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From terrible movie to cult status

By Mark Liversidge

The Disaster Artist
The Disaster Artist

In this month's column, sponsored by the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge, Mark Liversidge explores the cult status of The Room.

The Disaster Artist / The Room

I get asked certain questions repeatedly, and unsurprisingly one of the most frequent is, “what’s your favourite film?” That’s an easy one: Back to the Future, the reasons for which could comfortably fill this column for the next year. But when people ask what is the worst film I’ve ever seen, that’s a trickier one. We don’t tend to seek out terrible films, unless there’s some perceived value to be gained through the “so bad it’s good” fallacy.

I’ve seen some truly terrible films this year: the supremely cynical The Emoji Movie, the comedically wretched Snatched and the breaktakingly inept Unforgettable. They are all, though, just terrible: there is no enjoyment to be gained from watching these stiflingly dull films fall apart in front of your eyes.

While I don’t believe there’s any such thing as “so bad it’s good,” there can be an effect of being so commandingly terrible in every department that you achieve some form of cult status, taking ham-fistedness to an art form: think Plan 9 from Outer Space, Howard the Duck or Battlefield Earth. One film has become more of a cult than others, not least thanks to the enduring air of mystery about the man behind it: Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.

Wiseau’s a stage name, and even his origins are unclear, although research suggests he was probably born in Poland. Somehow he ended up in Hollywood, having made a small fortune through his own entrepreneurship and other unexplained means. When the play he wrote couldn’t get published as a book, Wiseau made it into a 500-page film script instead, and then attempted to film it himself. The result is a masterclass in how not to write, act in, produce or direct a film, finding hitherto unheard-of ways in which to be terrible.

Take the fact that all of the scenes shot on a rooftop have a green screen background, when it would have just been easier to film on an actual rooftop. There’s the character who casually mentions she has breast cancer, then never refers to it again. Wiseau’s character Johnny inexplicably laughs at various unfortunate stories and seemingly doesn’t know even the most basic practical details of having sex with another human being, and many of the picture frames in the background contain photos of spoons after Wiseau left the original stock pictures in the frames. Wiseau also thought the character should be a vampire, but dropped the idea when no one could work out how to film his car flying.

The cult following that sprang up around it, complete with late night audiences that throw plastic spoons at the screen, eventually spread to Hollywood and now, in a very Hollywood twist, the film based on the story of making the film has become an awards contender this year.

James Franco both directs and stars as Wiseau in a performance that captures the awfulness of what was produced, but in an affectionate rather than an overly critical manner.

As well as regular showings of The Disaster Artist from today (Wednesday), the Arts Picturehouse has two showings on December 7 of The Room, so you can make your own mind up about the “so bad it’s good” theory. Don’t forget to take your plastic spoons.

To book tickets for any of the films featured here – and lots of others – visit picturehouses.com or call the box office on 0871 902 5720.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I’ve not always been as much of a cinemagoer as I am these days, not least because the cinemas in my home town got killed off by the VHS video revolution. It’s amazing how quickly that happened. I can also remember a time when we didn’t have a video player, which may explain why I saw the original Star Wars trilogy so often in the cinema. My mother, my sister and I would take in a double or triple bill whenever they came on, which was nice as the films do feature probably the biggest family-related twist in film history.

These days it’s still a family thing for me, but instead on opening day I’ll be heading to Kent to catch Star Wars: The Last Jedi with my 14-year-old niece. There’s one down side to this: if the film does have any seismic spoilers about Rey’s origins – which my niece has been speculating on since seeing The Force Awakens – I’m somehow going to have to get all the way to the evening without hearing them, a significant challenge in our internet-enabled world.

You can avoid all this stress, of course, by being one of the first to see the new film at one of the Arts Picturehouse’s midnight screenings. Be there at a minute past midnight on December 14 to be one of the first to find out what surprises writer/director Rian Johnson has in store for Luke, Rey and the rest.

It’s a Wonderful Life (Dog-friendly screening)

Does all the talk of Christmas from the end of October get you hot under the collar? Make you feel, er, ruff? Well, on Sunday (December 10) the Arts Picturehouse is retrieving one from the archives, a classic Christmas tail that has a surprising bite about it: It’s A Wonderful Life. James Stewart is George Bailey, whose dogmatic belief that he should never have been born sends him into a deep melan-collie. His whining is heard in heaven, who send down an angel to paws George before he makes a dog’s dinner of things and fur-thermore lead him to see that his life was valuable.

I don’t want to hound you into going to see this film, but it would be a mastiff mistake to miss it if you’ve never watched it. But not only will this screening be hopefully packing in the humans, it’ll also be a dog-friendly screening. But it’s also a dog-friendly film: both George and Uncle Billy are dog owners, for starters. When making the film, the massive set of the town of Bedford Falls also had dogs (and, whisper it, cats) roaming free to give the town a lived-in feel.

Even the film’s dialogue doggedly drives home the dog-friendly theme: George not only says “hot dog!” three times, but also a trio of “doggone it!”s as well. So if you fancy the film and you’d love to share it with your dog, you can catch it together – you’d be barking mad to miss it!


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