Following immediately on from the wonderful evening with Henry Rollins, my mate and I travelled back to one of our favourite places, The Prince Charles Cinema (PCC) for another exciting encounter.
My recent introduction to the ‘disaster-piece’ film The Room has changed my perspective on cinema; and art in general to be more accurate. The sheer guts and determination it took to complete the project, even if the end result was considered sub-par by conventional measure, is inspiring.
The cult following that grew over the years since the film’s release in 2003 has stretched from USA to London with regular screenings held at the PCC. The creator Tommy Wiseau and his co-star (and best friend) Greg Sestero make regular visits to the cinema for screenings and to meet fans who have helped catapult this film from damp squib to a profitable cult classic. Greg’s book (The Disaster Artist) about his experience while making The Room was given its own big screen treatment last year by James Franco which has increased interest in The Room and brought new fans into the fold (armed with plastic spoons and inflatable footballs).
Tommy and Greg attended screenings for the first couple of weeks of February as well as advance screenings of their brand new film Best F(r)iends, written and produced by Greg and directed by Justin MacGregor. The film was inspired by a road trip the two had taken back in 2003. Fans have essentially been waiting 15 years for a reunion and I had to be there – armed with my copy of The Disaster Artist.
Getting to the cinema quite early there were two queues outside the building. Nobody had arrived yet for the Best F(r)iends screening but a long winding line was forming for the next screening of The Room. One could sense the heightened excitement knowing that Tommy and Greg were in the building. After spending nearly 3 hours in the company of one hero that same night I was giddy by the time we entered the theatre and found some seats.
The small screen erupted with cheers as Tommy and Greg entered and kicked off a brief Q&A session. Since there was only about 50 of us there for the half past midnight showing there was a good chance we’d get to speak with them. Greg introduced the film as a new collaboration and how he had written a character for Tommy, Harvey, which allowed him to flex his acting muscle and seemed more suited to him than his role of Johnny in The Room. Tommy welcomed us all and enjoyed highlighting the intriguing brackets around the ‘r’ in the new film’s title before opening the question session.
Fielding queries about Franco’s performance in The Disaster Artist, to comparing enjoyment in the making of The Room vs. Best F(r)iends, Tommy’s answers were quite clipped, not unfriendly, but very direct and forthright which was slightly intimidating. Not having a question I didn’t raise my hand initially, but then I thought this was my chance to say something to them both so I did without thinking it through.
Tommy didn’t see my hand – probably since he was wearing his standard dark glasses inside a dark movie theater, but Greg eventually had a chance to pick me. Blank minded I told them I just had a comment. I thanked them for coming out to the UK to see us, and that I was a film graduate from Africa and newly introduced to the phenomenon that is The Room. I said they had changed my perspective of film and thanked them for pursuing it and living their dream. They both thanked me in return and I was surprised that the rest of the audience started applauding.
Tommy’s answer to a question about what advice he’d give his younger self was simply: “Respect equals success” which he offered to us as advice for life. My mate however had the best comment. She had raised her hand out of my eye line and suddenly they were pointing back in our direction. I turned to hear my mate ask: “Tommy, could you tell me I’m tearing you apart?” She was referencing a famous line from The Room which was actually a nod to James Dean and emblazoned on the boards outside the building. The applause started instantly and Tommy’s obliging response was an enthusiastic “You are tearing me apart, beautiful girl!”. We could barely contain ourselves; the continued whooping and cheering probably made us sound like a bunch of children who’d just been surprised with a trip to Disney World.
As the lights dimmed for the film, Tommy and Greg made their way to a downstairs bar area for autographs and photos and we bolted out of our strategically picked end of aisle seats to catch them in their limited time there. Joining the queue, the congestion of excited fans gave me butterflies. Looking through the varied merchandise available, I was originally going to buy a DVD but opted for a copy of the script for Tommy to sign. Suddenly it was my turn and reality seemed to pause for a few beats.
Standing in front of me was the enigma of a man who has become such an inspiration for me. Not necessarily for his unique writing/producing/acting/directing capabilities, but for his blind determination in not listening to the negative and ploughing through until he achieved his goal. How many of us give up and the first hurdle, never mind the tenth? Not Tommy. I was so thrilled to meet him and he signed the front page of my script, adding a big heart for embellishment underneath. Graciously posing for photos, it was then my friends’ turn. We were all chatting with him together when he motioned that I should re-join them for a photo with all of us together. He told us they would be back in September and shook all of our hands again, for about the third time and wished us well. Not the intimidating man almost barking his answers back at the crowd, in person he is quite warm and accommodating and genuinely appreciates his fans.
Greg had hung back and was standing around on a little mezzanine part of the staircase leading back up from the basement where Tommy was camped. Nervously approaching him I thanked him for seeing my hand in the darkness of the theater earlier and he motioned towards my copy of his book in my hand asking if I would like for him to sign it. He was also very gracious and told us to enjoy the film.
Making our way back to our seats we had, of course, missed the beginning of Best F(r)iends. Exactly how much, I don’t know, but there was a surreal dreamlike sequence at the end which didn’t make much sense. It seemed we had missed some references from the beginning, I hope.
The film itself is, delicately put, in the spirit of The Room. It is ‘better’ in most technical ways, but echoes its predecessor in terms of some wooden acting, strange scenes and awkward editing. It does feel like a warm nod to The Room though, and is altogether more enjoyable on first viewing. There were some laughable moments but that almost felt intentional, which I found endearing.
As the bizarre surreal sequence ended ambiguously, the film title came up followed by a subtitle: ‘Volume One’. This was why they’d be back later in the year, and of course I’m going to do my best to be there. This time for perhaps a T-shirt and another great quote from Tommy (and a picture with Greg) and to complete the story of their characters Harvey and Jon after the cliffhanger ending of Volume One. Hopefully by then I would also have stopped pinching myself.