Movies are something so close to us that every person gets something new from the movie they watch. You might like it, hate it think of it as insignificant. But the point is that it makes you feel, and just like any work of art brings out a reaction in us. With every good movie we watch, it makes us think and conveys the thoughts of the artist. But what happens, when you watch a terrible movie i.e. a ‘trashy movie’. Trash as a term, when applied to film, talks about works that are “amateurishly produced, low-budget which are incompatible with the standards of mainstream filmmaking.” All of us as regular movie-goers have become increasingly alert to the content pandered to us. Social media has given us the platform to voice our thoughts on all forms of art we encounter in day-to-day life from movies, books to music. This has further made us more keen to the nuances in our films.
What is a cult film?
One of the best known ‘cult’ films amongst the ‘bad movies’ is ‘The Room’. A ‘cult film’ is one which has a devoted fan base which may not be critically acclaimed, but sees a lot of audience participation. This forms a fringe away from ‘mainstream cinema’, and the viewers bond together celebrating the cinema that veers from the norm. An example from Bollywood would be ‘Andaz Apna Apna,’ the film that didn’t perform very well at the time of its release. But now is watched and quoted intensely by fans and is considered to be a classic. The Room tanked at the box-office but has managed to garner ardent fans. It is produced, directed, and starring Tommy Wiseau, and is considered to be the ‘Citizen Kane of bad movies’. Fans religiously attend screenings; bring in ‘plastic spoons’ as props, while also quoting the cringey dialogues from the movie. James Franco re-created the making of this movie in the film, ‘The Disaster Artist’, based on the book of the same name. Franco played the role of Wiseau, and he faithfully chronicled the misadventures of the cast and the crew.
The Room deals with the protagonist Johnny (Tommy Wiseau), whose life unravels over the course of the movie. Tommy plays a messianic character who is betrayed by everyone in his life. From his ‘future wife’ (the word fiancée is never mentioned in the movie), Lisa (Juliette Danielle) to his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero). The movie has a dissonant soundtrack, random storylines abandoned at every turn. Lisa’s mother, Claudette in a memorable scene, adds that she ‘definitely has breast cancer’. This plot point is never followed through the rest of the movie. As a viewer who is watching one realises right off the bat that there are significant problems with the film from storytelling, dialogue delivery, and even with the acting. Characters are introduced without any background and appear without any context.
Audiences persist watching the Room, they flock to midnight viewings and take pleasure in reading trivia. This viewership persists due to the presence of a phenomenon of ‘camp sensibility’, a case where the viewers are actively aware what their content is trashy. They derive pleasure by instead 'admiring the thought-process of the creator.' In a way, this becomes a rejection of what pop-culture considers ‘good’ and what is considered ‘bad’. These viewers give an understanding of how something trashy can still be immensely entertaining.
The sensibility that seeks to enjoy
An example of campy sensibility would be watching reality shows, but with the awareness of keeping oneself from the content. The main reason for The Room’s popularity were those midnight screenings when fans come together to enjoy the movie collectively. Trashy films can be best appreciated with a lot of people, where ‘everyone is in on the joke’. This collective is what that makes The Room so enjoyable. The feeling of knowing that everyone understands that the content is bad but keeps aesthetics aside to enjoy it.
This viewing of such a film removes all pre-conceived notions of good and bad and focuses on the enjoyment. The viewers immerse themselves in the medium while disrupting long-held views on art. The Room was made to be Wiseau’s magnum opus; he invested a large chunk of his bottomless wealth into the movie. It was unimaginable for him to find himself laughed out of a theatre during its first screening. But Wiseau and the rest of the cast have embraced their quirky fan base and their fame. They are sporty and understand that they are famous for being “so bad...it’s good”. The Room grew from obscurity to 'unintentionally hilarious cult classic'. With repeated re-watching one begins to marvel at Tommy’s thought process that made him write gems such as, “Leave your stupid comments in your pocket,” and many others. In such cases, the narrative of the movie takes a different level. The audience participation in the film, itself adds another dimension. It gives them the freedom to exaggerate the movie dialogues and gives them a chance to interact with the movie storyline.
As viewers, we need to aware of all kinds of content. It might be ‘trashy’, but it will provide you with a background on what content is genuinely brilliant. The Room is just one amongst the line of ‘trashy’ movies. Others include Sharknado (tornadoes with sharks in them), Ghost Shark, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, and so on. These movies are infamous for their bizarre storylines and bad acting, which has led them to carve their niche in the entertainment sphere. Next time you see a film with an unconventional storyline give it a watch, you won’t regret it.
Cult Film. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved July 23, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult_film
MacDowell, J., & Zborowski, J. (2013). The Aesthetics of ‘So Bad it’s Good’. Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media.6.1-30.
Romano. A. (2017, December 19). The Room: how the worst movie ever became a Hollywood legend as bizarre as its creator. Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/12/2/16720012/the-room-tommy-wiseau-backstory-explained
Sarkhosh, K. & Menninghaus, W. (2016).Enjoying trash films: Underlying features, viewing stances, and experiential response dimensions. Poetics. 57. 40-54.
Image Credit: tiff
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