‘You are tearing me apart, Lisa!’ 

“The Room” takes up residence in Little Rock.

click to enlarge THE MOMENT OF ANGST:  Tommy Wiseau, as Johnny, being torn apart.
  • THE MOMENT OF ANGST: Tommy Wiseau, as Johnny, being torn apart.

When you think of great cinematic displays of angst, maybe you land on Gena Rowlands wilding out in “A Woman under the Influence.” Or Brando, bellowing up at the balcony in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” But that's only because you probably haven't seen “The Room,” the melodrama-turned-cult-hit that screened at the Little Rock Film Festival in May. It will play again at 9 p.m. Saturday at Market Street Cinema and, if organizer Levi Agee has his way, each subsequent final Saturday of the month until September.

A steamy story about a love triangle involving a banker named Johnny, his best friend Mark and Johnny's fiancee Lisa, who's secretly sleeping with both men, “The Room” has become widely celebrated as the most spectacularly terrible film ever committed to celluloid. It debuted, tepidly, in LA in 2003. In one of the first reviews, Variety's Scott Foundas said that it “may be something of a first: a movie that prompts most of its viewers to ask for their money back — before even 30 minutes have passed.” But slowly, through word of mouth, it became a film to see — to mock.

The film's problems are legion. The acting is tone deaf. There's little to no character development. A number of subplots emerge and then disappear. Characters often get lost in the frame. Several scenes are out of focus. Much of the movie is hampered by terrible green screen work. There are long, wholly non-erotic sex scenes that always seem to involve rose petals. The music never fits the mood except during the sex scenes, which are scored to what sounds like dollar bin '80s R&B.

Tommy Wiseau, who wrote, directed, produced and self-distributed the film, stars as Johnny. With long black hair, a wide face and what appears to be a lazy eye, he looks like a villain from “The Highlander,” but here favors silk shirts and ill-fitting suits. In interviews, he's been cagey about his background, but he speaks in what sounds like a thick Austrian accent, dull and plodding until it spikes when he tries to add emotion, memorably when he says, “naaaat!” and, everyone's favorite moment of pathos, “You're tearing me apart, Lisa!”

As audiences began to gather to hurl plastic spoons at the screen every time a framed picture of a spoon shows up on screen and leave en masse during a particularly boring sex scene in mock protest, Wiseau, who maintained, unconvincingly, that he'd always intended the film to be seen as a black comedy, began to host monthly midnight screenings in LA.

Over the years through those and other film festival screenings, the film's cult has broadened. Last fall, Entertainment Weekly ran a four-page article about Wiseau and “The Room,” noting its famous fans like Paul Rudd, Kristen Bell and Jonah Hill. Wiseau made a guest appearance on “Tim and Eric Awesome Show” on Adult Swim in March, and on April Fool's Day, the Cartoon Network ran the film in its entirety at midnight.

Agee, a graduate student in UCA's digital film program and a volunteer with the Little Rock Film Festival, arranged for the film to screen during the festival. Although it played opposite the festival gala, some 30 folks showed up and quickly got into the communal spirit, Agee says.

“There's a competitive nature in the one-upmanship. It's like ‘Mystery Science Theater' karaoke. You get an adrenaline rush out of it.”

Agee hopes that the film becomes a fixture in the indie film scene here and that this initial run extends indefinitely. If not, he won't be deterred in spreading the gospel of “The Room.”

“I own the DVD. People could always come over to my house.”


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