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Is “The Room” Actually Outsider Art?

The Room is considered a staple of so-bad-its-good cinema, but is it worthy of being considered outsider art?

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The Room is considered a staple of so-bad-its-good cinema, but is it worthy of being considered outsider art?

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It become news that James Franco’s recent movie, The Disaster Artist, was up for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay. The movie is based on Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 film, The Room, which has come to be known as a staple of “so bad, it’s good” movie culture for over a decade. Many see it as ironic that The Disaster Artist, being based on such a film, not only received positive attention, but is was nominated for multiple awards.

The Room has truly become the most puzzling film in the history of American cinema; from its misguided production, confusing narrative flaws, and amateurish cinematography, the film has gotten the most unlikely cult following, but can we say we have never seen a following like this before? In many ways, its fan base is not much different from fans of Daniel Johnston or Henri Rousseau. Each has fans who make references to their favored creation; stories and trivia about the history of the production, eccentric creators, and release history; and they all have a naiveté in how the works were created. This asks the question: Is The Room technically a piece of outsider art?

What is outsider art? While the dictionary defines it as “art produced by self-taught artists who are not part of the artistic establishment,” the definition is an often a hot button topic, mainly due to who it can apply to and not. Many see it as a celebration of odd, often misunderstood art, while others see it as exploitation, since many artists with the title tend to be mentally ill or not aware of their lack of training. A fan of The Room, freshman Eric Perez, on whether or not The Room is a piece of outsider art, exclaimed, “Yes! Obviously, Tommy Wiseau wasn’t part of a full official movie production.”

Another trait of outsider art is intent; usually when it comes to outsider art, it is unintentionally made, due to the artist’s lack of self awareness, typically making the art piece look very odd and unusual when compared to more conventional art. When asked if he thought Tommy Wiseau, a producer, did anything intentionally, Perez responded, “Nope. It was all accidentally horrible. Tommy was obviously on a low budget and such, but that still wasn’t an excuse. I mean, look at the 30-minute film on YouTube called Kung Fury. They were funded by Kickstarter, and they still made a great movie about kung-fu and pounding synth music and David Hasslehoff. Tommy was just lazy.”

One notable outsider artist, Henry Darger, had a lot in common with Wiseau. Both Wiseau and Darger lived very reclusive lifestyles, grew a very large cult following their work, and lacked conventional training. So, does this make it outsider art? When asked if The Room was a piece of outsider art, Jolie Orbeta, a freshman, whose father is an artist, answered, “In a way, it is, because of its strangeness, but that was clearly not intended.” When discussing how much intent matters when making a film, or any piece of art, she said, “Intent is usually pretty important when making a movie, but if it always mattered, we would never be able to make fun of so-bad-they’re-good movies like The Room.”

So, does this mean unintentionally good movies like The Room should be considered outsider art? You can make an argument for it, but the term is so wide in definition that many would see it as nearly impossible to tell whether it applies to film or not.        

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Is “The Room” Actually Outsider Art?