There’s no getting around the fact that the companion drink of The Room is rightfully “scotchka,” that wondrous combination of scotch and vodka that so typifies director Tommy Wiseau’s infamously bizarre 2003 drama. But given that “Of Dreck and Drink” is supposed to be a “bad movie, good beer”-pairing column, I hope you’ll indulge me for choosing something a little more palatable for this month’s film.
The question is, what does one pair with The Room? Wiseau’s film, for those not familiar with it, has often been referred to as “the Citizen Kane of bad movies” in recent years, earning a cult of personality unrivaled by any camp classic save for maybe The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s without a doubt the most important addition to the “all-time worst” canon of the last decade, vaulting Wiseau up to notoriety alongside the likes of Ed Wood. But more so than any of Wood’s pictures, The Room is endlessly fascinating and compelling in its weirdness. It begs for repeated viewings and attempts to unravel its mysteries (which are largely the mysteries of Wiseau himself). It reaches for the sky and beyond but fails utterly in its grand ambitions. Therefore, as a contrasting beer I chose St. Bernardus Abt. 12, a Belgian quadrupel with all the gravitas Tommy Wiseau attempted and failed to infuse into The Room.
Any attempt to understand The Room must begin with Tommy himself, the bizarre, vampiric personality so often hidden behind dark sunglasses and a nonplussed expression. Paranoid and secretive to a fault, almost nothing was known about him following The Room’s release, as a cult slowly began to build. His age was a toss-up. His country of origin and unusual accent were unexplained. The source of the oft-quoted $6 million he raised on his own for the long, troubled shoot of The Room was perhaps the greatest mystery. Patton Oswalt certainly had some theories on that front when he shot this Room parody
Some of these questions finally received plausible answers in 2013 with the publication of The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room by Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s co-star, confidant and seemingly only friend in the years leading up to the film’s production. Offering a compelling look into the filming process and Wiseau’s frame of mind, Sestero paints Tommy as a hopeless dreamer immune to criticism, common sense and social courtesies. He more or less reveals that Tommy came to America from a Soviet state, endured several traumatic experiences along the way and eventually fell in love with the concept of American culture and movie stardom in particular. The Room represents his ultimate vanity project, an attempt to buy his way into the upper echelons of the entertainment industry with a Brando-like performance that Tommy was sure would compel its audience to “not sleep for two weeks.”
This does explain a lot of things about the film, such as why Tommy cast himself as a beloved member of a much younger social circle—indicative of a deep and abiding desire to be accepted among a “cool crowd.” His inherent distrust, though, manifests in the character of his unfaithful girlfriend, Lisa, who is depicted as incredibly childish and callous, leading all the film’s men to ruin. The simplicity of her characterization as a pure, cold-hearted bitch and nothing else speaks volumes toward the way Tommy views women.
The beer, on the other hand, is all about complexity. St. Bernardus is not the most strongly flavored Belgian quad you’re ever likely to sample, but it’s one of the most beautifully balanced. Sniffing it while pondering The Room is like a sensory overload: Notes of raisin, prune and brown sugar sit atop a foundation of light mustiness reminiscent of some long-forgotten tome in a used bookstore. It tastes like everything from caramel apples to granola and licorice. It’s deep.
In fact, practically anything one can say to describe the St. Bernardus is in direct opposition to The Room. It’s subtle when the subtext of The Room is clumsily transparent. It’s dignified when The Room can’t help but embarrass everyone involved. Its elements work in conjunction with one another, which is certainly more than can be said about The Room, which goes from Tommy’s relationship drama to a random gangbanger holding a gun to Denny’s head at the drop of a hat. That’s probably the biggest philosophical difference—The Room’s disgruntled tonal shifts vs. the perfectly conceived balance of the St. Bernardus.
This isn’t to say that The Room isn’t worthy of intense study. Armed with information from The Disaster Artist, it becomes even more amazing to watch. Take this tiny little scene. It’s seven seconds long. All Tommy has to do is walk into the frame, say a couple of lines and then greet Greg Sestero’s character, Mark. Go ahead and watch it.
That seven-second scene? That took 32 takes and three hours to complete, despite the fact that its dialog was written by Tommy himself. The aforementioned scene where the gangster “Chris-R” threatens Denny for drug money is about 3.5 minutes long and took a full two weeks to shoot. Greg helpfully lets readers of The Disaster Artist know that this is roughly the same amount of time Steven Spielberg took to shoot the entire D-Day landing sequence of Saving Private Ryan. It conjures up a horrifying picture of what it must have been like to work on the set of The Room—so toxic that the film had not one, not two but ultimately three directors of photography. The final DP, Todd Barron, began the production as little more than a camera assistant before being repeatedly “promoted.”
Most of the films tackled in this column are amusing trifles to watch, but The Room feels special. Likewise, the St. Bernardus Abt. 12 is special beer. One must question in this sort of case whether being special for achieving a goal is really any more valuable in the long run than being special for failing so spectacularly. Both have their own brand of notoriety, and both will be enjoyed for many years to come.
Let’s just say that given the choice to meet the monks of St. Bernardus or ask Tommy Wiseau questions about The Room, I know which one I’d choose.
To learn more about the film, check out this trailer.
To learn more about St. Bernardus Abt. 12, go here.