Inside The Room: Or, my coffee date with Tommy Wiseau

The News in Brief:

  • Tommy Wiseau, to dispel claims from former collaborators that his 2003 cult hit The Room  was filmed without a script or with scripts written during takes, plans to release the entire original script in March 2015 on TommyWiseau.com and TheRoomMovie.com.  (Note: As promised, Wiseau released the script on 25 Feb. 2015.  Fans can purchase the script on either website for $17.99.  Each script comes with a “free” pair of Wiseau-brand underwear.)
  • Wiseau announced in Edinburgh on 13 Feb. that he has filmed four full episodes of his new TV series, The Neighbors, and has secured US distribution.  He is currently seeking a UK distribution deal.
  • In an exclusive interview Wiseau shared that he still hopes to publish the 800-page manuscript (also titled The Room) which predates his film. Wiseau condensed the novel into his sleeper-hit screenplay after failing to secure a publisher.  He would also consider writing a book in response to co-star Greg Sestero’s critical 2013 memoir The Disaster Artist, his account of the making of The Room.
  • While working on further episodes of The Neighbors, Wiseau is finishing a second feature-length film.  Titled The Foreclosure, the film will center on “Richard” (played by Wiseau), the foreclosure of his house, and his subsequent battle with banking interests.  Asked whether the film was a response to the 2008 financial crisis, Wiseau suggested the real focus of the movie was a more timeless question: ” ‘Will truth prevail?’ you know.”
  • I had a coffee with Tommy Wiseau.

.     .     .

I was inside The Room before I knew it.  As a college freshman my dorm  walls bore the obligatory Animal House and Reservoir Dogs posters, but it was Tommy Wiseau’s baffling 2003 cult classic that came to dominate my armory of hip film quotes.  I didn’t hit her.  I did naaahhht.  I overheard these words in the library; I caught them from across the room in the early hours of flat parties.   I laughed.  I didn’t know why I was laughing.  Finally one of my friends sat me down and played a YouTube montage of the best quotes from The Room, a film usually among the top five in lists of the worst movies of all time, a work so bafflingly bad that the viewer’s most burning questions – Does writer, director, producer, and star Tommy Wiseau know how bad this is? – did he intend it? – is it all some kind of … comment? … on … something? – are made ludicrous when refracted through it, and discussions of it soon prove as futile as an inquiry into angels salsa dancing on the head of a pin.  So, as a freshman, I started to quote from The Room – even though, aside from a seven minute YouTube clip watched countless times – I hadn’t actually seen the movie.  Most people hadn’t.  We promised ourselves we would.  We planned viewing parties which never materialized, or else ended in giddy intoxicated readings of the film’s WikiQuotes page, an illegal copy of the feature never located.

The legend grew.  It grew so much that when on one foggy Friday the 13th I found myself sipping a black coffee across from Tommy Wiseau – wearing dark Oakley shades in a dim theatre bar some time before midnight, downing his own heavily-creamed Americano, which he took after two Red Bulls (sipped through straws) and yet another Americano – telling me for the second time about how the US bought the great state of Louisiana from Napoleon himself, it struck me that I was still in “The Room” – that though the movie had ended, some part of me hadn’t left; indeed, might never leave.

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Edinburgh Turns Orange (And Purple, and a Little Bit Red-White-and-Blue)

Conservative “Orangemen” marchers add one more voice to the referendum debate

Half a block north of the west entrance of the Meadows park in Edinburgh, Scotland, three neon-vested parking officers sit at a table cluttered with radios and handheld printers, staring down into their smartphones.  Students and city workers come here, a small shop called Snax, for a few minutes of hot-roll and haggis bliss before a long working day – although for the parking officers, this day will be longer than any in recent memory, because today, Saturday the 13th of September, five days before the country votes for either independence or unity, 15,000 members of the East Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, along with friends from England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, have gathered in Edinburgh to show their pride – for the Saltire and the Union Jack.

At twenty minutes to 11 on Saturday morning, 26 buses from all over Great Britain have queued at the Meadows’ entrance, to park closer to the walk’s endpoint on Regent Road below Calton Hill.  They’ve emptied out pipers, drummers, banner-boys and accordionists from 110 lodge bands of the Loyal Orange Institution in Scotland and several thousand sympathetic spectators, all clad in military regalia, orange sashes, dress blues or dandified two-piece Union Jack suits.  Several women wander the park in Queen Elizabeth-style bonnets, carrying homemade crowns on top of shrink-wrapped Bibles.  A man on the bandstand intones patriotic and religious soundbytes, and recites Psalm 118, accidentally eschewing the Anglican King James translation for the New International Version: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  In less than half an hour, the 15,000-person crowd will proceed through Edinburgh’s busiest streets, past its most venerable institutions, to finish just past the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, in the most vocal demonstration in support of the union to date.

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Going Home to County Clare

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open

-Seamus Heaney, Postscript

I wrote two weeks ago that I’d have to delay blogging about my trip to Carrowduff, Co. Clare; that was because I was at work on a longer travel memoir, published today on CNN.  In it, I talk about my own journey, about County Clare in 2014, and about the challenges to the American sons and daughters of immigrant parents who left them with a few stories, a few pictures, and little else with which to shore up their vague cultural inheritances.

Like so many American descendants of 19th and early 20th century immigrants, I have no family albums tracing my lineage back to New England ships, to British houses or German hamlets echoing back my own surname; the portraits in my parents’ dining room — a long nose here, familiar deep-set eyes there — are to an unsettling degree nameless. …

Read more on CNN.com.  You can also see my photos from Ireland here.

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The Ryan house sits on about forty acres of sloping farmland in Carrowduff, overlooking the rest of Kilshanny parish, below.

 

John Maddigan, once a neighbor of the Ryans, placed this post in recent years in the old Kilshanny church graveyard to mark the probable burial site of my great-great-uncle, Willie Ryan, and others from the Ryan clan.

John Maddigan, once a neighbor of the Ryans, placed this post in recent years in the old Kilshanny church graveyard to mark the probable burial site of my great-great-uncle, Willie Ryan, and others from the Ryan clan.

Launch of Michael Longley’s The Stairwell

There was a thud and a fizz and white foam sprayed all over the crowd around the wine table.  There was no champagne to mark the launch of “32 County Poet” Michael Longley’s tenth collection, The Stairwell – this was a toppled two-litre of 7UP – but the accident was in the spirit of cork-popping and it set the tone for the rest of the night.

With Yeats Society President Damien Brennan as Master of Ceremonies of the 7pm reception, things were bound to get bubbly.  He began by acknowledging Michael’s wife Edna Longley, who that morning had delivered a lecture at the Hawk’s Well on Yeats, Joyce, and the 1890s.

“Can you imagine the bedtime thoughts they have together?” he asked.  And I suppose we couldn’t help but wonder.

Brennan also referenced Postscript, Saturday night’s tribute to Seamus Heaney, at which Longley spoke.  Brennan was hardly the first to note, then, that Heaney was born in 1939, the Year William Butler Yeats died, at the age of 74.  Heaney died in 2013, also at the age of 74.  Last week, Longley turned 75.

“You’ve made it past the post,” he told Longley, to shocked and not-so-shocked guffaws.

Brennan’s is always an interesting act to follow, but Longley earned more laughs.  He told about his father, about meeting the British Queen, and about “Lauren Bacall, who had a walk-on role in my fantasies.”  (Perhaps he was thinking about the unforgettable line from To Have and Have not?)

Though he has made it past Brennan’s “post,” Longley didn’t seem to be counting.  His new poems in The Stairwell dwell on death – his own and the deaths of close friends and relatives – but they aren’t “last words.”

“The next poem is what matters,” he said.  “It’s the only thing that matters.”

 

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At 8pm, at the Methodist Church, summer school Assistant Director Matthew Campbell re-introduced Michael Longley with a selection from his new book – the one phrase that makes any new volume of poetry worth the price of admission.

Bone shapes out of our gloomy womb-tangle,” Campbell recited, a line from “The Feet,” a poem about Longley’s late twin brother Peter, dedicated to Peter’s widow Catherine.  “An experience that has found its words,” he called it – something Longley’s been giving the poem-reading public with regularity for the past fifty years.

Many of the poems were somber and elegiac (though Longley asserted that elegies were balanced by “birth poems”), but not matter the subject, the laughs didn’t stop.

Longley read a poem “For my granddaughter, Amelia, who’s 11 … No, it’s on page 11 … She’s only one … Where would I be without you, Edna?”

He read through a brisk selection of poems from The Stairwell as well as three unpublished poems,
“only a few weeks old.”

“A lot of my poems are short.  I think most poems are too long, really,” he said later, in his dry, clipped deliver, something like a Belfast Dumbledore.  “ I have a one-line poem,” he said, and read it.  “They’re making a movie adaptation.”

Longley, like Yeats, has a mixed poetic, political, and familial heritage, both Irish and Anglo, sometimes both, often neither.  Longley claimed Yeats as the greatest English-language poet after Shakespeare, and of course had to qualify this: “He could be so foolish and silly, and that moves me too.  A great man making a fool of himself.”

“It’s amazing writing poems at 75 … and feeling that I’m only beginning, you know,” Longley told his audience as he began to wrap up.

After fierce applause for what could have been Longley’s final poem, Campbell took the podium and coaxed him into an encore – not a task, given the crowd, and given the poet.

“I forgot a poem,” Longley said, and after the applause died down, he began again.

My Independence Day Blues

Buffalo marina at sunset. [Photo credit: Daniel J. Ryan]

Buffalo marina at sunset. [Photo credit: Daniel J. Ryan]

I can’t remember the last time I was perfectly happy on the Fourth of July – it was probably back in the days when I would reach for the Sunday paper and open straight to the comics.

I’m not that much of a curmudgeon.  It’s not some fear of lights and loud noises.  It’s not that I have submerged anti-American sentiments: I’m fairly vocal about the things I dislike in this country, but put me in front of a World Cup match and I’ll go hoarse shouting for America’s Capitalist-Imperialist Domination in an essentially foreign sport.  And while I do think that Lance Diamond should retire, it’s not like his performances at Buffalo’s Canalside throw me into a funk.  (First of all, that poor man doesn’t have any funk left.)

But it might have something to do with the fact that while watching the fireworks with family and friends, a cop could come up and give me a ticket for an open container violation.

I see it at Christmas too: any time that we gather to celebrate what we have, we feel acutely all that we’ve recently lost – or what we’re reminded was never ours in the first place.  So on the Fourth of July, when every radio station, billboard, car dealership mega-sale, hot dog bun, and pair of  star-spangled pants screams Democracy and Freedom, I can’t help but think about how far we are from all our ideals.  So I find myself blue – not so much red or white.  It’s just a Fourth of July thing.

I won’t dwell on this – Jeff Daniels’ character in The Newsroom says it all so well (clip below) – but it’s worth mentioning that our two-party system represses creative solutions and creative candidates; that only two states in our union have instituted proportional allotment of presidential delegates; that our political dialogue is for the most part either shrill and misguided or jaded and impotent; that government on the federal, state, and local levels is government of self-perpetuating and self-justifying bloat; that our bureaucracy strives against the threat of meritocracy; that our universities are filled with students who cannot articulate themselves in writing or in conversation and who furthermore cannot think critically; that populists on both the right and left continue to push extremist or ill-advised moral legislation, in imitation of the Puritans, their intellectual forebears; and that (most dangerous of all) we no longer have a consensus on the definition of personal liberties – we don’t even know how to talk about it.

So, ‘Merica, eh?

This Fourth of July I spent with my family at Canalside – and around 7 p.m., with the sun still high, kites flying, and happy kids all around me, I felt my Independence Day Blues.  “Blues” perhaps suggests something that this feeling is not – beause I’m not talking about a nice rich melancholy, something you can luxuriate in, and enjoy.  This is closer to a combination of having your parents deeply disappoint you and being ostracized at a ten year old’s birthday party.

Driven away by the aforementioned relic of Buffalo’s chintzy disco past, however, we left the decks and found a cooler, quieter berth just past the naval park.  This soon filled up, too, though – and somehow, my Blues started to fade.  It might have been the water, which always has a calming effect – or it might have been my Peanut Delight sundae from the Hatch.

Russell Salvatore was behind the fireworks at the Harbor this year, just like the old days in Delaware Park.  And once they started, I was struck by a strange heart-feeling not exactly patriotic but still somehow American.  There were Pakistani women standing and talking behind us, sometimes resting their hands on our chairs; their children chattered and bumped into our backs.  A veteran sold CDs of Mozart and the Beastie Boys.  A white man yelled at a black man for standing during the entire show to take photographs.  They eventually calmed down.

Rather like Salvatore’s eponymous restaurant, perhaps more thought should have been put into the flow, the dynamics and progression, the parts as they related to the whole; but again, as with the restaurant, one couldn’t be anything but struck by the verve and the expense and the joy.  My favorite, the weeping willows, were abundant, and I particularly enjoyed a new variety that seemed to drip sparkling red plastic fire.  Of course the finale was top notch, big and loud and bright, a cannonade of flashbombs and a white gold rain, all mirrored in expressionist blossoms on the harbor’s stained glass surface.  I felt then and still feel that there is no other way to enjoy Fourth of July fireworks than in a crowded place, over water, with foreign voices all around.

I wondered then: do our soldiers overseas put on displays as large as these?  A quick search suggests turns up nothing.  In fact, this article from June of 2013 reports that stateside military celebrations went without fireworks that year, victim to government furloughs.  As the would-be caliphate ISIS howls at the gates of Baghdad, poised to undo a decade of ware and nation-building and the gains of the so-called Arab Spring, I wonder where our billions went – I wonder if they might have been better spent.

What if Russell Salvatore paid for their fireworks?  What if we took a billion dollars – just one billion – and spent it all on these bombs without targets?  What if we put on a half-hour light and noise show for all our enemies?  Lit up the skies from Beirut to Kashmir in red and gold and neon green and sapphire?  They wouldn’t thrown down their weapons just then.  But their children would see, and remember.

So this is what I thought about, as my Independence Day Blues slowly gave way under the barrage of Salvatore’s bright bombs, mulling all the ways this country fails to live up to our most cherished buzzwords, all the ways we could be better.  Maybe it was the old patriotism stirring in me.  A Fourth of July thing.

[Photo credit: Daniel J. Ryan]

[Photo credit: Daniel J. Ryan]