The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out by Wayne Byrne

The Cinema of Tom DiCilloBook Review
Title: The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out
Author:  Wayne Byrne
Publisher: Wallflower Press
Released: September 2017
Pages: 208
ISBN-13: 978-0231185356
Book Reviewer: Christine Bode
Stars:  4.5

I admit that I can’t review The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out by Wayne Byrne without bias, but I can say that my bias is formed by a deep appreciation of Tom DiCillo’s films and Tom DiCillo, the man. I was fortunate to receive a review copy of the book from Columbia University Press’ Wallflower division and am pleased to give you my honest opinion about it.

I believe that the first of DiCillo’s films that I ever saw was Living in Oblivion, when I rented it on DVD soon after it was released – likely in 1996. As a life-long film fan, Living in Oblivion, a humourous, heartfelt film about the making of an independent film, was an absolute treasure to discover and has since become DiCillo’s seminal masterpiece. It wasn’t long after that when I also rented and enjoyed watching Johnny Suede, the now cult film with a cool surf music score that helped to launch Brad Pitt and Catherine Keener’s careers. Because I’ve always enjoyed Keener’s work and because she was in four of DiCillo’s films, I kept watching them and had seen at least four of them before I got to know a lot more about the filmmaker.

Then, in a strange, albeit serendipitous twist of fate, I became friends with Tom DiCillo when I discovered his blog as he was writing about the process of releasing and trying to find a distributor for When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors (which won a Grammy in 2011), over seven years ago. The Doors are on my Top 5 Favourite Bands of All Time list and as such they formed the basis for our original conversation. However, we have continued to stay in touch ever since, because Tom is a very accessible, generous man with a kind heart and genuine appreciation for his fans. Not only am I a fan of his body of work, but I admire and respect him as an artist and a human being.  I’m equally enamored with Tom’s music project, The Black and Blue Orkestre, because I love his singing voice and the combination of Spaghetti Western, Surf and Cinematic Gothic Rockabilly grooves that form the music.

But back to the book. This volume by Irish author and Film Studies lecturer / education consultant Wayne Byrne is an extremely well-written, intelligent, enthralling addition to the Directors’ Cuts series published by Wallflower Press and a must-read for any cineaste or film student. It took Byrne five years to complete, but during that time he interviewed not only Tom DiCillo, at length, but also many of the actors in his films, including Steve Buscemi who wrote the foreword.

“In short, this wonderful book details the ultimate triumphant journey of one of independent cinema’s smartest, funniest, and fiercest warriors.” ~ Steve Buscemi

Byrne’s book is an interesting in-depth look at all of DiCillo’s eight independent films (seven of which premiered at Sundance) the agony and the ecstasy of birthing them, as well as an honest, insider’s view into the independent film industry and the machinations of the Hollywood system.

In his book, Byrne analyzes the themes of identity, family, and masculinity in DiCillo’s work and supports it with “in-depth coverage of the generic and aesthetic aspects of DiCillo’s distinctive and influential film style.” Through detailed chapters on each of his feature films, readers receive “…a candid look behind-the-scenes of both the American independent film industry – from the No Wave movement of the 1980s, through the Indie boom of the 1990s, to the contemporary milieu – and the Hollywood studio system.”

Byrne studied the writing, production, and release of each of DiCillo’s films and followed them with an extensive and intriguing Q&A with him, as well as exclusive interviews with many actors and collaborators including Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, Peter Dinklage, Sam Rockwell, John Turturro, Chris Noth, Maxwell Caulfield, Matthew Modine, Gina Gershon, Kevin Corrigan, Alison Lohman and John Densmore and Robby Krieger of The Doors.

Johnny Suede (1991)
Living in Oblivion (1995)
Box of Moonlight (1996)
The Real Blonde (1997)
Double Whammy (2001)
Delirious (2006)
When You’re Strange (2009)
Down in Shadowland (2014)

I own all DiCillo’s films and have watched them all again with new eyes after reading Byrne’s book, getting something new from each of them even though I’ve seen six of them previously, at least a couple of times. Perhaps that is what allows DiCillo’s work to endure throughout the years. It is clever, often subversive and upon first viewing you may think, “Well, what was that all about? That was a bit bizarre…”, but upon further viewing, you really get a feel for the director’s unique style and voice, use of colour, choice of music (often created by composer Jim Farmer) as well as the themes that inspire him. It is DiCillo’s way of viewing and expressing humanity in his work with his distinct sense of humour and pathos that makes these films stand out in the crowd of slick, violent, comic-book infested, often soulless, unoriginal movies from Hollywood that we’re seeing today. Give me the work of Jim Jarmusch, Richard Linklater, The Coen Brothers, Michael Winterbottom, Tim Burton and Tom DiCillo any day. If you agree, read this book.

Drunk Film School: 9 Simple Classes with Independent Writer/Director TOM DiCILLO

DRUNK FILM SCHOOL

Tom DiCillo Drunk Film School

Have you ever thought about going to film school?

Have you ever thought, “I’d like to try it but it’s just too much money.”

Have you ever thought, “Fuck that shit; who needs it?”

IF SO THEN THIS COURSE IS FOR YOU.

9 simple classes with independent writer/director TOM DiCILLO.

Hosted by Duane Andersen, professor and filmmaker at Utah Valley University. All episodes constructed and edited by Tom DiCillo

This is Part 5 of a 9-part series called DRUNK FILM SCHOOL with Tom DiCillo.

Watch all 9 episodes of DRUNK FILM SCHOOL here:

www.tomdicillo.com/blog/drunk-film-school/

God Save The King: Tom DiCillo’s 1977 Student Film Started His Career

Tom DiCilloA few months ago, one of my favorite award-winning filmmakers, Tom DiCillo – (Living in Oblivion, Delirious, When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors) considered one of the founding fathers of New York independent film – found one of his student films, GOD SAVE THE KING.

GOD SAVE THE KING was DiCillo’s first sync sound film when he was in NYU film school. Back in 1977, student films were shot on real film and the move from silent to sound was considered a huge step. The original 16 mm print was recently discovered in a box under a bed in the basement of a juvenile correctional institution near Miami.

DiCillo wrote and directed the film, starring Liz Roker, Jay McCormack and Joe d’Angerio in his 2nd year at NYU. It was loosely based on an incident that had happened to him one steamy August night a few months earlier. The punk movement was in full spasm. For some performance photos needed for the film he went to CBGB’s one afternoon and they let him shoot Joe and Jay on the stage for 20 minutes.


After graduation DiCillo decided for some reason to scrape some money together and re-edit the film. He added titles, did a sound mix and made something that was almost unheard of for an ex NYU student with no job–a real 16mm print.

Eight years later when he submitted his first screenplay Johnny Suede to the National Endowment for the Arts, DiCillo sent the print of God Save The King as an example of his work. They gave him $25,000.

A year later he submitted the Johnny Suede screenplay to the Sundance Director’s Lab. Once again, he sent this only print of God Save The King as a directing sample. He got accepted.

In some ways you could say this little film started Tom DiCillo’s career.

(Published with permission from Tom DiCillo.)

Interview with Writer/Director Tom DiCillo of When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors

I’ve been following writer/director Tom DiCillo’s (Johnny Suede, Living in Oblivion, Delirious) blog at www.tomdicillo.com for the past six months, ever since I heard of the impending release of his rock documentary, When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors. Tom’s passion and commitment to his projects is visceral, both on the page and on the screen, and he is extremely gracious and forthright with his fans and fellow film lovers. Tom, thank you for agreeing to talk to Press+1 (Note: Sept. 18/15: This interview was originally published at a now defunct online entertainment magazine).

What was the single most important thing that you took away from the experience of writing and directing When You’re Strange?

Making the film affected me in a surprisingly large number of ways, and still does. But, the thing that struck me the most was the band’s commitment to artistic integrity. They had it from the beginning and they kept it throughout. They made the music they wanted to hear. As an independent filmmaker it was deeply inspiring to be reminded that not everything is for sale.

What was your first thought when you learned that the documentary had been nominated for an Emmy?

Utter bewilderment.

What do you say to those who have said that When You’re Strange is unflattering towards Jim Morrison?

I say that my sole intent with this film was to portray Jim, and the entire band, as truthfully as possible. So much has been said about Jim and The Doors. Much of it is superstition, legend and frankly bullshit. I think it is obvious the enormous respect and admiration I have for Jim and for Ray, John and Robby. The footage I immersed myself in for two years provided an incredibly intimate view of all of them. To me, truth and honesty are the only things that matter. Jim Morrison is immensely more interesting to me as a human being than as a god or a devil. He was a man. He lived and breathed. He was human. To accept all the things that made him human was the only way I could show how deeply I was impressed by him.

Have you read Ray Manzarek’s (Light My Fire: My Life With The Doors) or John Densmore’s (Riders On The Storm) books about The Doors? If so, did you take anything from them for the script? I ask because some of the narration sounds a lot like what I’ve heard Ray say about them.

I read both books. And I spoke at length to Ray, John and Robby. If the narration echoes some of what they wrote that is purely accidental. The fact is the story of the Doors is relatively clear and straightforward. What happened is what happened. There really are not too many ways to describe how Jim was arrested at New Haven.

I was very much aware that many things have been written or said about the band by historians or experts much more experienced than me. I had to find something truthful for myself in order to make this film. And that truth was that the Doors were made up of four intensely gifted musicians. And although Jim was the front man, dominating the spotlight, each of them contributed something invaluable to the music.

Much of the narration is really a reflection of my subconscious thought patterns as I was originally watching all the footage. Most of it was silent and so it freed my mind to just look at what was happening and think about what I was seeing.

I heard on a recent Today is Boring podcast that you did that Jim’s film HWY is going to be released as a feature film in the not too distant future. Do you know any more details about this release?

That is all I know. The rights to the film, as well as all of Jim’s writing, reverted to Pam Courson’s mother after Pam’s death and are now jointly owned by the Courson’s and Morrison’s brother and sister. I’m not sure why they’ve waited so long to put the film out there on its own.

Did you ever see The Doors perform live?

Regrettably, no. I envy anyone who did.

What is your favourite Doors song?

Very hard to pick one. “Roadhouse Blues” always blows my mind. It sounds like it was written yesterday.

Do you think that The Doors have had any influence in your own new music project, The Black and Blue Orkestre?

Perhaps. Making the film has opened my eyes to the idea that all artistic impulses have value and none should be dismissed, or diminished. Believe me, the critics will do that for you.

Can you describe The Black and Blue Orkestre and how it was born?

The Black and Blue Orkestre is a transatlantic musical crew consisting of three people; me, Will Crewdson in the UK, and Grog in LA. It began about 3 years ago when Will wrote into my blog (www.tomdicillo.com) inquiring about my last film, Delirious. He was very supportive and offered to help bring it to the attention of some sluggish UK distributors.

We kept in contact and eventually he revealed his musical interests to me. He’s been very active in some cool UK bands for several years. How I ever decided to reveal to him that I’d just recorded my own version of “16 Tons” I can’t quite recall. But, I did. And then I took the even stranger step of sending it to him. He laid down an incredible guitar track and suddenly this little home-recording I’d made took on an entirely different sound.

I’ve never really played with other musicians. To have Will integrate a many-layered guitar part, as well as adding synth and some percussion, opened me up to working with real musicians; people who could actually play and contribute other levels to the song.

We sent a few more songs back and forth, including two that I’d written myself. I’d never let anyone hear me sing before. Will not only did not laugh, he quietly encouraged me. The collaboration kept bringing new dimension to the songs. Will knew Grog from a tour they did together. I met her when they played in NYC. Will asked her to write the bass part for one of my songs “Will Been Done”, and we were both blown away. And so she joined the trio.

Who are some of your musical influences?

I like a wide variety of music. I’m keenly into the Eastern/Western hiphop fusion that’s been going on for several years. Rachid Taha, Khaled, Natascha Atlas to name only a very few. African guitar-based music is inspiring; Salif Keita, Mama Sissoko.

I love underground American surf music from the late 50’s and 60’s. There were some amazing bands that few people ever get acquainted with because the genre was so quickly homogenized. The Fireballs, The Trashmen, Dick Dale, Link Wray.

I think Nick Cave rivals Neil Young in consistency and his constant quest to make new music that no one has heard before.

And I think Eminem’s latest album has some incredible stuff on it. I’m inspired by anyone who brings something truly new and original to my ears.

Tom, your bio on imdb.com states that a trademark of your films is that they often contain a dream sequence that is central to the plot. Are you a lucid dreamer and do you immediately write down visions for film that come to you that way?

I don’t know who wrote that bio but, I don’t think it is too accurate. Box of Moonlight has no dreams in it; nor does The Real Blonde or Delirious. However, many people smarter than me have described film as the art form closest to dream and I would agree.

I think if they are handled carefully, dropping dreams into a film can provide the audience with a deeply rewarding surprise. The fact is we all dream every night. And never during our dreams is there any pink smoke or ominous dwarf roaming around to indicate, or assure us, it is only a dream. When we dream we are convinced at that moment that what we are experiencing is absolutely REAL.

This is why dreams are so powerful. My dreams are intensely vivid and complex. I frequently wake up exhausted. I don’t tend to draw from them specifically. I actually see life most of the time as some kind of strange dream where the edges are blurred, where danger and intense joy lie around every corner.

Your films are often described as satires or black comedies. Why do you enjoy – excuse the phrase – taking the piss out of a subject on film?

Well, partly this comes from looking around me and seeing a world that appears to be frantically going blind. More, the things people are obsessed with seem completely bewildering to me. If anyone inspired me in this world-view it was Mark Twain. One of his central themes is how relentlessly the world shrinks away from anything close to the truth.

So, for example, making Living In Oblivion was a definite attempt to show the world what being an independent film director was REALLY like. To most people the indie director embodies the essence of cool; leather jacket, shades, a cigarette. In my experience, every independent director I’ve ever seen on the set (including myself) is a bundle of nerves, fear, ego and complete insecurity.

So I said, f—k it, let me just show it as it is.

Do you think you have a twisted sense of humour?

Only to the degree that I enjoy helping some people see how stupid they are.

Were the Delirious Marketing Meeting videos including the ones you made with Steve Buscemi and Kieran Culkin on YouTube for real?

I’m glad you had to ask me that. I worked very hard on those videos to make them seem like they were real. Actually, they were all scripted and acted. I was assisted by a young filmmaker Chioke Nasoor who had the original idea. He’d heard me talking at a pre-release screening of Delirious about how the distributor was not spending any money on advertising.

He approached me and suggested the idea of doing some web-based video skits that might grab people’s attention and help promote the film. At the time there was great interest in the leaked video of director David O. Russell freaking out on set of I Heart Huckabees. We used that as a model and tried to devise a series of “real” videos that would place me in the most frustrating and demeaning positions possible.

For the Buscemi piece Chioke and I actually crashed the press day for Steve’s own film, Interview. So, it was a combination of scripted stuff and complete improvisation. I greatly enjoyed acting in them.

Have you ever attended the Toronto International Film Festival or would you when you don’t have a film to present?

I attended Toronto with all of my films except the last three. I’m not sure I would see the need to go there without a film.

Are you working on another film project now or are you concentrating on your music for a while?

I have two narrative feature scripts I’ve written in development. That is a strange word which really means that I’m actively trying to arrange financing and casting on a daily basis. This process can take years. But, I’m very excited about both scripts. One is a contemporary sex comedy called Lost In Blue and the other is a tense, sexually complex crime thriller called Lighthouse Road.

Do you have any advice or words of wisdom you can share with struggling filmmakers and musicians?

The only words I can say have been said so many times they probably seem meaningless. Keep going. The easiest thing for producers, agents, critics, distributors or financiers to say is NO. And so, they do. As disappointing as the rejection is the only response is to keep going and not take it personally.

Because, it isn’t personal. These people don’t know you. They know nothing about you. So why would you let someone like this tell you who you are? No one can tell you what you can do. Most of these people have no idea who they are themselves and are terrified of taking responsibility to make any kind of decision about anything.

You just have to keep going. It is not easy. Actually, it is incredibly hard. Because we all have to survive somehow. We all need to generate income, to pay the rent, to eat. And if pursuing an artistic career does not provide these things then life can seem pretty bleak and scary.

How do you stay optimistic? How do you keep going when it seems like you’re all alone and no one in the entire world seems to give a sh-t if you give up tomorrow?

I’m not sure I know the exact answer. But your question takes me back to your first one; what I learned from making When You’re Strange. Jim Morrison’s belief in the power of artistic integrity was unshakeable. He left home when he was 17. No one in his family had any faith in his ability to sing or write music. His father actually advised a friend not to invest money in the Doors.

And yet, Jim kept going. Some part of him already knew that there was little if any value in waiting for approval and validation from other people.

When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors by Tom DiCillo

When You're StrangeI don’t normally blog about movies but this particular film is an exception because it’s a documentary about one of my all-time favourite bands, The Doors, narrated by my favourite actor, Johnny Depp. As my good friend Tracie said, (and I concur) “It’s a win win for me!”

We’re going to see the special event screening of Tom DiCillo’s film on Thursday, April 15th, 2010 at 7:00 pm at the Cineplex-Odeon in Kingston. I’m very excited about this because I’ve been a big fan of Jim Morrison and The Doors for as long as I can remember, have read numerous books written about them and by them, and even had the privilege of meeting Ray Manzarek at a book signing in Toronto in 1999 when he was promoting Light My Fire: My Life With Jim Morrison and The Doors.

I am hereby joining The Doors Street Team (you can too!) and am going to pass along their information about When You’re Strange here. From the official website:

Following a prestigious festival run, WHEN YOU’RE STRANGE: A FILM ABOUT THE DOORS will receive a theatrical release in select markets on Friday, April 9. The crowd-pleasing documentary has been featured at the Sundance, Berlin, Deauville and San Sebastian Film Festivals and most recently played to sold-out shows at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

Produced by Wolf Films/Strange Pictures, in association with Rhino Entertainment, and released by Abramorama, the 90-minute film is the first feature documentary about The Doors.

“They say if you remember the ‘60s you weren’t there,” said producer Dick Wolf. “I can state definitively that one of the things I do remember is buying THE DOORS first album the day it came out and then listening to it about ten or twelve times in a row. Both sides. Every song. I’ve been a fan ever since. This movie is the story of the band but it is also an insight into a moment in time that will never be repeated.”

WHEN YOU’RE STRANGE uncovers historic and previously unseen footage of the illustrious rock quartet and provides new insight into the revolutionary impact of its music and legacy. Directed by award-winning writer/director Tom DiCillo and narrated by Johnny Depp, the film is a riveting account of the band’s history.

Said Depp, “Watching the hypnotic, hitherto unreleased footage of Jim, John, Ray and Robby, I felt like I experienced it all through their eyes. As a rock n’ roll documentary, or any kind of documentary for that matter, it simply doesn’t get any better than this. What an honor to have been involved. I am as proud of this as anything I have ever done.”

The film reveals an intimate perspective on the creative chemistry between drummer John Densmore, guitarist Robby Krieger, keyboardist Ray Manzarek and singer Jim Morrison — four brilliant artists who made The Doors one of America’s most iconic and influential rock bands. Using footage shot between the band’s 1965 formation and Morrison’s 1971 death, WHEN YOU’RE STRANGE follows the band from the corridors of UCLA’s film school, where Manzarek and Morrison met, to the stages of sold-out arenas.

Shortly before the film’s theatrical release, its soundtrack will be available March 30 and features 13-songs chronicling The Doors’ six landmark albums with studio versions of classic tracks mixed with legendary live cuts including performances from The Ed Sullivan Show and The Isle Of Wight Festival.

The film is produced by Wolf Films/Strange Pictures, in association with Rhino Entertainment, and released by Abramorama. Additional credits for WHEN YOU’RE STRANGE include producers Dick Wolf, John Beug, Jeff Jampol, and Peter Jankowski. The film is written and directed by Tom DiCillo (“Johnny Suede,” “Living in Oblivion”). Narrated by Johnny Depp.