In 2005, the celebrated R&B performer-producer-songwriter R. Kelly released the first installment of Trapped in the Closet , a now-33 chapter “hip-hopera,” which quickly became a viral sensation. This Saturday, the TIFF Bell Lightbox will be screening the first 22 of those chapters in a singalong format. Kelli Korducki spoke with TIFF Bell Lightbox programmer Magali Simard all about it.
How did you come up with idea to screen this?
There’s certainly a following around this thing, but it’s never been done as a full-on singalong with lyrics and something prompting the audience to be interactive. We have a very robust summer lineup that’s very serious, so we like to do very fun and ridiculous things like this too. It’s sort of a hysterical night out.
Just the term “hip-hopera” is kind of goofily great.
Yes, it’s kind of an odd description! But I think we’re ready to accept this name after watching it a couple of times. It’s pretty intense: completely sung throughout, without any talking in the film. It’s made up of power R&B ballads, very power-driven. It’s nearly exhausting by the end.
Why do you think it’s so popular?
It’s so bad it’s wonderful. My take on it is that it’s very self-aware. I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s basically based on a one-night stand that goes wrong when everybody starts to understand who slept with who. It’s played out as a song soap opera, like an R & B All My Children.
Trapped in the Closet feels like such an Internet-age phenomenon. How does it translate to the big screen?
It is completely made for the small screen. The green screen usage in this thing is particularly bad; if he’s driving a car, there’s literally a picture behind him of a street, worse than films that were made in the 1940s. It was made for barely any money. The thing about it is, much like films like The Room and Rocky Horror Picture Show , which are now screened over and over, it’s become so big that people want to gauge what it’s like to watch with others and sort of laugh at the same spots. At this point it’s perfectly translatable to the screen.
What has the response been like?
We took something of a chance on this. It’s not the kind of thing the Lightbox is known for. And we sold something like 200 tickets in two weeks. We were marvelling at the ticket sales.
So, it’s been a worthwhile departure.
It’s a different kind of entertainment, not just a screening. It’s a participatory night. And, look, we like to celebrate every kind of thing that’s being made, whether for the big screen or the small screen or whatever. This film speaks to people, and spoke to us when we saw it. We were like, “Okay, this is a lot of fun.” I had a lot of fun watching it again. I can’t wait to see the audience on Saturday.
This interview has been condensed and edited.