Art History in “The Disaster Artist” by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

Listening to this audiobook about The Room, a film I have seen made fun of by the good people of Rifftrax, I found myself both enlightened and exasperated by Greg Sestero’s tale of his friendship with Tommy Wiseau, the long journey to The Room‘s completion, and opening night. Also, the art history references Sestero (and coauthor Tom Bissell) mentioned left me intrigued and a little perplexed.

I know, that’s most people’s feelings when they learn of Wiseau.

The references begin with Sestero visiting Wiseau’s place and describing the man’s little art collection. According to Sestero, it was a hodgepodge of small sculptures from different continents. In another context, this would classify the man as educated and well-traveled. Here, Sestero classifies the collection as belonging to a man who had no idea how rich people live.

The story consists of two main plot threads that go back and forth between The Room‘s filming and post production plus Sestero struggling to work as an actor and dealing with Wiseau’s drama. Near the end, the book then adds a third plot detailing Wiseau’s own life. That plot reveals Wiseau growing up and overcoming the problems of living in various parts of Europe that either reeled from Communist (or post Communist, I don’t remember) life or endured the stigma of being a migrant who escaped such places. Having listened with horror at the kind of abuse Wiseau received from French people, which I believe really happened to him. Throughout the book, Sestero recounts the many times Wiseau shows disdain for the French language, and later, you understand why.

Now to the last two art history references: These act as attempts to add dimensions to a scene. When the authors write about Tommy Wiseau’s life in Strasbourg, they mention a holy place that Wiseau lived nearby that could be Strasbourg Cathedral. The second art history reference paints his living conditions in Chalmette, Louisiana. When describing Wiseau’s temporary home, the authors wrote it off as colorless compared to Strasbourg. Curiously, Sestero and Bissell used Michelangelo and his artistic contributions to Rome to emphasize Chalmette’s provincial world. Now, I admit that I have never been to either Chalmette or Strasbourg, so I can’t judge. Furthermore, even if I visit those two places now, they would have obviously changed since Wiseau’s visits.

Also, while I understand that Michelangelo, High Renaissance era artist and forever undisputed as a man of great talent, I still have to wonder, why Michelangelo? I guess if a place does not have Renaissance inspired culture, it’s nothing.

All in all, I recommend checking this out. I found myself fascinated and as I typed earlier, exasperated by Tommy Wiseau’s ambition and manipulation of Sestero. However, before I listened to the audiobook, I too wondered about Wiseau’s mysterious life. After learning (if what the authors wrote is true), I understood why he wanted privacy and I felt dirty afterwards for wanting to know more about him.

Despite those feelings, I still recommend this book.

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