The other night I went to go see celebrity-now-turned-sexual-culprit James Franco’s latest Golden Globe winner, The Disaster Artist.
Right off the bat, I’ll begin by saying it was an enjoyable film. Franco’s performance had me completely convinced he was the real-life Tommy Wiseau, and as a fan of the Franco brothers it was nice seeing them act together on screen. The Disaster Artist had me laughing out loud, and the multiple cameo appearances was much appreciated. SPOILER ALERT it was great to see Seth Rogen play the role of the often dumbfounded DP and his “what the fuck?” reactions to Tommy Wiseau’s (Franco) eccentric and unbelievable behaviour was hilarious.
Although I enjoyed the movie, there were a handful of cringe-worthy moments. And not by anything the film The Disaster Artist did, but by experiencing what I believe to be quite a literal account of Tommy Wiseau’s life and the embarrassing, problem-littered production of The Room.
The real man, Tommy Wiseau, seems to have long accepted the failure/cult-success of The Room, and now seems to even enjoy his status of being responsible for creating “the worst movie ever.” But witnessing Tommy as he must have been while hopelessly trying to make it as an actor, and then disastrously trying to make it as a director, disturbed me. I mean, it goes without saying, the man must suffer from some version of mental illness. From his disassociation with reality to the way he speaks with disjointed grammar, there’s evidently something not right with him. It was painful to watch a man struggling to achieve something, as Judd Apatow playing himself said to Tommy, will never happen. We feel guilt-stricken watching anybody with a mental-illness not comprehending the events happening around them.[Note: There is no proof that Tommy has mental illness. This is pure speculation.]
But as I was watching the movie, I couldn’t help but ask myself: “Am I a Tommy Wiseau?”
Without a doubt, and despite the reasons why, Tommy was a man who never ceased to believe in himself even when faced with endless criticism and rejection. And as learned from one of the ending title cards, Tommy paid to keep “The Room” in theatres for two weeks so he could be eligible for the Academy Awards. Everywhere, all day long, dreamers are reminded that “hard work and perseverance” are the keys to success. But, how much is too much?
Artists are a self-obsessed bunch. I would know. I do consider myself one of them. Whether it was intentional by the filmmakers or not, I noticed the film also subtly depicted other types of narcissistic artists. Be it the small-town acting coach or the “up and coming” hipster talking to Greg (Dave Franco) about how his career is going to skyrocket. Power of Intention. Law of Attraction. Yadda yadda yadda. I’ve heard it all. Tried it all. And I do admit, you absolutely have to believe in yourself and your work or no one else will. But this self-enforced delusion can be incredibly dangerous. Disastrous. And as I see it, Tommy Wiseau is the embodiment of every single negative quality an artistically driven person could posses. He was, indeed, the perfect disaster artist.
The movie was painfully relatable. I had a James Dean phase, and in the tenth grade when I auditioned for the school play, yes, I did in fact choose the “You’re tearing me apart!” monologue for my audition piece. I’ve made my own movies where, yup, I made sure to have individual opening credits for each and every single one of my job positions on set (as Tommy Wiseau made sure to include at the beginning of The Room). Now, looking back, is/was it embarrassing? Hm. Not entirely. I was young and proud of my work and would’ve gladly filled those title cards with other names if I had others in those positions. But now, much older and after having my ego tamed, having my name slapped right on the cover of my book makes me squirm in my seat. It all feels a little too self-involved. Possessing that type of unflinching ego can be blinding, not to mention incredibly unattractive to those around you.
Having experienced the ‘disaster artist’ mentality myself, how often do those in artistic positions indulge in the juvenile behaviour that (self-imposed) title endorses? There’s a scene in the film, after Tommy freaked out on his cast and crew, where he and Greg are having a private conversation. Tommy likens his eccentric director-like behaviour to Alfred Hitchcock. Arguing that Hitchcock tormented his cast so he could achieve his artistic vision. Eccentrics do certainly exist, just think of a Tim Burton or Stanley Kubrick type. Just truly weird artists that come by their eccentricities honestly. But not only in my own experience, but by experiencing the behaviour of other artists I have known, I find that many artists take whichever superficial qualities from their role-model’s eccentric persona and wrap that identity around their own. I’m understanding of creative rituals that one must undergo to get into the ‘zone’ / ‘stream of consciousness,’ but from what I typically see, it’s simply hedonistic.
The artists mentality is a strange one. It’s a peculiar coupling of self-loathing and love. We certainly are living an age of hyper-individualism. Given the tools of social media provided to us, more than ever before can the average person craft their own identity, their own brand. Everyones voices can be heard. But this still isn’t good enough for the artist. Being an artist requires the belief that your voice, your expression of self, is slightly more important than the rest of the world’s. It’s a demand to be heard, with perhaps its roots entrenched in the idea that the artist wasn’t ever really heard, or that their way of life and mind are so exclusively unique that they have always been misunderstood. Or, in some extreme, but not quite so rare cases (and whether they’re aware of it or not), believe that they are some Messiah gifted with a higher mind to change the world.
I’ve met them all.
Art for the sake of art is perfectly fine. If one wants to create the most extreme art in their privacy, just as a simple matter of expression, I know it’s therapeutic and even none artistic people should give it a shot. Everyone should write their life story down on paper. I’ve felt it’s helped me actualize my thoughts and see it in context. To quote John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars “pain demands to be felt.” But when it comes to making a career as an artist, creating something designed to be showcased to the observing world, when does your expression of self become too narcissistic? When does it become too much of a celebration of your pain such as Tommy’s The Room was? In my experience, the success of the artist is in the act of exercising and releasing your demons. All of which can be achieved on the first dash of the pen or stroke of the brush. Once the exorcism (haha for lack of better word) is complete, a serious artist dedicated to producing entertainment or something awe-inspiring must accept that the victory was achieved on the removal of the initial problem alone. To have alchemized that misery/depression/restlessness/fill-in-the-blank-of-whatever-desire-drove-you-to-create-in-the-first-place, and transform that emotion into something presentable. That alone may be the sole reward for feeling too deeply and understanding too much when you are an emotionally complex artistic type.
The taming of this artistic ego is incredibly important because if you go too long without any restraint, it could lead to a very dangerous place of neurosis. Or you may just downright end up embarrassing yourself. Never doubt yourself, but certainly always question yourself. It’s healthy to allow others to come in and offer constructive criticism. One, it may just save you from sitting in that embarrassing seat by exploiting too much of yourself, second, you may actually find the sort of creative companionship when someone does in fact understand your misunderstood mind. Every musician needs a producer, every writer an editor. Every athlete needs a coach. Once someone learns to disassociate themselves with the ‘disaster artist’ mindset, you’ll learn to judge your own work without attacking yourself. Eventually coming to understand that not every idea is perfect, and that’s okay. And while you’re at it, find yourself open to new ideas, that are more often than not, better than your old ones. This is how you grow. This is how you become better. Ultimately coming to terms with who you truly are as an artistic type. Authentic eccentricities will develop, so cherish those. That’s you. And best of all, with a down-to-earth approach, and of course without losing the initial heart of your dream, your art will connect with more people, ultimately leading to you and your unique ideas being understood.