When I think about how the creation of great art has been represented by other artists, the first thing that inevitably comes to mind is a clip from an old Hollywood film set in old Europe about the life of a famous composer. Starved for inspiration, the composer takes his beautiful fiancée to a nearby park, and during a carriage ride, begins to notice the sounds of nature: the clip-clopping of the horse’s hoofs, the sweet melody of birdsong…Before long, he’s waving his hand in time to the rhythm, his beautiful fiancé is humming to herself, and the kindly old coachman is joining in with his own musical contributions. And soon, the composer is rushing home before he can forget the great symphony that has just spontaneously appeared in his head.
Writers, filmmakers, and other storytellers seem to have a hard time making the creation of great art entertaining or believable, let alone both. Bad art, though, is a different matter, as shown by The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. Published this October by Simon & Schuster, the book tells the story of Sestero’s experiences co-starring in The Room, a 2003 indie drama starring one Tommy Wiseau, who, in would-be Orson Welles-fashion, also wrote, produced, and directed his screen debut. Despite a lavish marketing campaign, it quickly vanished from the few theaters it was booked into, only to reemerge as a cult movie to rival Plan 9 from Outer Space and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Fans attend midnight showings in costume, with props and memorized dialogue ready for responding to their favorite moments onscreen. In true 21st century fashion, Wiseau’s film has enjoyed the most popularity as a source for YouTube clips showcasing the maladroit acting and writing that transforms a humdrum story-an ordinary guy (Wiseau) discovers his best friend (Sestero) is having an affair with his best girl (Juliette Danielle)-into an experience of otherworldly weirdness.
Wiseau’s one-of-a-kind screen presence is a major part of the appeal. His affectless, slightly accented delivery makes for an irresistible combination with dialogue which sounds like it was produced by virus-ridden voice recognition software. Fans of The Room won’t be disappointed by the picture of Wiseau drawn by Sestero, who was not only the enigmatic auteur’s co-star but also his longtime friend and onetime roommate. Even readers who couldn’t care less about modern-day cult classics may find Tommy Wiseau to be one of the more memorable characters they’ve encountered in print for some time. He emerges as a sort of cross between Jay Gatsby and Edward Wood, Jr. (Plan 9 from Outer Space), with elements of a classic American immigrant story. Sestero, who becomes the socially inept Wiseau’s closest friend, never learns his real age or national origin, but does hear oblique references to a childhood in Eastern Europe and to a dark, shady past. He experiences Tommy’s intense adoration of James Dean, whom he longs to emulate, and even more intense patriotism for his adopted country. Sestero does learn that the friend with whom he shares as a small apartment as a young, struggling actor is also mysteriously wealthy, enough to own prime San Francisco real estate and apparently pay for The Room’s $6 million budget out of pocket. But the eternally clueless Wiseau comes across as an unlikely real estate mogu; at one point, while shooting a scene in a flower shop, he asks the owner about her dog:
“Is it real thing?”
The woman kept looking at Tommy, probably trying to figure out if this man who’d taken over her store was really asking if her dog was real. Did Tommy think it was a robot? An android pug of some kind?
“Yes,” the woman said finally. “My dog is a real thing.”
The Room’s cult is based in mockery, as is much of The Disaster Artist’s humor, but the key to the book is that its title is ultimately meant seriously. It’s clear that The Room is a deeply personal piece of work, even if it is does also deserve the frequently-applied label, “one of the worst movies of all time.” Sestero can even pinpoint the exact moment when Wiseau, as in that cheesy old Hollywood film, receives his burst of inspiration: a visit to the local multiplex in 2000 to see The Talented Mr. Ripley, which Wiseau somehow transforms through creative misinterpretation into The Room. By the end, it seems somehow fitting that Wiseau’s enormous, unfulfilled ambition to make a great film has resulted instead in such a terrific book. I can imagine that Tommy would be pleased to know that I was left thinking, “Boy, this would make a great movie.”