The Mayfair Theatre reopens the doors to The Room with two late-night screenings on Sept. 16 and Oct. 7.
Described by many, including its cast members, as “the greatest bad movie ever made,” The Room follows a melodramatic love triangle between a banker, his duplicitous fiancée, and his conflicted best friend. The film was torn apart by critics during its 2003 release, but brought audiences together on the midnight circuit as a “participation movie,” à la The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The return of Ottawa’s alternative “midnight mass” is a sign of the times: the last pre-pandemic screening occurred in March 2020, pausing the Mayfair’s unofficial world record at 127 consecutive monthly shows.
“It’s likely the number one movie people asked about during [the pandemic],” says Josh Stafford, co-owner of the Mayfair Theatre. “Having it back on screen definitely seems like a step towards normalcy.”
Armed with fistfuls of spoons and pockets full of comments, Room-regulars—“Roomies”—are high-spirited. “People think I’m crazy. ‘How could you see a movie 51 times?’” says Kevin Colwell, Senior Roomie. “[The return of screenings at the Mayfair] is like a tall glass of scotchka—a nod to the bizarre on-screen concoction of scotch and vodka—refreshing and slightly scary.”
“I will definitely be going,” says Warren Gow, who plans on logging his 13th viewing this week. “I’ll be bringing one of my closest friends who, somehow, has not seen it!”
For participation movie newbies, the experience can be jarring yet memorable. “You have to be okay with not hearing everything happening on the screen,” says Colwell. “You will learn from watching people interact and then, all of a sudden, you’re part of it. If you just sit there and laugh or groan at how bad it is, that’s okay, too.”
Preceding the opening credits is a short video of Tommy Wiseau, the enigmatic frontman who wrote, directed, produced, funded, and (ahem) “starred” in the film. “You can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself, but please don’t hurt each other”—easier said than done once the plastic spoon monsoon forms.
The cornerstone of participation is a peculiar framed photo of a spoon. When it appears, the auditorium shouts “Spoon!” while sending handfuls of them airborne. Attendees experience colourful commentary, creative call-and-response, and unbridled behaviour, from raging at doors left ajar (“Close the door!”) to cheering the crawling skyline shots (“Go! Go! Go!”) to directing shoddy camera work (“Focus!”) to cringing at uncomfortable love scenes (“UNFOCUS!!!”).
“It’s fun to see newbies experience it for the first time,” says Gow. “Being told what’s going to happen and actually experiencing it are two very different things. [My first] time was like nothing I had ever expected, yet I needed more.”
“It’s all about the crowd,” says Colwell. “I’ve seen it so many times [and yet] someone will say something we’ve never heard before. Every time you go, it’s a different experience. [That’s why] you have to see it [at the Mayfair].”
The historic cinema, in operation since 1932, is part of the spectacle. “It has a different feel than a regular theatre,” says Colwell. “You’re waiting on Bank Street late on a Saturday night, and there’s nobody else around except Carleton [University] students and the punks across the street staring at your bag of spoons. You are part of something people don’t really know about; it’s kind of cool.”
The theatre’s long-running streak also caught the attention of Wiseau and co-star Greg Sestero, who have both made multiple appearances at Mayfair screenings. “We have a strong ongoing relationship [with the film and its actors],” says Stafford. “The Mayfair even appeared briefly in The Disaster Artist [James Franco’s 2017 biopic about the conception and making of The Room], so we get to brag about being in an Oscar-nominated movie.”
The longevity of The Room screenings at the Mayfair boils down to one thing: passion. “Simply put, it found a loyal audience,” says Stafford.
It takes a special place to find so much good in the bad.
The Mayfair Theatre screens The Room on Sept. 16 at 11:30pm and on Oct. 7—don’t forget to bring disposable spoons! For up-to-the-minute information, showtimes, ticket information, and news on upcoming screenings of The Room or other movies, please visit the Mayfair Theatre website, Facebook, or Twitter.