Tommy Wiseau, the King of Camp – Joe Mendenhall

When reading Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Character”, I was unnerved to find that all of the points on “Camp” that she described all lead back to one film, The Room (Wiseau, 2003). The Room is a film that has a plot, but is ultimately about nothing. The true story of the room, chronicled in the book and subsequent film The Disaster Artist (Franco, 2017) is the story of it’s writer, star, and director – Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau tried, and failed, to make the ultimate American drama with The Room. The Room was his masterpiece, a testament to the world that he mattered, that he could play a leading part, and make a film admired by the fat cats of Hollywood. Instead, Tommy failed. Sontag says, “Camp is the attempt to do something extraordinary.”[1] but ultimately, it is a failed attempt, at least not in the way that the artist intended.

The above clip is from The Room. It is the final scene of the film, where Tommy Wiseau’s character Johnny commits suicide after being betrayed by his lover and best friend. Obviously, this scene was meant to be tragic, but it’s failure makes it Camp. Sontag says, “Camp and tragedy are antithesis.”[2] It is impossible for the above scene to be tragic, with Tommy’s wailing and thrusting about. His exaggerated destruction of property, the ease in which he picks up a large, heavy television and throws it out the window, these are all comedic, not tragic. These are not the actions of a truly destroyed man, as Tommy hopes to portray, instead we see Tommy as quite clearly acting. This is another hallmark of Camp, “Camp sees everything in quotation marks… it is… the metaphor of life as theater.”[3] The Room is clearly an example of what Sontag calls “Pure Camp”.

[1] Sontag, Susan. “Notes on “Camp”.” In Against Interpretation and Other Essays, 275-92. Penguin Classics. 284.

[2] Sontag, Susan. “Notes on “Camp”.” In Against Interpretation and Other Essays, 275-92. Penguin Classics. 287.

[3] Sontag, Susan. “Notes on “Camp”.” In Against Interpretation and Other Essays, 275-92. Penguin Classics. 280.

 

5 comments

  1. I have never thought of “The Room” being Camp. would you extend this to say that other “so bad it’s good” films follow suit in campness, such as Troll 2, or Showgirls? Could it be said that the exaggerated un-actions of something like twilight could be just as Camp as those which are explicitly over done?

  2. I certainly agree with you that The Room is camp, especially according to Sontag’s writing. Her point about comedy being the antithesis of tragedy and Wiseau’s failure to portray tragedy, instead creating a perfect comic situation, demonstrates why the film succeeds in being both comic and camp.

  3. I totally agree that ‘The Room’ is nothing but a collection of failed attempts which make it fall head first into the genre of camp. I also agree that the scene picked can’t be purely tragic like Tommy wanted it to but I think they is something to be said by the objective tragedy of a scene like this. One were it has totally failed to convey its intended purpose but yet the performer (and in this case director, producer and financier of the film) fully believes they have done a good job and this naivety, if you wish to pay attention to it, is tragic.

  4. At first, I was really ambivalent of whether to agree or not because I think the line between bad and so bad that is good is very thin. Sontag says “bad… is too mediocre in its ambition”. The Room definitely seems to be very on top of its ambition to the point that a tragic death can have more of a comic effect rather than a tragic one. I think that makes the film great, pure and unintentional camp.

  5. ‘The Room’ is a great example of a camp film and Susan Sontag’s central arguments work well with the film. You could’ve incorporated some of Pauline Kael’s arguments in relation to the accidental hilarity of the film. The film’s central comedy derives from the original seriousness of the script and the audience having the ‘upper hand’ over the film.

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