Technology has arguably transformed much in the way we experience media in the past few years. Movie watching is done in the privacy of homes via Netflix or in the palm of your hand via smart phones and tablets almost as often as it’s being done in a theater setting. As much as this new technology is truly a wondrous convenience, it still cannot replace the magic of watching a movie in the right atmosphere: the theater.
For my eighth birthday, I went to see Jurassic Park on the big screen. Waiting in line fueled the anticipation for what could only be described as the greatest movie-going experience I’ve ever had; seeing a nearly life-size T-Rex appear before me is probably one of the main factors for my love of film to this day. The big screen is where a movie like Jurassic Park should live, as it’s a spectacle that can only be appreciated in full size.
Of course, sometimes a movie is only as good as the audience that you watch it with. In senior year of college, my friends and I partook in the midnight show during the opening weekend of Grindhouse. If that movie only made $8 million that weekend, it must’ve been entirely in college towns because the theater was packed and while the movie may not have been everything everyone was hoping for, the experience of seeing it with a rowdy, arguably drunk audience made the experience all it could be.
One of the testaments to the magic of film-going is the phenomena of midnight movies. Movies like Sharknado try to capture the essence of the midnight movie: laughably bad, but entertaining regardless, but it still falls short. The truth is, like any movie, you cannot predict audience reaction; if you could, there would be fewer blockbusters out there that fail miserably. The midnight movie thrives on audience reaction, even if the audience gets ironic joy out of it; there’s no such thing as ironic ticket sales, anyway. They’re usually very tiny movies that have something to offer that is nearly indescribable. Why did Eraserhead catch on the way it did? Why has The Rocky Horror Picture Show become the gold standard for the midnight movie for nearly forty years? And, finally, what exactly is it about The Room?
In case you are unfamiliar with the concept of The Room, it is essentially a plotless movie where a devoted future husband finds out that his girlfriend and his best friend are having an affair. While this sounds like a standard, almost hackneyed plot, it hardly tells the story that The Room has to offer. The Room fails across the board: plot, dialogue, acting, filmmaking, etc. If there’s something you can critique, it’s going to end with a failing grade. It’s that complete ineptness that makes The Room this generation’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and this past Friday, myself and contributor Mark experienced The Room the only way to see it: at a midnight showing.
We arrived at the Bourse in Philly around 10:50 pm and the line was already beginning to form around the theater. It was still pretty small, though, and having bought tickets in advance, we weren’t worried about being left out of the night’s festivities, so we decided to find a bar and get a slight buzz going in the half-hour that we had allotted ourselves. We merely walked two blocks before we happened upon a place that promised spirits, so we ventured inside. Having been to many bars in plenty of cities, I prepared to suffer through a very “bro-typical” atmosphere, but was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be a blues bar with an all African American clientele, none of which were under 60. Live music (playing originals!) and moderately priced beer was good enough for us, so we slung back two Stellas apiece, listened to one really long song (with a pretty awesome guitar solo) and headed back to the line.
The beer did its trick enough, as I developed a nice buzz for the standing-in-line portion of the night, taking my place among the similarly-dressed, often spectacled 18-34 year-olds that decided to partake in some ironic revelry. They started to let those that planned on buying merchandise in earlier than the rest, as doing so allowed them some time to meet Tommy Wiseau himself and get some pictures and autographs. Personally, the idea that I had to buy merchandise in order to get a picture with him seemed ridiculous, as my ticket to the shitty movie should warrant the right to shake his hand, but whatever; the adventure was more about the movie and the crowd participation than anything else.
Once they opened the doors, we shuffled in and worked our way through the crowd of people around the concession that were waiting in line to take pictures with Tommy and we found our seats. In the theater, there was a big crowd that had entered earlier and presumably got their pictures out of the way already. Like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, plenty of people were dressed up characters from the movie; there were plenty of girls dressed up as Sexy Red Dress Lisa and one guy in particular was in full-on Johnny mode.
After about 15 minutes, Tommy was brought out and had a rapid-fire Q&A with some audience members; it went as bizarre as you could expect when it comes to a Q&A led by Tommy Wiseau, complete with a somewhat accidental grope of one of the many Lisas in attendance. Fast-forward a few minutes and we were ready to watch the night’s feature (after a slight delay, which was met with a crowd rendition of Johnny’s chicken call).
I can say this: this is the first time I ever watched The Room, save for the clips I could find online, and this is the only way I can imagine watching this film. Audience participation is roughly 80% of this particular experience and for anyone interested in watching the movie, this is the only way to do it. The crowd is rowdy, assuredly buzzed or high. Sober is the last way you should see this film. As newbies to the scene, Mark and myself could merely spectate, but everyone else seemed to have done this before. They were right on cue with spoons and RiffTrax level commentary, which all made the experience a unique one to behold. They boo Tommy’s naked butt. They cheep along with his chicken impression. They even groan and cower in terror at that weird thing that happens to Lisa’s neck in one scene. For better or for worse, I’ve never seen an audience have so much fun at the movie theater.
I can’t recommend a midnight screening enough to anybody that enjoys some good old-fashioned snark and watching some truly bad films. Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans would especially revel in the commentary that goes along with the experience. It truly makes it a unique adventure that you won’t forget.