The Performant: Herrre's Johnny!


Entering The Room

Harley-Davidson. Twinkies. Michael Jackson. Some things are so uniquely American they practically ooze stars and stripes, no matter how far across the borders they stray.

Another all-American tradition – right up there with Miller-in-a-can and Wheel of Fortune – has got to be Bad Movie Night: the deliberate screening of movies so awful they make the viewer scream tears of laughter, or sit in horrified silence, too traumatized by dubious production values or script incoherence to muster the strength to tear their eyes away.

The compulsion to celebrate these cinematic misfits holds a singular place in our national consciousness. They even feed our civic pride: what may be California’s best-loved cult flick of the decade The Room is set right here in San Francisco, with plenty of slo-motion shots of the Golden Gate Bridge to prove it

“I’ve seen this movie 25 times now,” confessed Red Vic employee-owner Sam Sharkey during his introduction, a slightly desperate gleam in his eye. As the opening credits rolled over some stock-style footage of the sun sparkling on the bay, the Palace of Fine Arts, and the California Street cable car, the oddience immediately set phasers to “heckle”. When the credit for director of photography, Todd Barron, flashed on the screen they shouted as one “Fuck you, Todd!” When the door to a non-descript, upscale apartment swings open and “Johnny” (Tommy Wiseau) walked into his living room, the theater erupted into an ecstatic cheer.

“Hi babe,” he responded as if on cue, though of course he was really speaking to his co-star Juliette Danielle, cast in the unenviable role of Tommy’s whiny girlfriend, Lisa.

None of the characters are particularly sympathetic, which perversely is part of what makes the flick such a guilty pleasure. It’s simply impossible to feel bad for these jerks, even if they are trapped in a movie world they didn’t create. Besides Tommy, who appears perpetually zonked on airplane glue and speaks with an outrageous accent of indeterminable origin, and Lisa, who appears to be about 30 years younger and only living with him because, as her acerbic mother (Carolyn Minnott) points out, she can’t support herself, there’s his best friend Mark (Greg Sistero), a preternaturally handsome youth who allows Lisa to seduce him, Denny (Philip Haldiman), a socially-inept teenager who manages to almost get shot in a nefarious drug deal gone awry, and random friends who drop by to have sex on Tommy’s Ikea-issue living room sofa.

For aficionados of cult films such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and events such as Midnight Mass with Peaches Christ, a screening of The Room will seem familiar. Scripted cat-calls, impromptu sound effects, the tossing of footballs and, more importantly, spoons don’t deviate overmuch from the generally accepted cult movie experience.

But for San Franciscans, The Room provides more than just an outlet for poking fun at a film, it’s a way for us to poke fun at ourselves. Though filmed mostly in LA, the random shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marina, and Alcatraz conspire to remind the viewer that the movie is partly a love letter, albeit sloppily written, to San Francisco. A city which embraces even its most incongruous misfits.

“If a lot of people loved each other,” Tommy as Johnny perseveres, despite all evidence to the contrary, “the world would be a better place to live.” We are all Tommy Wiseau now.


The Room screens monthly at The Red Vic Movie House


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