Ah, who doesn’t love a good rags-to-riches story? They remind me of a quote given to me by one of my lecturers back when I was in college which was “all great art is created through some form of struggle”. Whether it was Alfred Hitchcock and the struggle he endured during the production of what is largely regarded as his magnum opus Psycho, or Steven Spielberg and all of the annoyances that were presented in the face of himself and his production crew throughout the filming of Jaws, all of these occurrences have operated as motivators for these individuals propelling their pieces of work into the category of classical cinema, an achievement which I highly doubt these masters of their craft ever hoped would happen especially considering how difficult things were at the time. And then there’s the other end of the spectrum: what happens when an auteur tries and tries to battle against all of the differences starring them down in the face and the end result is everything they feared it would be. Yes, I am once again talking about The Room by the man himself Tommy Wiseau.
In my retro review for Tommy’s (*clears throat) “masterpiece”, I described it as a film that is so undeniably enjoyable in its awfulness but I have encountered a couple of people who were constantly asking themselves throughout their viewing: “how on earth did this ever get made?” Well, I can happily report that their prayers have been answered in the form of a 280-page book documenting the filmmaking process of The Room written by Greg Sestero (“oh hai Mark”), yep that’s right one the second lead in the film, along with help from American journalist Tom Bissell.
The book has it all. How Sestero came into contact with Wiseau, their struggles to make it big in Hollywood, where the inspiration for the film came from and more importantly what was the initial response for the film back when it was released in 2003. And I have to say, this is a great read and is so enjoyable but not like The Room, which was unintentionally hilarious, Sestero’s novel balances both a level of humour and insight and provides clarity into the making of what many critics hail as “the Citizen Kane of bad movies”.
For me, the most appealing aspect of The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made was the way in which its narrative was told. The story is told through the eyes of Sestero and hops back and forth between the past, which documents his trials and tribulations as he struggles with his dead-end retail job and various efforts to audition for some big up-and-coming film projects, to the present on the set of the room where himself and the rest of the weary production crew have to endure the misguided direction of Wiseau. Its fascinating to see these separate timelines come into contact with one another as we go from hearing about a tough day on set to the moment in which Greg met Tommy for the first time during his baffling and odd rendition of Stanley’s monologue from A Streetcar Named Desire in an acting class in San Francisco taught by a drill sergeant of an acting teacher Jean Shelton. These moments seem isolated from each other at first but as the story progresses we soon learn how everything has an influence on each other and what motivated Tommy Wiseau in the first place to write his own film in the first place.
If you’re like and you adore everything about how awful The Room is then this is the book for you. The moments in which Sestero accounts what exactly was the director behind some of the iconic scenes behind the room are easily my favourite parts of the book. You want to know exactly what went down during the infamous “I did not hit her…” rooftop scene. It’s here. You wonder why was the flower shop sequence so badly acted. Yep yep. You want to know what the hell was the intention behind the filming of the awkwardly painful sex scenes? Oh boy, is that made note of here and its cringe-inducing yet still hilarious nonetheless? However, while the majority of the story is told in a very humorous manner, there is a strong tragic undertone to the tale. We do see the pain that all of the other production crew members had to go through while this movie was being made. Almost everyone involved knew that the finished was going to be a train wreck. That is everyone except Tommy.
He truly believed that what he was doing was going to be his very own magnum opus and that’s where the tragedy lies. Sestero’s book shows us that Tommy Wiseau really did not have a clue what on earth he was doing on set and everyone just sort of agreed with his directions because, like himself, this was either the first feature film, or they were just waiting for that sweet paycheque to come through. There are also moments documented by Sestero which show that Wiseau was at times, for lack of a better word, a dickhead to some of his team members even some of the actors. We see just how frustrated he became when he thought he was delivering, as he calls it, “real acting” only to be greeted by whispering snickering and eye rolls from the people boarding the troubled train that is his film to the wreckage. At times it can be hard to get through.
As for issues with the book, while there are a lot of questions answered here about some of the more confusing elements of The Room there are certain things which aren’t really given a clear resolution and that is largely associated with Tommy Wiseau himself. But that isn’t due to Sestero cutting out certain bits of information but from Tommy’s own personal decision to not give away too much information about his private life. There are glimmers of information given but if you’re looking for answers to questions regarding where Tommy is actually from, what’s his age, where did he get six million dollars to personally finance his own independent drama, what did he do for a living and why on earth did he spend so much money on both a HD and 35mm camera when he could have just saved money by buying one? (Sorry I know I’ve brought that up before but it will always continue to irritate me). If you’re looking for answers to any of the questions listed above then you might not receive a clear answer but that’s only a minor flaw I had with the novel.
Despite all that, The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made is still a great read. I’m a sucker for a good underdog story and this is certainly one of the strangest ones that I have ever come across. It’s insightful with its documentation of how everything came together with the making of the cult classic and entertaining in its depiction of Tommy Wiseau who was so determined and driven in paying homage to his cinematic favourites such as James Dean, Marlon Brandon and Mark Damon (*sigh). Definitely give this book a read if you’re a fan of underdog stories, Hollywood production stories, rising star stories, rags-to-riches stories, or you just love The Room. It’s well worth your time. Also definitely check it out before you see James Franco’s film. Who knew something so awful would result in something so brilliant. Sean Moriarty