How the best terrible movie got made
Podcasts of the Week: The colourful history of The Room and a slice of one of finest pieces of audiodrama and documentary
While occasionally cruel, How Did This Get Made? looks at the vulnerability behind making art, and S-Town brings us on a journey of tragedy and mystery.
How Did This Get Made?
Episode 177: The Disaster Artist
Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas host this long-running podcast about how dreadful movies we all know and love (or love to hate) got made.
The episode is a two-in-one, examining one of the best terrible movies of our time, The Room, written by, directed by and starring Tommy Wiseau. If you’re not familiar with the film, treat yourself to a deep-dive. It is a surreal exercise in terrible writing, editing, and acting; all of it so bad that it somehow transcends badness into goodness. For example, the film is often screened live for audience participation in the vein of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
This episode of How Did This Get Made? broadcasts the crew’s original episode on The Room, poring over the insanity of the script and the needless and excessive sex scenes.
In the second half, it looks at The Disaster Artist, the recent movie made about the making of The Room, starring James Franco and based on a nonfiction book written by Greg Sestero, one of the notable cast members of the latter.
This is a deep-dive behind the scenes of bad cinema which, while occasionally cruel, also touches the intersection of vulnerability and hubris that comes with making any kind of art. It is also a long listen about ambition and making art (even if the art isn’t very good), as well as looking at what happens when a film becomes hugely successful for all the wrong reasons, and what happens when you make a film about that film.
My primary critique here is something disquieting that happens several times: Raphael is the only woman on the initial panel and is often cut off and shouted over by the men surrounding her. This makes for an uncomfortable undertone: five men discussing The Room, which has a streak of misogyny at its core that they all seem to find so audacious it simply has to be funny, who routinely cut off the only female panelist involved. It set my teeth on edge, but I tolerated it for what was otherwise a fascinating and unusual listen.
One of the finest pieces of audiodrama and documentary from 2017, this podcastwas downloaded ten million times in four days, and for good reason. All six episodes dropped at once so it can be experienced in one swell. It’s a rabbit hole more than worth falling into.
Journalist Brian Reed is contacted, while working on This American Life, by John B McLemore, who suspects there was a murder in his town and reckons it would be of interest to Reed.
What quickly becomes apparent is that McLemore is more of a fascinating subject than the murder but as the series continues there is tragedy and mystery abound. At times, the conversations with McLemore are so intense and odd they feel scripted (on my initial listen back in March I was convinced for the first few episodes that this was a really involved piece of fiction). However, all of it is true and real and all the more devastating for it.
Occasionally McLemore, who builds sundials and garden labyrinths and restores clocks and antiques, gets a little tough to listen to on one of his extended, theatrical monologues. But hold fast. The story behind him is bigger than his personality and what we have to learn from his life about being alive.
It is a triumph of journalism, as vital to the form of podcasting as Serial. If there was a canon of podcasting, S-Town would hold a place there.