Ask anyone in Hollywood (California, not Portland) and they'll tell you. The event movie—the must-see, stand-in-line phenomenon—is dead. Almost. There is this one movie that's been playing sold-out shows for the past five years. Audiences line up around the block, often hours in advance, just to get a ticket. David Cross and Alec Baldwin show up to screenings. People get dressed up to see the movie. People see it multiple times and memorize the dialogue.
And chances are, you've never even heard of it. That's because it never once played in a theater in Portland. Until now. As someone who's been watching Tommy Wiseau's The Room almost since its very first L.A. screening, I am giddy and jealous of Portland, my new hometown. Portlanders get to see The Room for the first time at Cinema 21 at 11 pm Saturday, Aug. 15.
The Room is more than just a movie. It is like an object in space with a density greater than the center of the sun. At the collapsing center of this cinematic black hole is a mad genius that is working to save the film industry, one theater at a time: The Room's director, writer, producer, financier and star, Tommy Wiseau. In his but unidentifiable European accent, Wiseau explains his movie: "The Room is about life. Everyone should see it at least four times in theaters."
Having seen it dozens of times, I can only agree. The Room, by all accounts, was intended as a serious drama about Johnny (Wiseau), a San Francisco banker struggling with an unfaithful fiancée; a backstabbing best friend; a drug-using, adopted ward; and a pushy, balding psychologist who is always giving Johnny unsolicited, emotionally blunt advice. But what started as a bland tragedy instantly became a sublime comedy in the eyes of audiences in 2003. That's something that Wiseau—a man who has been described as a Croatian cyborg, a Belgian vampire, a Danish refugee and possibly not from this world or even this dimension—doesn't mind at all. "I am an American," he says, apropos of an unrelated question. "And before people see the movie, I always say, 'You can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself, but please don't hurt each other.'"
Six years later, The Room has finally found a room in Portland. Cinema 21 owner Tom Ranieri says it almost didn't happen. "I had seen the grosses from the extended year-after-year run in [L.A.] and I said, 'This is pretty amazing,' but I wasn't necessarily driven to get a copy," says Ranieri. "Then a couple of my employees...said, 'You gotta book this movie.' So I watched it and couldn't decide what to do about it because it was so awful."
Danny Seim, drummer for the band Menomena, is probably PDX's best-known Room fanatic and Wiseau's ambassador to the Pacific Northwest. Seim has been holding home screenings of The Room for a year, culminating in a semi-public performance last month at Valentine's. "At first I figured this was going to be a porno without the sex," Seim says. "But then, of course, there was the sex. [The movie] was instantly like nothing I've ever seen before. It was like walking a tightrope for 100 minutes in the dark."
The Valentine's screening showed Seim what a communal experience of The Room is like. "The movie started at 10, but by 9:15 there were already about 20 people that I had never seen before in my life," he says. "Different ages, even different races—imagine that in Portland, right? And as soon as they saw we had a few props from the movie, they were all, like, 'Oh my God. This is really going to happen.'"
And that's The Room at its best: a group of strangers getting together in celebration of an extraordinary experience and its mysterious-accented, long-gothic-hair-wearing, manically happy-go-lucky, naive man-child creator. Wiseau puts it this way: "All true Americans are the same. The Room represents relationships, and other issues from real life. It doesn't matter where you live, The Room is for people. Why not play football three feet apart? Why not? I'm very proud of my project, and I think that we have many fans of The Room in Portland, and I love all fans of The Room and for me it doesn't matter where you live. We Americans should maintain our freedom of expression. The Room is for all Americans and for the world."
If you found yourself confused, laughing and wondering about the mystery of your own identity while reading that quote, and yet unnaturally compelled to read it three or four times in a row, then The Room is for you. Because while it may be the worst movie ever made, it is also the greatest worst movie ever made. Not only are there no other movies that are similar to The Room, there's nothing in cinema history that even helps explain it.
Currently The Room is scheduled for a one-night run, but Ranieri believes that may change: "I get this feeling we're going to have more screenings." And as for Wiseau's penchant for making surprise appearances at screenings to do pre-show QAs, the director says, "Why not? That is what America is all about."
screens at 11 pm Saturday, Aug. 15, at Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Ave., 223-4515. $6.