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Book Review: The Fry Chronicles – An Autobiography

Having now finished the most recent autobiographical offering from Stephen Fry I can say without hesitation that he is an individual brave in his honesty.

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Having now finished the most recent autobiographical offering from Stephen Fry I can say without hesitation that he is an individual brave in his honesty. His thoughts are, or at least appear to be, for the most part unedited. Lengthy passages conveying his hopes and fears and the waning confidence in his own abilities and talent, open this individual to a world of vulnerability. The academic, actor, comic and journalist whom Fry embodies seems to ooze self-confidence and control, yet the picture Fry paints is often that of a lost human being.

Certainly when it comes to matters of his career everything he touches seems to turn to gold. Award winning playwright, television comedian, radio host and author, he turns his hand with apparent ease to each new endeavour. A confident character travelling through life effortlessly is certainly the impression the world gets, but Fry attests that it is never so simple. Admittedly, opportunities do often come knocking, but Fry is always grappling with his own sense of self-worth. He seems to suffer from a deep-seated fear of being uncovered as a fraud, always finding fault within himself and anticipating other will do the same.

Fry shows from the many episodes within the book and indeed from the circumstances related in his previous autobiographical work, Moab is My Washpot, that glazing over the uncomfortable and regrettable moments of his history is not acceptable to him. Instances that other people, in the telling of their own life stories, would rather forget and omit are part of Fry’s life narrative and as such necessarily included. Weaknesses, vulnerabilities, aspects of his own character that he despises, and moments of embarrassment or shame do not get relegated to the back seat; Fry is open about that which makes him human.

He talks of his addictive personality, his abhorrence of his own physical appearance and of his frustration at his laziness, for his health and appearance could be improved if it were not for his lack of drive and desire. Fry cringingly looks back on the character traits of his youth; the spoilt, flashy younger man who came into fortune and happily squandered vast earnings on fast cars, large homes and the latest technological advances.

When reading of his flurrying spending and of his disgust in his past behaviour it is difficult to share Fry’s self-loathing for the picture that is painted is not that of a snotty brat, but rather that of a very lost individual. His purchases, the clubs he joins and his unquenchable work ethic all scream of a man trying desperately to figure out who he is and where he belongs in the world.

For all his success, breakthroughs and moments in the spotlight there is a great void in Fry’s existence. He has friends certainly, he writes a great deal on their goodness, their talent and their kindness. He has family too and colleagues whom greatly appreciate and admire him. The void comes in his lovelessness. That is not to say that he is incapable of loving and caring for friends and family, but rather that he does not appear to factor romantic relationships into his life. One Cambridge roommate appears to slip from friend to lover and then back again without scarcely being noticed, and a momentary pause is given to a pretty makeup artist, but beyond these two instances Fry appears disinterested in love.

Fry has a wonderful conversationalist style of writing that prompts the reader to believe that they are truly privy to his genuine thoughts and feelings. It is a useful tool employed by the author, for he gives the reader more than enough and at times overburdens us with details of cast members, directors, their histories, friendships and even their own anecdotes, that we feel full, satisfied and at times overtaxed. The onslaught of facts, dates and names makes it difficult at first to see the gaps, that he has neglected certain aspects of his life.

We get titbits of the darker Fry; the man capable of attempting suicide and we are told that the world of romance and physical love is closed to him. We accept this information at first; for Fry has revealed so much, but then we remember that we are inquisitive beings and we want to know, why? What was running through his head when he tried to kill himself and what happened to the Cambridge romance that seemingly just fizzled out? Why would romance and sex not be a factor in his life? These questions are posed not to seek out the sordid affairs of his relationships and friendships, or to accuse him of giving up on life, but to seek an understanding of his thought process and his reasoning. These are two things that Fry does not share in this book. He does not open up his heart and his inner self remains closed.

While the overload of industry background and personalities is at oftentimes cumbersome and in need of a good pruning, there are some lovely, enjoyable moments in this book and anyone who is a fan of Fry, Hugh Laurie, Ben Elton or Emma Thompson will get a kick out of reading about their Cambridge lives. Rowan Atkinson also hovers tantalisingly within the background. Fry shares his rise to fame and the triumphs and dramas that it affords. We see him moving along different paths searching for his niche; we see that he is a little bit academic, a little bit of a comic, a little bit theatrical. Brilliant and vastly knowledgeable in each field that he enters. The experimentation and journey of self-discovery is honourable, but incomplete without feeling. It is a regrettable loss to an otherwise honest story. Fry ends this chapter of his story with the promise that there is more to tell; his is an addictive personality that just can’t seem to help itself. I can’t help wondering that just like his comical television collaboration with Hugh Laurie, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, that in The Fry Chronicles we get a little bit of Stephen Fry.

The Fry Chronicles: An Autobiography
Author: Stephen Fry
Publisher: Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Books

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Book Review: The Disaster Artist – My Life Inside the Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made

I cannot recommend The Disaster Artist highly enough. It might be one of the best reads I’ve had in a very long time.

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In 2003, the world of filmmaking was shaken to its very foundations. Bursting onto the scene and blinding the city of Los Angeles and Hollywood like a renegade supernova, was a film that went by the insipid title of The Room.

The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made is a book all about the making of that film. For those who haven’t seen The Room, the basic synopsis boils down to a ‘love triangle’ plot, between a banker, Johnny, his fiancée, Lisa, and the best friend, Mark. There’s romance, betrayal, drama and finally tragedy. Seems simple enough, right? Wrong.

The final instalment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy might’ve won all eleven Academy Awards that year, but it was The Room that still managed to be the talk of the town (and eventually, the world) amongst many filmgoers.

Don’t be mistaken, The Room wasn’t a sleeper hit or master class in filmmaking. In fact, it was the complete opposite. A train wreck so disastrous that it’s still being watched, studied and talked about, to this day. “So bad it’s good” and “The Citizen Kane of bad films” are quotes often thrown around whenever The Room is muttered.

What makes The Room so bad? Well, to put it bluntly, everything. From the acting to the directing, to the sets and continuity, is a consistency of abysmal filmmaking. Yet despite its terribleness, there remains a kind of loveable charm. Most of this charm seems to stem from the man who helmed the project, the weirdly fascinating and enigmatic, Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau was responsible for acting as the lead character, Johnny, writing, directing and producing The Room (Orson Welles, eat your heart out).

Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s book, The Disaster Artist, doesn’t start at the premier of The Room in Los Angeles, 2003. It starts instead a year earlier, with a lunch between Greg and Tommy, a lunch so bizarre and off-the-wall, that it almost reads like sketch comedy. It’s a day before official production is about to begin on The Room, and Tommy with genius-gusto, decides to offer Greg one of the lead roles in his film, as Mark, Johnny’s (Tommy’s character and fictionalized version of himself) best friend. A plan so flawless, until Greg reminds Tommy that the role is already cast.

In the next chapter, we are taken back to 1998 in San Francisco with Jean Shelton and her acting class, where Greg relates his early origins into acting and his dreams of “making it”. It’s here that he meets the one-and-only, Tommy Wiseau, for the very first time. They’d later on become acquainted with one-another, after Tommy steals the show by giving one of the most ludicrous renditions of the famous ‘Stella’ scene from A Streetcar Named Desire ever witnessed.

“Most bad performances are met with silence. This was something else. There were murmurs. There were giggles. Everyone in that basement studio knew they had just witnessed one of the most beautifully, chaotically wrong performances they would ever see.”


 – The Disaster Artist

What follows throughout the book is parallel storytelling, or intersecting storylines. One side focusing on the making of The Room, and the haphazard tyrannical way in which Tommy went about acting, directing and interacting with the cast and crew. The other, on the growing friendship and relationship between a young, Greg Sestero and not-so-young, Tommy Wiseau, both bonding on their dream and love for acting (and in particular, James Dean). Each storyline is as equally entertaining, funny and at times touching as one another.

The Disaster Artist is a book that doesn’t quite feel like it’s written from someone with journalistic prose looking-in on The Room, or the life of Tommy Wiseau. Instead, it’s a book written by someone who lived and breathed these experiences and moments. The final result is a raw and believable account, with a striking amount of humility and sincerity. The praise in this regard goes solely to Greg Sestero; he is quite possibly the best—and only—person capable of telling this story. His perspective is paramount to understanding the making of The Room, and Wiseau.

In terms of the content itself, there are many reasons why fans—or even those unfamiliar with The Room—might want to pick this up. For years, people have been baffled about almost every aspect of this film and the mysterious man behind it. From, “How did Tommy manage to get $6 million to fund this film?” to something as simple as “Just where in the hell is Tommy actually from?”

You don’t have to be familiar with the film itself, or even know a great deal about the players such as Tommy Wiseau to find this book enjoyable. After all, driving the engines is a timeless story, full of great characters and great moments.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It might be one of the best reads I’ve had in a very long time.

The Disaster Artist

by Greg Sestero & Tom Bissell
(Simon & Schuster)

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Book Review: Baseball as a Road to God

One of the most rewarding aspects of John Sexton’s Baseball as a Road to God is that while it is deeply theological, it fares away from being preachy and overtly evangelical.

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One of the most rewarding aspects of John Sexton’s Baseball as a Road to God is that while it is deeply theological, it fares away from being preachy and overtly evangelical. It in fact, touches upon faith of all walks and more importantly, does not dismiss scientific reasoning. Sexton of course, is at heart, a baseball fan and through his childhood stories of growing up a Brooklyn Dodgers fan (and inexplicably converting to a Yankees fan after their departure for Los Angeles), he is able to teach and explain the many diverging paths between the oft discussed and scrutinized worlds of faith and baseball.

From his earliest memories of praying for a Brooklyn World Series with his school mates to the often unexplainable, almost mythic, facts that seem to trump logic through baseball’s historical vault (like the players who have won back-to-back MVPs being able to fill a lineup position by position in order), much of the book comes across as both a joy to read, and an eye-opening look at faith without the moralizing and combative stance religion has had to take in the wake of what seems to be its declining pull in contemporary society.

Sexton’s knowledge of the sport is evident in all the historical facts he recites and his theological tone helps give their ineffable qualities resonance. His connection between the cyclical nature of faith (through its yearly and seasonal traditions) and of course, the cyclical and seasonal nature of the game (Opening Day, World Series, the lull of winter) early on in the book sets a good foundation of the connections between the two; and through all the years baseball has been part of American (and to some extent, global) society, faith has always played a role in some of the game’s most memorable and almost mystical moments. Yet Sexton stops short of saying that there are actual ‘angels in the outfield’, and has chapters that both deify this idea and those that, of course, present doubt. In fact, in the chapter aptly titled ‘Doubt’, Sexton goes on the say that without doubt, there is no faith, and that idea or notion of it helps instil that faith within us, on and off the field.

While the book was never meant to be as in depth about the sport as a book specifically about the Yankees, or Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth, there is still a lot to gain from Baseball as a Road to God (although the book itself is a fairly short read; 256 pages). From both a theological to the historical to the present day, Sexton has penned an enlightening and rewarding read from beginning to end.

Baseball As A Road to God

by John Sexton, Thomas Oliphant, Peter J. Schwartz
(Gotham Books)

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