“this will be our year” – the zombies (1968)

This year, my office closed down for the last two weeks of the year. The purpose of this, as communicated to employees, was that we should take the time to refresh and come back after the New Years holiday reenergized and well-rested. However you spent these two weeks, whether it was resting home alone on a staycation watching the snow fall with a warm cup or tea or running around with family, this was meant to be your time to recharge your batteries and for personal reflection.

I spent my first week in Chicago just relaxing and currently, in the second week, am in Kentucky visiting family and friends. It has been fun with a little bit of holiday craziness mixed in, but I did take a lot of time for personal reflection.

When I do take time to reflect on my life and the people around me, I consider a few things. I take into account what I need and want in my life and work on steps I can accomplish to achieve those things. I have very clear goals for 2018 and I know exactly what I need to do to achieve them. It is just a matter of time and patience before that happens.

While working on my own goals that are only relevant to me is great for self-care, personal growth, and emotional development, it is a very insular and singular goal. Taking the time to improve your own life and health is an extremely valuable and underappreciated thing. However, despite that, it is still important to think about others.

The other thing I think about during these times of reflection are the bigger things that seem out of my control that affect the lives of millions of people. Specifically, how the decisions of powerful men in government affect the lives of everyone in the country with the brunt of those decision having negative consequences on women, LGBT, and people of color. 2017 was a difficult year for all of us, but more so for them. So, what will 2018 bring?

2016 saw the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States after a long and brutal campaign against one of the qualified candidates in history who just happened to be a woman. The remainder of the year seemed bleak to the millions of people who voted to keep a racist and fascist out of the White House. While Trump wouldn’t be inaugurated until January, the transition was still problematic and we were all left wondering.

The whole world wondered what would come from this turning page of history. I had no idea. Last year’s New Years song blog post asked that question with Donna Fargo’s “What Will the New Gear Bring?” As it turned out, it brought a lot of bad. Between racist airport bans, a Russian collusion investigation, neglect of American territory ravaged by hurricanes, a tax bill that only benefits corporations, and so much more, we’re left wondering what is next.

There’s no way around it. 2017 was a hard year. If you weren’t a rich white man, it was even harder. Everyone wanted to get through this year so fast. With the constant news alerts of how terrible our leaders are, the news cycle seemed to simultaneously slow and speed time. It was a tedious trial.

However, 2017 had a few good moments. We’re watching Trump prove that he is an awful leader which has finally shown some of his followers that he was nothing more than a con man. There were also amazing victories in local elections where women, people of color, and transgender people defeated the status quo of bad white men. Even in Alabama, in the most contested election of the year, a democrat defeated a racist pedophile in a special election for the senate.

For the latter, we can thank women of color for that one. They came out to the polls despite all efforts to suppress their vote. That’s one of several inspiring stories of people rising up that did come out of 2017. From the Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration to now, people are getting civically energized and engaging with government in ways that we desperately need; with leaders who are younger, economically diverse, and from all racial and gender backgrounds.

2018 will be another trial year. However, we have midterm elections in November. And that is giving a lot of people hope. The 2018 midterms will be this country’s first opportunity to see just how well this surge of political uprising has worked. Protesting in the streets is one thing, but turning that anger and passion and actionable government change is a whole other challenge. Will November be a turning point fueled by women and people of color who have had enough? I certainly hope so.

And it is hope that is important here. New Years is a significant event that can motivate people to start fresh and new. To focus on things you want to change for yourself or other around you. And here’s your opportunity to work towards those changes.

Even though 2017 was a garbage fire of a year, I can’t help but still be hopeful that 2018 is when we can really turn things around. To make 2018 one for the history books. To make 2018 where women and people of color lead the way that save this country from the brink of destruction. November is a long time from now, so keeping that momentum going is more important now than ever before. And I’m hopeful that we can do it.

That’s why I wanted this week’s song celebrating New Years to be hopeful instead of bleak. I wanted to set a tone for 2018 as opposed to finding a depressing song that reflected a difficult year. And I found that in “This Will Be Our Year” from the the Zombies’ 1968 classic Odyssey and Oracle.

“This Will Be Our Year” is a short and sweet tune about love bringing two people out of the darkness. For them, it took a long time to come so they could get back into the light. And in that light from the sun’s warmth, they know that this will be their year.

I couldn’t think of a better song for this New Years. 2017 was harder and darker than anyone could’ve imagined. However, 2018 offers a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel. With enough hope and hard work, we can get to that light together, illuminate our lives, and make 2018 our year.

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“santa claus is a black man” – akim & the teddy vann production company (1973)

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I love Christmas.  The snow is magical and I love spending time with family and eating Christmas treats.  However, a lot of people can be cynical about Christmas.  Whether it is the fictional “War on Christmas” or that one friend who puts it down as a being nothing more than a holiday celebrating capitalism, it can be a very polarizing holiday.  And, perhaps, the most polarizing aspect of the holiday season is Christmas music.

Christmas music manages to be something that both delights and annoys people every winter.  For some people, it seems that Christmas music comes on the radio earlier and earlier each year.  They even proclaim that Christmas music has no place until Thanksgiving is over.  Others might complain that the same old songs they play every year are annoying and that Baby Boomers who control a nostalgia-driven media market don’t allow for the inclusion of fresher Christmas songs.  They wonder aloud why “Wonderful Christmastime” or “Last Christmas” get played repeatedly and the soundtrack never changes.  Or, if you’re like one of my ex-girlfriends, you hate all the Christmas pop staples and only prefer the holiday standards from the likes of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.

Needless to say, everyone has an opinion on Christmas music.  It is just so pervasive this time of year that you cannot ignore it.  Even people who don’t celebrate Christmas or don’t normally listen to the radio have strong opinions about being inundated with Christmas music.  It is just so big a presence that you cannot possibly escape it and, therefore, have strong opinions on it.

For me, I love Christmas music.  I enjoy all Christmas.  From the American songbook standards to the religious choir pieces and to, especially, the novelty songs, I like a mixed bag of Christmas songs.  I want my Christmas playlist long and broad.  I want everything.  Even though I don’t want any gifts on a holiday where gift-giving is standard, I want all the Christmas song.

And for those naysayers…

“What about them playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving?”

“What else are they gonna play?  Thanksgiving songs?”

“There’s a lot of great Christmas song out there that don’t make it to the radio.  What about the new Christmas songs?”

“Throw your radio away and look on the Internet.”

“I hate certain types of Christmas songs.  Why should I have to hear them at the grocery store?”

“Stay inside, never leave, and be comforted by your limited tastes.”

And so, like Elton John, step into Christmas with me!  Just leave your Christmas music complaints at the door.

While I love all kinds of Christmas music, I do have my favorites.  For one, I love songs that shake the status quo and make certain types of stuffy, conservative white people uncomfortable.  And of all the radio-friendly songs (radio-friendly because as much as I love “Home Christmas” by Pansy Division, you won’t find it on the airwaves in your Grandma’s Buick) that are guaranteed to ruffle some conservative feathers, the 1973 soul classic “Santa Claus Is a Black Man” by Akim & The Teddy Vann Production Company is one my favorites.

Teddy Vann wrote and produced this song as a black response to the Christmas staple “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”  While that song can be fun depending on the performer, “Santa Claus Is a Black Man” makes a profound statement by attaching an identity to the narrative.  And that is incredibly important.  While tons of Christmas songs make mention of Santa’s iconic suit, beard, and weight, the classic image of Santa Claus is always interpreted as white.  I can’t think of any songs that specifically say the fictional gift-giver is Caucasian, but it ends up being the case.

Today, when Santa Claus is depicted as being a race other than white, it causes an uproar from people who see themselves as Christmas traditionalists of purists.  And this is because that the image of Santa has been implied as white in our media.  Even though he is a fictional character, changing his race causes problems for some people.

Given that Trump has emboldened racists and white supremacists in this country, we need songs like “Santa Claus Is a Black Man.”  We need more anthems that create an identity for marginalized people.  We need to popularize and elevate those anthems beyond being considered camp or novelty records.  We need to make it ok for the children of marginalized people to craft a symbol of joy and giving in an image that appeals to them.  While letting people win the argument that Santa must be white doesn’t cause bloodshed or direct violence, the impact it has on our society is detrimental to the visibility of people of color.

Beyond the statement “Santa Claus Is a Black Man” makes by connecting a cultural identity, the song is also just really adorable.  Vann’s five-year-old daughter, Akim, sings the vocals. And while “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” focuses on infidelity, “Santa Claus Is a Black Man” is a song of pride.  Akim sees Santa, unaware that it is her dad, and is proud of how Santa Claus is handsome and strong and black like her father.  There is pride there that builds respect in an identity as opposed to being a song about a stupid tattletale.

So, this Christmas, blast “Santa Claus Is a Black Man” as loud as you can.  Make a statement this holiday season and let square friends and family know that you don’t give a shit about a white Santa or lame traditions.  You’re making your Christmas represent what you believe.  And if spreading joy and cheer means changing Santa’s skin color, make him bigger and blacker than any Santa before him!

“new york groove” – hello (1975)

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This past weekend, I flew out to New York City.  I was to spend five days exploring as much as I could and I flew out on my 30th birthday.  The idea was to treat myself and take some time to reflect and enjoy my life.  And I did just that.  I had an excellent time.  Though I was fighting a bit of a cold, I was out and about everyday walking upwards of 13 miles a day exploring the city and what it means to be young and alive.  The weather was sunny and warm for December and everything fell into place perfectly.

It didn’t dawn on me until I was flying back to Chicago just how much the specter of Death directed the course of my trip.  This was amusing to me.  I booked this trip to celebrate life, take time to personally reflect on what has happened to bring me to this point, and focus on my path ahead and what comes out of the unknown.  The irony of this was just too rich.

Let’s break down just how much I was walking along with ghosts:

Thursday

I land at LaGuardia airport and only have a few hours in the evening to kill. I wanted to see the World Trade Center memorial at night and this was the best time to do it during my trip.  The last time I was in New York City, the memorial and One World Trade Center (Freedom Tower) were under construction.  Now, the area is a gorgeous plaza with the two reflecting pools, the 9/11 Museum & Memorial, and Freedom Tower.

That evening, I slowly walked around both reflecting pools casually looking at the names of the people murdered in the 9/11 attacks.  Some of the names had a white rose sticking out of the etching.  I saw on a nearby note sign that the roses were placed there to signify it was that person’s birthday.  It was my birthday as well and I was looking at the names of the people who shared the same date of birth.

While walking along the pools, I came across Betty Ann Ong’s name.  I knew that name.  I didn’t know her personally, but I had listened to her recordings from Flight 11 a few dozen times.  She was a flight attendant.  She is only one of a few people I can name who had perished in the attacks.  I didn’t personally know anyone, but some stories just stuck with me.  Hers most of all.  I didn’t seek her name, but something guided me to turn my head and see her name.  The light shining beneath the etchings and glowing.  It was too much for me and I left soon after.

Friday

This was my first full day in the city.  My first stop was Battery Park to see the Statue of Liberty over the horizon.  When I booked my trip a month prior, all the tours of the statue’s pedestal and crown were booked.  So, I didn’t have a need to go there.  Along the way, I saw a heart-wrenching statue memorial to the millions of immigrants that passed through Ellis Island.  Their emaciated faces showed joy, pain, grief, and jubilation as they reached the promised land.

I sat on a bench looking at Lady Liberty and thought about the duality of America.  The reality is that there are two Americas; one that is promised and the reality.  Many people have risk or continue to risk their lives to come to this country.  Historically, America has been a shining beacon welcoming the tired, poor huddled masses.  Freedom’s light shows them the path to pursue the limits of their own happiness and self-determination.  This is a lie.

The idea of America should be what it needs to be for those who need it most.  However, what many immigrants find are nationalists who turn them away, often with violence.  They are forced back or face adversity in the form of discrimination and abject poverty.  They continue to struggle and perish.  Sure, a lot of immigrants have found success and great lives in this country.  However, this nation is more polarized than ever with a government that is banning certain types of people from coming.  That very action betrays what it means to be an American.  I couldn’t help but think of all the lives America’s lies have damaged or destroyed.  We’ve disappointed those who founded this country and those who seek refuge in it.  I saw this in the faces of the people in that statue.

Later in the day, I returned to the 9/11 memorial and visited the museum on the grounds.  The museum is underground and you walk the space where the Twin Towers’ foundations were and the excavation around them.  This was one of the first places I had included in my itinerary to visit.  The attacks on September 11, 2001 is arguably the most significant event of my lifetime based on the fallout and course of world and social politics that followed thereafter.  It defines my world so much that I cannot even imagine where I would be if they didn’t happen.

Visiting the museum, you see the remnants of the destruction.  The original foundation is visible, in the main area sits a burnt and melted fire truck, and a staircase that was integral to the survival of some people escaping from the towers.   Walking through the museum, on display were a couple of steel beams.  I read the plaque and it said these beams were the exact impact point of the first plane.  They were twisted and bent.  The beams looked more like a modern art masterpiece.

Standing by the beams was a docent.  An older man, maybe in his 60s, with a large gut.  He had an air of authority and sadness surrounding him.  I asked him if he knew anyone who was lost in the attacks.  He chuckled slighted and aid yeah.  He then told me he was the sole survivor from his firefighting regiment.  All his comrades passed.  He also had friends in other regiments who died too.  Plus, he lost an uncle on Flight 93.  In total, he knew 85 people who died in the attacks.  I couldn’t imagine what it must feel like with that resting on your shoulders standing next to the exact point of impact.

Later that day, I was venturing back to Times Square and Rockefeller Center.  I was there the previous night to see the sites at night, but I wanted to see them during the day.  Then, I remembered that it was December 8th.  The day that marked the anniversary John Lennon was shot to death at the hands of deranged ex-fan Mark David Chapman.  Lennon has a portion of Central Park dedicated to him called Strawberry Fields.  Of all days, I had to be there.

I took the train to Strawberry Fields.  A large gather was there surrounding the iconic “Imagine” mosaic.  Some people had instruments and everyone joined together singing various Beatles and Lennon solo tunes.  When I got there, they were performing the Beatles classic “In My Life.”  I people watched for a bit and before the sun fully set, I walked across the street to the Dakota.  Lennon resided there with his family and he was shot to death right in front of the building.  Some people were there taking photos and lighting candles.  I was looking for the spot where he lay.  I don’t know what I expected to find, but I scanned the area.  I don’t think I found it, but it doesn’t matter.  I couldn’t believe I almost forgot about the date.  I would be remised if I didn’t go to Strawberry Fields on that day.

Saturday

Snow finally hit New York City.  The city was expecting three to six inches of snowfall.  It came down the whole day and the city was draped in a comforting gray fog that consumed everything.  You couldn’t see where the ground ended and sky began.  It was comforting.

The first stop that day was to see President Grant’s tomb in Riverside Park.  I had never seen where a president was buried before and I knew it would be a quick visit before I ventured into the seemingly endless Central Park.

Snow was falling fat and heavy as I approached the mausoleum.  It was bigger than I expected.  Inside the rotunda was a viewing area into the crypt where President Grant and his wife lay in giant black marble coffins.  Busts of the man surrounded the coffins.  I was only there for about 10 minutes, but it was a thrilling site.  The opulence of it was breathtaking.

Grant’s tomb wasn’t the only memorial I sought out that day. I was going to spend the days and explore the entire length of Central Park as best I could.  My last stop, near the southwest corner of the park, was the Balto memorial.  Having spent a lot of years in Alaska, I have an affinity for the place.  I love Alaskan things.  And hardly anything is more Alaskan than a hero sled dog.  Anchorage is the only other place that has a statute celebrating Balto, but it isn’t that exciting.  It doesn’t really depict him but rather just a general sled dog.  The one in Central Park was THE Balto.  It took me a few hours to get to the memorial, but it was worth it to see a tribute to a true Alaskan legend.

Though I was covered with windblown snow, I wasn’t done with my outdoor adventures.  Next stop was Roosevelt Island to see an abandoned smallpox hospital.  The weather was rough and the landscape of Roosevelt Island reflected that.  The further I walked away from the train station, the more isolated things became.  I didn’t see many people.  The landscape was pure white and match the gray-white sky.  Th hospital was fascinating to observe.  It is a crumbling structure that is incredibly dangerous, so it is fenced off.  However, it sits adjacent to a park commemorating President Franklin Roosevelt and will later see some additional development.  It is amazing that is hasn’t been town down.  I hope it stay because it is truly an amazing thing to see quietly snug in a city that is always changing and developing.

On my way to the smallpox hospital, I looked across the way to Manhattan as I passed the Queensboro Bridge.  Something looked eerily familiar. Then, I remember the iconic shot of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton sitting on a bench for Allen’s film Manhattan.  I googled the location of the bench and I was on the wrong side.  Oh well.  I’ll find it when I make it back.

Getting back to Manhattan, finding this spot was an impromptu addition to my trip.  I had to go out of my way to find it but, luckily, I had time before the next item on my schedule.  With the help of my map app, I was able to find Sutton Place Park North which contained some benches overlooking the water.  Googling some articles about finding the bench location, I learned that the area had been redeveloped frequently since 1979 which makes sense.  This meant that the original location of the bench shot is long gone.  However, an article I found told me that this park was the best option to recreate the shot.  It was still windy and snow and the park didn’t see a lot of traffic.  Fortunately, there were two women there who helped take a photo of me sitting on the bench gazing out at the Queensboro Bridge. The area had changed, but enough of its legacy was there for me to make a kickass photo.  Social media can certainly make one vain.

Sunday

This day was a music history tour.  I was going to spend the day finding important locations of New York City musical landmarks.  This included famous venues, album cover locations, and other neat places.

My morning was spent finding the locations of five famous album covers.  They were An Innocent Man by Billy Joel, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan, After the Gold Rush by Neil Young, Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin, and Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys.  In the spirit of walking with ghosts during this trip, I faithfully recreated the covers of the first three albums.  For Zeppelin’s record, the building looked the same.  However, the business featured on the classic Beastie Boys album is long gone.  It is currently a restaurant, but there is a mural paying tribute to the legendary hip-hop tribute.  I liked that the current owners recognized the history.

During this album cover hunt, I made two pit stops.  First was the former site of CBGB.  I knew that the venue had been closed for several years, but I wanted to see the site.  Fans have etched the sidewalk with the name of the legendary rock club and the year it was founded.  Even though things change, it is always great to see some respect to history.  However, that would be the end of seeing touching tributes and homages to great musical history.

Shortly after Joe Strummer died, a mural of him went up on 7th Avenue.  I had found the location and included a visit in my itinerary.  However, I was unaware that the mural was repainted in 2013.  It was there for roughly a decade.  The Clash were one of my favorite bands growing up and this was the equivalent of visiting a holy site for me.  You can imagine the devastation I felt to see a sickly orange color where the mural should’ve been.  The Latin restaurant that owns the building painted over it.  I was crushed.  However, life moves on and so I should I.

I then ventured to Greenwich Village.  I had printed out information on a self-guided walking tour of over a dozen spots that were integral to the development of a blossoming young folk singer named Bob Dylan.  The tour started in Washington Square Park where Dylan would sometimes watch performers.  The tour then took me to places like the Bitter End, Café Wha?, and his former Townhouse.  While the Bitter End and café Wha? are still open, many of the sites were not.

I knew going into this that these sites would be closed.  A lot happens over 60 years and coffee houses and clubs can’t stay open forever.  However, what killed me was that there was nothing at any of these spots to signify the important of the location. I was gazing at a cheap Mexican restaurant and wrapping my head around that Bob Dylan wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” in there when it once was a coffee house.  Now it was a place that advertised it had one of New York’s six best margaritas with no plaque or sign or any indication that history was made there.  I was so disappointed.  I accept change.  But when people ignore or forget history, it is a hard thing to accept that everything is temporary and will fade.

The last remnant of Death on this day involved me seeing Walter De Maria’s New York Earth Room.  It is a 3,600-sq. ft. room that houses 280,000 pounds of dirt.  I had a lot of questions.  I asked if there is any vegetation. The docent told me that stuff used to grow years ago, but they were all picked out.  The nutrients in the dirt have vanished a long time ago.  I went to New York to see dead dirt and I’m glad I didn’t pay for it.

Monday

On the last day of my trip, I had a few hours to enjoy the city before flying out.  I spent the morning on a guided tour of Bushwick’s thriving graffiti and street art scene.  After that was done, I had two important stops before I left for the airport.

Also in Bushwick is the legendary Daptone Records.  I first discovered Daptone when I got a copy of 100 Days, 100 Nights by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings.  That album changed my life and provided the soundtrack of my college years.  I’ve been a fan of Daptone for a decade now and I couldn’t miss an opportunity to see the building.

Both Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley, the leading figures of Daptone, passed away in the last year.  Seeing where they made their art also meant paying respect to their work and the success they found much too late in life.

I saw the building in all its decaying beauty.  The façade is tagged with graffiti and crumbling.  Shingles and paint falling off the sign.  The building had all the character of a dusty box of records you find in an attic.  It was perfect and I was in awe.

With me running out of time, I had one more stop.  Beastie Boys were one of the bands my dad forbid me to listen to while growing up.  I have found this was the case of many people in my generation.  Though the Beastie Boys matured as artists, our parents’ generation couldn’t get past the raucous frat boy persona that embodied when they first started.

Adam Yauch, also known as MCA, passed away in 2012.  I was crushed.  Since graduating high school and free from the shackles of parental supervision, Beastie Boys have become one of my favorite bands.  I loved their attitude and way they blended genres seamlessly to create something raw and authentic.

Last year, a city park in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood was renamed for Adam Yauch.  I have a friend who went there on the first day and beet Ad-Rock and Ben Stiller who were friends of Yauch.  I visited the park and listened to some choice Beastie Boys cuts for about an hour before having to leave for the airport.  It was quiet and peaceful with few visitors since most people were at work.  Considerably less celebrities than when my friend visited.

I texted my dad teasing him that I was visiting a park named after one of the members of a band he said I couldn’t listen to growing up.  He replied with a thumbs up emoji.  Sitting peacefully looking around the park listening to music was the best way to pay tribute to Yauch and end my trip.  I may have been walking with ghosts during my trip, but to end it peacefully enjoying life and its riches provided a rich balance and appreciation for being in that spot in that moment.  We may be surrounded by ghosts and specters of the past, but it only means we motivate ourselves to live life the best way we can.

“New York Groove” is a cheesy, but fun glam rock song written by Russ Ballard and first performed by Hello.  Hello recorded the single in 1975 for their debut album Keeps Us Off the Streets with a chugging clapping rhythm and a train whistle like harmonica.

The subject in the song is returning to New York after a year and falling back into is familiar groove to enjoy what he’s missed. He’s come back with a lady and fistful of cash to dance the night away.  The song is about return and the jubilation that comes with that.

After eight years, this was my return to New York City.  And I was doing it solo.  Doing it my way.  I set out to celebrate my life and create an experience that represented who I am and where I am going.  I learned a lot about myself by creating my own path inspired by those who walked their own before me.  I couldn’t have hoped for a better time to find my groove.  I feel so good and my best days are ahead of me.

“you’re my rose” – kitra williams (2003)

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December is a big month for film.  Studios and directors typically reserve December as a prime time to release films that they believe will be strong contenders for the biggest industry awards.  Much of this is due to the fact that they have eligibility requirements to meet, but also to keep films fresh in the minds of audiences and award committee representatives since many of these ceremonies are conducted in the first quarter of the year.  While culturally significant and critically-acclaimed films are released throughout the entire calendar year, the heavyweights usually follow this pattern.

Oftentimes, the big contenders released at the end of year are predominantly backed by major studios, have big name directors attached to them, or are serious dramas.  However, award shows always sneak in at least one dark horse release that has a strong chance of subverting the expected favorites and possibly winning the most coveted prizes.  That dark horse this year could be The Disaster Artist.

The latest directorial effort by James Franco, The Disaster Artist is a passion project of Franco’s, and fellow producers Seth Rogen’s and Evan Goldberg’s, that pays homage to one of their favorite films The RoomThe Room, directed by Tommy Wiseau and released in 2003, is often regarded as “the Citizen Kane of bad movies.”  Originally released in one theater and whose distribution was completely funded by its director, The Room initially only grossed $1,800 despite having a budget that exceeded $6 million.

However, since its release, the film has become a cult classic and generated a profit.  Midnight screenings around the world are held with Wiseau attending some throughout the year.  Much in the spirit of Rocky Horror Picture Show, seeing The Room in a theatre is an interactive experience as audiences will yell and throw objects (like spoons) at the screen.  What has been considered to be one of the worst films ever made has since become a global and cultural phenomenon that continues to amaze and bewilder audiences.  And the film’s inspiration could land Franco and company a Golden Globe or Academy Award.

For those unfamiliar with The Room, here is the breakdown.  Wiseau stars, produces, writes, and acts in his masterpiece where he plays Johnny, an all-American guy, who is soon to be wed to his beautiful fiancé Lisa.  Lisa, however, has been cheating on Johnny with Johnny’s best friend Mark.  Johnny ignores warnings from friends and signs of Lisa’s infidelity believing that he has an idyllic American life to be shared with Lisa.  The love triangle comes to a dramatic conclusion when Johnny, crushed by Lisa’s betrayal, chooses to end his own life.

The plot to Wiseau’s film is basic, but it is his tribute to great American cinema and the emotional performances from the likes of James Dean and Marlon Brando.  While there is a limitless number of melodramatic bombs that have circulated around Hollywood, The Room has surpassed them all.  Personally, this can be attributed to the man that is Tommy Wiseau.

Tommy Wiseau is a mysterious figure who had befriended Greg Sestero, the actor who played Mark, in an acting workshop. Sestero documents this in his book on the making of The Room entitled The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made.  In this book, Sestero recounts his strange interactions with Wiseau both on and off set.  To anyone who met Wiseau, it was clear that he was not the all-American hero he projected himself as.  Wiseau was older and from a country of indeterminate origin, but still tried to convince people he was young and from New Orleans.  To this day, it hasn’t been confirmed how old Wiseau is or where he is from though it is speculated he is in his 50s and from Poland.

While making The Room, it became clear to the cast and crew that they were working on an ego-trip of a movie that would never be seen.  Wiseau clearly didn’t know how to make a movie and ignored basic filmmaking principles.  The performances are wooden, plot holes are rampant throughout, characters are never seen again, and the writing is stilted.  This was objectively a bad film that was not meant to be a success.

However, it has become a huge success due to Tommy Wiseau’s drive, creepy image, and bizarre performance.  His odd non-sequiturs, random emotional outbursts, and bewildering dialogue are unintentionally funny.  Wiseau’s intended drama became an accidental commentary that can be interpreted as being so meta that one could argue a brilliant film was made born from Dadaist tradition.

The Room and what transpired has become legend with top-tier actors and directors claiming that they would’ve loved to have been on the set to witness the performance art that was the making of The Room.  Sestero capitalized on this with his book which became the basis for Franco’s film adaptation.

I saw the Disaster Artist last night at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago.  Upon seeing the initial trailer over the summer, I knew I had to see this movie.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t seen or read the source material yet.  I knew The Room existed, but I avoided it.  While I really love bad cinema, this movie didn’t appeal to me because of the cult following.  I knew I could’ve gone to any of the midnight screenings that are held every other month in Chicago, but it didn’t appeal to me.  If a bad movie has a reputation in its own right without fanfare, I’ll see it.  But with costumes and interactive participation, it becomes less about the film.  It is almost as if the film is background noise which is not how I want to experience a movie.

I knew I would have to buckle down and experience everything about The Room to mentally prepare myself for The Disaster Artist.  Within a few weeks, I had seen the original film, participated in a midnight screening, and read Sestero’s book.  The movie was bad, it wasn’t the worst movie ever made as suggested.  It isn’t even the best worst movie ever made.  I’m glad I watched it and I found it laughable and entertaining, but I was skeptical about the hyperbolic assessments I had hear about the film.  The midnight screening was fun.  I’ve participated in interactive screenings for Rocky Horror Picture Show many times.  I’m glad this wasn’t the first time I had seen the film because I couldn’t hear anything over the laughter and screaming that made Rocky Horror seem tame by audience standards.

Finally, I read the book which I loved.  It conveyed the tension, anger, and frustration felt on the set rather well.  Like others, it made me wish I was on set just for the experience.  Alas, hindsight is 20/20.  But, the book stands out rather well on its own even if you’ve never seen the film.

With all that prep work finished, I was ready for The Disaster Artist.  And I really enjoyed it.  I don’t consider it the best film of the year, but it deserves the same company as the other films that deserve that moniker.  Some scenes stood out as unnecessary while pertinent details from the book were left ignored.  However, the way the narrative was crafted and the inclusion of various reference and in-jokes really show that this was a labor of love by true fans of Wiseau’s masterpiece.

The most uncomfortable scenes in the movie are the soft-core sex scenes.  And it was clear both in Sestero’s book and Franco’s film that these scenes were among the arduous to film because of Wiseau’s ability alienate and disturb cast, crew, and audiences.  There are four full-on sex scenes (and one oral sex scene) in the film.  They are at a length that would be more appropriate for a skin flick on HBO or Cinemax.  Wiseau would also be nude, show his ass multiple times on camera, and perform simulated intercourse that in no way resembled the actual method of love-making.

Again, it cannot be stressed enough that these scenes feel like soft-core pornography.  If the length, nudity, and soft focus didn’t convince you, then the music will.  R&B slow jams play during these scenes and sound like fair-use music that radio stations receive on sampler compilations (my college radio station received many CDs like this with all sorts of genres with each one sounding hacky and more appropriate for low-budget films or corporate training videos).  The tracks are performed by Clint Gamboa, Jarah Gibson, and Bell Johnson.  However, it is Kitra Williams’ “You’re My Rose” that stands out.

“You’re My Rose” is the best of the slow jams that appears in The Room.  It is remarkably cheesy with its repetitive, saccharine lyrics, it appears twice in the film with the reprise playing of the ending credits, and Williams is credited as being the co-producer for The Room’s official soundtrack.  Though Mladen Milićević’s, Loyola Marymount University music professor, original score is wonderfully tacky in its own right, it is Williams’ contribution that truly elevates the comedic factor of the music within the context of the film.  Other than contributing vocals to a René Moore’s 1988 LP Destination Love, Williams’ only musical project is this song.  Her contribution to Wiseau’s masterpiece is her legacy.

The film adaptation’s hype is driven primarily by “look how weird Wiseau is and how bad his movie is.”  I guess as it should be.  I’ve seen other films or documentaries about the making of classic films, but hardly of them focus on one particular individual.  The Disaster Artist stands out on its own.  However, despite the forced references and call backs, the film is worthy of buzz.  I anticipate the film will be nominated for awards for best adapted screenplay and best actor for James Franco.  I’m still processing the film.  And while it hasn’t secured a spot as my pick for best film of the year, it’s among the top.  There is considerable irony that Wiseau, once ridiculed and mocked, is getting the attention of Hollywood’s elite.  Only in America!