“The Disaster Artist” – which just earned James Franco a Golden Globe for his portrayal of director Tommy Wiseau – tells the story of the making of “The Room,” a film that’s been dubbed “the Citizen Kane” of bad movies.
Not everyone likes “The Room.” (Critics certainly don’t – it has a 26 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.) But lots of folks love it. It plays at midnight showings at theaters across North America, and it’s a testament to a movie’s awfulness (and popularity) that, years later, it became the subject of a different movie.
We usually hate art when it seems like it’s been poorly executed, and we appreciate great art, which is supposed to represent the pinnacle of human ingenuity. So, this raises a deeper question: What’s the appeal of art that’s so bad it’s good? (We could call this kind of art “good-bad art.”) Why do so many people grow to love good-bad art like “The Room” in the first place?
In a new paper for an academic journal of philosophy, my colleague Matt Johnson and I explored these questions.
The artist’s intention is key
A Hollywood outsider named Tommy Wiseau produced, directed and starred in “The Room,” which was released in 2003.
The film is full of failures. It jumps between different genres; there are absurd non-sequiturs; storylines are introduced, only to never be developed; and there are three sex scenes in the first 20 minutes. Wiseau poured substantial cash into the film – it cost around US$6 million to make – so there’s some degree of professional veneer. But this only accentuates its failure.
Good-bad art doesn’t just happen at the movies. On TV, there was “Dark Shadows,” a low-budget vampire soap opera from the 1970s. In Somerville, Massachusetts, you can visit MoBA – the Museum of Bad Art– dedicated to paintings that are so bad they’re good. The poet Julia Moore (1847-1920) was ironically known as “The Sweet Singer of Michigan” for her deliciously terrible poetry. And the recent film “Florence Foster Jenkins” tells the true story of an opera singer with a tone-deaf voice so beloved that she sold out Carnegie Hall. Read more