Summer 2020: Now What? Part 3/3

Today is effectively the last day of summer for me. I’m scheduled to work tomorrow and through the whole weekend, with classes starting the very next day on Monday. Thus, I bid farewell to a subsection of one of the weirdest yet informative times of my life.

Though classes are starting again, and I do have to physically be at one of them (wish me luck), quarantine is still the dominant norm with my family and social circle. Rightfully so: COVID 19 cases are rising along with the mortality rate, so I’m very fortunate that both my friends and family are taking this pandemic with the seriousness it warrants.

My last several posts will help illustrate the point I’m trying to make. This summer, hell, this year has been the weirdest I’ve ever lived through. We’re not even ¾ of the way through and the world seems to be falling deeper into its own insanity with each flip of the calendar. Despite my news diet consisting of mainly despair and reminding one’s self of life’s fragility, I’ve had some incredibly eye opening and enlightening experiences that I don’t think I would’ve had if not for quarantine.

To start somewhat on a trivial note, I’ve seen a lot of films and TV shows. Like, a lot. The at-the-time newfound free time saw me beginning each day with a new film, and ending that day with another. I had finally seen films that were gathering dust on my digital queue such as The Fighter, 127 Hours, Trainspotting, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

I also fell back in love with sports, namely basketball, through The Last Dance. I was a massive basketball/football fan back in grade school, losing interest around my early high school days. However, the documentary’s marriage of its endlessly fascinating subject and incredible nonfiction storytelling captivated me from its opening moments. I truly believe that you don’t have to be a basketball fan to enjoy The Last Dance. The stories told and lessons taught throughout the series go beyond a basketball court. These are people endlessly perfecting their craft, to be they very best player they can possibly be. Michael Jordan’s maniacal work ethic is the stuff of legend, and though it had been well documented before, the series’ production value and never-before-seen footage make for an incredible feat of documentary filmmaking.

Okay, tangent over.

I’ve also been more consistent with writing/posting here than in previous summers, which is a plus if I want writing to pay the bills. Some of my favorite work has been done over the course of the summer, namely the recent Disaster Artist and Blade Runner pieces. Even if I was critical with the former, writing and researching films help me appreciate the gargantuan process of making a movie, even the shitty ones.

The buildup to a new semester usually wraps me in a blanket of anxiety and irrational stress. Whether it was the high school worries of missing a bus, the community college scare of adjusting to a post-high school life, or a university plight of insufficient funds, a day like today is supposed to be a dreadful one. Oddly enough, I find my worries to be more, how you say, adult?

More than ever am I focusing on my own health, that being physical, mental, and emotional. Though I consistently lose the battle of checking my phone incessantly throughout the livelong day, I’ve begun to find the root to this years-long problem: I get hooked on doing one thing at a time. As a result, I try to occupy my time with things that are not phone based: writing, reading, meditating, checking the mail (yes, really) and listening to new music. So far it hasn’t been perfect, but my dopamine withdrawals are gradually lowering, all in the name of being a functioning human being.

Though this summer wasn’t defined by a trip planned long in advance, (prepare for pretentiousness), summer 2020 has shown me the importance of finding myself, or at least the pursuit of it. Attaining and achieving perfection is not possible, but there are so many things to be and to strive for than flawlessness. Messing up, falling on your face is the tried and true way to improve in life.

I have learned that not being happy all the time is okay and completely normal. To be in constant pursuit of that thing called happiness is an exhausting and often unfruitful endeavor. I grew up with a stigma that being unhappy or melancholic was seen as problematic. Sadness, dissatisfaction is the brain’s way of expressing that things can be better, not a death sentence. The idea of “achieving” anything has grown to be an arbitrary and disingenuous one, especially in the world of social media. Proclaiming one’s self as happy or satisfied is a declaration that never needed to be made. Dopamine and the feeling of unhappiness go hand in hand, ironically enough.

Alas, I quite enjoyed writing more stream-of-consciousness pieces over these last few weeks, and for the sake of consistency, they will be a staple in this blog. Writing brings a creative energy that I was lacking in years’ past, and entering a more consequential part of my degree plan, I need all the help I can get. This will continue to be unprecedented times as I go to physical class sessions for the first time since March. It is a bit daunting, but in the name of a change in aesthetic, I suppose I’ll go get an education.

The Disaster Artist: The Woes of Adaptation

A lot of my reading during this prolonged, indefinite period of quarantining happen to be works that have been adapted to other mediums. Adaptations are nothing new, so I was bound to consume media that first saw success in a different format. From reading the A Song of Ice and Fire books out of my love of Game of Thrones and disappointment of the later seasons, or reading the grisly Helter Skelter out of the intrigue Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood hinted at, my reading choices have been mainly laid on the foundation for film and television.

The Disaster Artist is no exception.

When released in theaters in the winter of 2017, the film quickly became my favorite among an incredibly strong roster of pictures released that year. The Room had become something of Hollywood legend, and to witness the making of the “Citizen Kane of bad movies” was an experience I couldn’t say no to. The film was my fourth favorite film that year, as I praised its subject matter, James Franco’s acting/directing abilities, and an inspirational message that could have easily fallen on its face if handled badly. However, like The Room, it was a rousing success, though one that was intended, unlike The Room.

Nearly three years later, I finally sat down and began to read the book that the film was based on: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. Like its cinematic counterpart, it chronicles the tumultuous production of The Room as well as the friendship between star/author Sestero (Mark in The Room) and writer/director/producer/star Tommy Wiseau. As far as premises go, the film and book seem to go hand in hand, and rightfully so, the story told through both mediums does have to do with the making of a film and a friendship during the film’s production.

Image provided by AbeBooks

I completely understand when film adaptations modify or change things around from the source material. What works and soars in a film might hinder and halt a book’s momentum, and vice versa. Changes are always needed to be made especially when strictly adapting a book to a film with 100% faithfulness results in something more akin to a slow, meandering miniseries. If the soul of the original work is there, the adapted work has effectively done its job in transposing a story to a new medium. This is very much a tightrope act that we have seen work beautifully in the past with its fair share of shameless duds.

This is where I find myself conflicted about The Disaster Artist. I remember loving the film when it first came out, and though I still very much like it now, I can now say Franco and co. did not do the book justice. I hate the adage of “the book was better” schtick as much as the next person but hear me out.

My main gripe with the film adaptation isn’t so much of what it omits and adds, it’s how it omits and adds to its source material. If you only saw the film, you would think the crux of the story is the phenomenon that is The Room, and the beginnings of its unlikely legacy. The book touches on that, yes, but finds much more value on Sestero’s and Wiseau’s unlikely friendship and how they unexpectedly push each other to be better. Greg’s story is one of finding success in Hollywood, a haven for the has-been’s and could’ve-been’s and never-was’ with the occasional few who make it. Tommy’s tale is one of hardship, an underdog who (allegedly) knew great hardship and witnessed the ugly side of humanity, miraculously making something of himself as he seeks success and fame in America.

The film treats Greg’s career aspirations/progress as a way to establish character beats: his first time in an agency shows his lack of experience and wide eyed ambition, whereas his later excelling in the theater signifies his growth in talent well after The Room wrapped. In the scene where he reluctantly shaves his beard even if keeping it meant a role in Malcolm in the Middle, these actions are in service to The Room and Greg’s involvement. The book touches on the same situations, though the whole Malcolm thing is a fictional add on, but having it told through Greg’s perspective shows how his career and his relationships were impacted by his decision to help Tommy on his passion project. The book communicates how consequential and significant his time during The Room’s production was to his career and life, whereas the film opts to show it as this lightning in a bottle moment in history that would change cinema. It did just that, to a certain extent, but Greg’s detailing of events is far more personal and intimate, bringing new life and personality to the filmmaking process.

Why “The Room” Is a Better Movie Than James Franco's “The Disaster ...
Credit to the film: the reenactment of scenes from The Room has incredible attention to detail *image provided by The New Yorker*

I wouldn’t call Franco’s film a bad adaptation. It delivers on the same initial premise as its source material: a peek behind the curtain on how The Room was made. It’s hilarious, well-acted, and oddly inspirational. Tommy and Greg are depicted as underdogs trying to make it into an industry where there’s more self-loathing to go around than actual success. It is incredibly effective at that front.

The film is instead a misguided adaptation, failing to recognize Sestero’s and Bissell’s chief sentiment in the book. The making of The Room is the initial selling point, but Greg’s and Tommy’s pursuit for Hollywood glory, individually and as a collective, is what makes The Disaster Artist special. Perhaps this was never meant to made into a film, especially with its star power and A24’s prominence as a production company. To have James Franco, a Hollywood staple who has long enjoyed considerable success over his career, tell the story of two friends pursuing success in Hollywood is a damaging decision in hindsight. Though readers might feel burned after watching the film adaptation, it is no surprise that Franco is more attracted to the production side of things and opting to leave the friendship angle as a backdrop rather than the whole point of the story.

Again, The Disaster Artist, both book and film, is an incredibly fascinating and unlikely success story of how a terribly beloved film came to be. As two separate entities, however, one is sorely lacking the heart and endearing quality that made the other a must read. The woes of this adaptation are hardly about what was added and what was shelved to save time, but how one storyteller prioritized one aspect of the story that was never meant to take center stage. In a way, a misguided adaptation can hurt more than a bad adaptation. The film constantly flirts with the greatness found in the book that it is almost infuriating that The Disaster Artist’s heart and core never truly got its due.

You can almost say that it was tearing me apart (Lisa!).

Reading Books n’ Stuff

Update: I did go on a jog, though I can’t remember if it was on that day. Likewise, with the help of the “Balance” app, I have done a couple of meditation sessions, mostly focusing on breath control. Haven’t felt instant results, but I’m pretty sure the point of meditation is based upon consistency rather than the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

Now that I have more or less settled into the new house, I have am back to my regularly scheduled program of relentlessly checking social media with the thought of doing something productive constantly on the back of my mind. It’s been a struggle, but not without its small, important victories.

I finally finished A Storm of Swords, the third book of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. I don’t exactly remember when I started reading it, but I do know that it took me less time to complete than it did A Clash of Kings and slightly more time to finish A Game of Thrones. Both are considerably shorter reads, so to complete such a dense book in that team is a personal achievement I never even thought of a year ago.

I absolutely adored this book. Relative to Game of Thrones, it’s basically seasons 3 and 4, considered by many to be the show’s peak in quality, myself included. Not only was it Thrones at the height of its powers, offering the very best of its crowded ensemble, it’s also George R.R. Martin having a firm grasp of Westeros and its inhabitants. Having the story be told through the perspective of characters offers a subjective quality and emotion that is missing through the television medium. Don’t get me wrong, I love the show (past a certain season), but to get into the psyches of these beloved characters offered an experience that was familiar yet unpredictable. Just as the previous books and seasons, there are enough similarities and differences to make both iterations absolutely worthwhile. I intend on starting A Feast for Crows soon, but not before I cross a few off my non-Westeros list first…

The day after completing ASOS, I started re-reading Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck (uncensored as the author intends). I first read it back in 2017 still in community college and loved it then, though I felt there I had lived enough years to revisit the book with a more mature, sober, and even weary view of the world. This most recent read has been incredibly rewarding and fulfilling, with its cold hard truths coming off as less a mean spirited declaration and instead a more meditative, commanding approach to life. It is an absolute must read in a time where the overabundance of literally everything hampers our ways to prioritize what we can and should “give a fuck” about it in life.

Currently, I am doing another reread: Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance. I read this around the same period of time as Subtle Art and had the same reasons to justify a revisit. Having just past the first chapter, I instantly remember just how Aziz’s style of comedy is perfectly shown here. His writing voice effortlessly captures his high energy, practically being able to hear his voice while reading. Master of None is my all time favorite Netflix exclusive, so having Aziz explore love and relationships across history is an obvious match made in heaven (no romantic pun intended).

If anyone is interested, here is a list of books I mean to read before coming back to Westeros:

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Powers of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker, PhD

Foe by Iain Reid

Cosmos by Carl Sagan

I have finally started watching films on a more consistent basis, crossing a few titles off my evergrowing list. I may or may not write about them since many of them have been ones that have been talked about, analyzed, discussed to death.

I am super pumped for the new Charlie Kaufman film I’m Thinking of Ending Things, based on the book of the same name by Iain Reid. Yes, the same Iain Reid you see on my reading list. I LOVED that book as it provided one of the longest, most intense, and engaging reading sessions I’ve ever had. Not only do I look forward to reading more of Reid’s work, I’m intrigued to see how Kaufman adapts the novel. Thinking about, its themes and subjects are tailor made for his style, one that is existentially self-aware and comedic, often veering into a horrifically depressing truth. Perhaps I’ll write about how the film and book compare since adaptations will never be a perfectly faithful play by play of the written word. Certain things work for films and those same things can be hindrances when reading a book. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Speaking of book/film adaptations, The Disaster Artist is an interesting case to study. I loved the film when it first released, but after having read the book, I feel… different. Alas, that is a different conversation for a different time.

-Kevin Andres Diaz

featured image by JoeyJazz