Film column: In praise of honest cinematic failure

Film column: In praise of honest cinematic failure
Photo courtesy of RottenTomatoes.com

This weekend, “The Disaster Artist” is releasing in theaters across America. The film is an obvious labor of love from director and star, James Franco, and has garnered rave reviews from critics and festival-goers who got to see early screenings of it. The film follows the creation of the 2003 cult classic, “The Room.”  “The Room” holds the crown of best paracinematic “so bad that it is good” film. “The Room” has a quality about it where it is objectively terrible in nearly every facet of filmmaking, but is still utterly magnetic to watch. It is an honest cinematic failure, and that is what makes it special.

The honest comedy that humans find in seeing someone trip and fall on their face on a show like “America’s Funniest Home Videos” or “Ridiculousness” is the same kind of comedy audiences get with “The Room.” When the enigmatic writer, director and star of “The Room,” Tommy Wiseau, put forward the seemingly originless money to fund the making of his film, he thought that he had something special. He paid for the whole production from promotion to distribution. He put up billboards all around Los Angeles advertising the film’s release and even put forward enough cash to keep the film in theaters long enough for an Oscar run. He didn’t intend on “The Room” being a film marvel for how bad it was. He thought it was his “Citizen Kane.” Obviously Wiseau’s dreams of cinematic glory didn’t pan out for him and soon enough, videos of scenes from “The Room” began to garner millions upon millions of YouTube hits for their unintentional humor. From there, the film took on a cult following. There are even theaters in Los Angeles that host regular midnight screenings of the film so people can come lovingly quote along with the famously bad lines.

At its core, Wiseau’s story is a sad one. Trying so hard and believing in yourself only to fail so miserably is something that can’t feel good, but in a twisted way, that is why “The Room” is so easy to love. Seeing something take itself so deadly serious and be humorously bad is the cinematic equivalent of seeing someone trip and land on their face. For this reason, films like “Sharknado” or “Jason X” that try to exploit the “so bad it's good” taboo by intentionally being awful feel dishonest and unearned, like a viral video where someone falls on their face, but staged. These counterfeit bad films are distasteful and quite frankly insulting to film as an art form. There is much to be learned from observing someone who tries to make a great film and fails, but no one should give the light of day to a film that is trying to fail. 

Other paracinematic masterpieces that operate in the same space as the “The Room”such as “Samurai Cop,” “Fateful Findings” and “Cool Cat Saves the Kids” have been unearthed by dedicated fans and then brought into the limelight by popular YouTube personalities like Adam Johnston from “YourMovieSucks,” and the trio of Mike Stoklasa, Jay Bauman and Rich Evans from “RedLetterMedia.” All of these YouTubers have web series that are wholly dedicated to focusing on these film atrocities. The success of their shows speak to the human interest in films birthed out of honest failure. Honest cinematic failures are as rare as cinematic masterpieces, and I think there is merit in exploring the entertainment taboo they operate in. Even if you aren’t down to watch an entire terrible movie, the vast amount of internet content that explores these films is truly fascinating and worth looking into for interesting laughs. 

After “The Room” released and became a cult classic, Wiseau tried to rebrand his film as a dark comedy, but audiences and critics know that isn't true. Regardless of genre, “The Room” is entertaining from start to finish and should be experienced by anyone even slightly interested in film as an entertainment medium. Films that aren't as bad as “The Room,” but are still below average are worse experiences as they offer no entertainment value. The worst thing a film can be is boring, and the hot spots between boring lay at the top with the likes of “Citizen Kane” and at the bottom with Tommy Wiseau. James Franco knew this, which is why he made “The Disaster Artist.” It is also certainly why the film is getting as much praise as it has, even before its release.

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