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The Disaster Artist Celebrates One of the Digital Era’s First Cult Classicsand Also Its Last

Though no one realized it at the time, the summer of 2003 was an apex moment for Z-grade cinema. That June, Tommy Wiseau released his crackpot rom-dram-com The Room in Los Angeles, giving viewers their first taste of the writer-director-star’s penchant for hammy performances and nonsensical non sequitors (“I did not hit her! Oh, hai, Mark!”). Then, in August, came the long-delayed, semi-awaited DVD release of Troll 2, a forgotten 1990 horror film in which visibly un-goblin-like goblins feast upon visibly untrained actors (“They’re eating her! And then they’re going to eat me! Oh my Gooooooooooooooodddd!").

It would take a while, but eventually The Room and Troll 2 would become the topic of rhapsodic conversations among movie nerds, celebrated by both forum-crawling web fans (who would turn "They're eating her!" into a popular meme, with one YouTube clip earning more than 6 million views) and big-name boosters (early Room champs included Paul Rudd, David Cross, and Kristen Bell). And while the movies would slither toward the mainstream in the next few years—a sly reference to The Room appeared on Veronica Mars in 2007, and Conan O’Brien endorsed Troll 2 on the air not long after that—they also remained fairly fringe, which was a large part of the appeal. Each was the kind of joyful fiasco that relied on slow-burn word of mouth, with new viewers feeling as though they’d just been let in on an incredibly goofy secret society.

But if The Room and Troll 2 were the first the true cult camp-classics of the 21st century, they were also among the last—the kind of secrets no one would be able to keep for long these days. That became all the more clear this past weekend, when The Room reached an oh-hai-watermark with the release of James Franco’s The Disaster Artist. It's a sneakily poignant buddy comedy about the ever-mysterious Wiseau (James Franco) and the starry-eyed Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), two aspiring actors whose one-sided romance with Hollywood leads them to make The Room. Instead of mocking that film’s near-radical awfulness, The Disaster Artist celebrates the two men’s cuckoo dedication to making art, even if it’s the kind of art that includes all sorts of continuity errors and unexplained plot-asides. At one point, while examining a special cascading-water film-effect device, a bewitched Franco-as-Wiseau declares, “Like rain. Like sexy rain.” It’s a funny line, but it also conveys the strange, contagious magic of filmmaking, as well as the power the movies can hold over us all.

The Disaster Artist isn't the first beloved dud to inspire a second, more polished feature: In 2010, one of the stars of Troll 2 directed the making-of documentary Best Worst Movie, which itself became a cult must-see (Roger Ebert called it “curiously touching”). Both Disaster Artist and Best Worst Movie legitimize their respective subjects, treating them as pop-cultural phenomena worthy of re-examination. But they’re also quiet reminders of why those oddities could never be replicated. For while The Room and Troll 2 found some of their first fans on the internet, it was a very different internet than the one we have now: In 2003, long-form online video was either buffer-burdened or non-existent, and Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu were all years away from becoming viable, reliable streaming platforms. And it would take a few years for social media sites like Facebook or Twitter to become the 24-7 pop-culture first-responder collectives they are today.

Absent those now-default discovery engines, you needed to do a little bit of work even to find out about The Room or Troll 2, much less see them (some of the first major New York City screenings for The Room didn't happen until 2009). In that way, the movies' slow ascent echoed the trajectory of such shlocky shocks as Ed Wood's ghastly Plan 9 From Outer Space, or the giant-bunny epic Night of the Lepus—films that needed years, if not decades, in order to die and be reborn, their legends burnished by midnight screenings, late-night TV sprees, and, eventually, home-video releases. There was never any critical-mass moment for these films, so they were never subjected to the sort of anticipation-arrival-backlash cycle that greets pretty much every new work of art these days. They simply waited to be discovered and rediscovered.

The Room and Troll 2 may have found their followers more quickly than the curios of a half-century ago, but the long build-up to their breakthroughs—which were such an essential part of their charm—would be essentially impossible in 2017. Today, a movie like The Room, which Wiseau advertised for years via a cryptic billboard and a bare-bones site, would be seized upon by Internet as soon as Wiseau's sleepy visage popped up over Los Angeles. From there, the movie would likely get a quick, winking theatrical release (maybe from A24 or Amazon Studios) before being committed to streaming infamy forever; an "actually, this is just okay"-style backlash would inevitably follow, with long, fun-free hot-takedowns tearing the movie apart. Everyone would be in the cult of The Room, but just for a day or two. The same could be said for Troll 2: If it were to suddenly re-materialize today, it would just be One More Ironic Old Thing We Found on the Internet This Morning, and then quickly forgotten.

Besides, The Room's long, unpredictable journey only amplifies the bittersweet feel-goodness of The Disaster Artist.. In the near fifteen years since Wiseau's disastrous 2003 premiere, his movie has evolved from gotta-see-this oddity to a root-worthy mini-movement, one that's sucked in millions of Room dwellers. That kind of goodwill needs time to accrue—the kind of time that's hard to find in today's fast-metabolizing culture-consumption cycle. "The dream won't go to you," Wiseau says at one point. "You have to go to the dream." And as The Disaster Artist proves, it's all the more sweet when you can share that dream with as many others as possible.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/disaster-artist-digital-cult-classics/

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