one thing Wiseau has proven himself to be extremely good at (because The Room definitely didn’t prove him to be good at anything), it’s maintaining his mystique. Despite his indefinably Eastern European accent, for instance, he still claims to be from Louisiana. More to the point, he has never explained where his movie’s reported $6 million budget came from. It seems impossible that a movie so perfectly terrible could have commanded such immense resources, and the fact that it did inspires a kind of awe.
The two belts, meanwhile, are a lesser mystery. Torontoist‘s John Semley didn’t find out what the deal was with them during an entire afternoon with Wiseau, through no fault of his own, but Torontoist‘s Stephen Michalowicz, who was coincidentally in the audience during the screening I went to, brought the matter up during the Q-and-A. Wiseau called Michalowicz up to the stage and whispered the answer in his ear.
I stopped Michalowicz on his way out of the theatre and asked him what Wiseau had told him, and now we both know the answer, such as it is, to the riddle. I can’t tell you, though, because it’s Michalowicz’s story and I’d hate to step on his toes.
But do you really want to know? Or would you rather have the mystique?
For more in the adventures of Tommy, here is the tale of the afternoon we spent with him last week.