In Conversation with Wayne Byrne, Author of The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out

Title: The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out
Author:  Wayne Byrne
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Released: September 2017
Pages: 208
ISBN: 9780231185356

The Cinema of Tom DiCillo

As the author of this insightful and entertaining book, he delves in deep and comes up with the goods. Through his conversations with Tom we see the thought processes and strategies on each of his films, his hopes and frustrations, and everything in between. One thing about Tom, he doesn’t hold back. We also hear from many of Tom’s collaborators, and he has worked with some of the best in this business.

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


As a long-time fan of the award-winning, independent, New York filmmaker and recording artist, I was very excited to be among the first readers of Wayne Byrne’s well-written, fascinating, detailed analysis of The Cinema of Tom DiCillo.  Irish author Wayne Byrne’s book is comprised of a series of essays about each of DiCillo’s eight films – Johnny Suede, Living in Oblivion, Box of Moonlight, The Real Blonde, Double Whammy, Delirious, When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors, and Down in Shadowland – embellished with insider insight from some of the films’ stars.

Wayne, congratulations on your auspicious debut as a writer! I read somewhere that you never intended to be a writer, so how was it that you became one?

Thank you, Christine.  It’s such a great feeling whenever I hear those words.  It reminds me that the book is a real thing.  I’m getting used to the thrill of walking into a book store and seeing it on the shelf.

What I meant by that reference to never intending to be a writer was that I never consciously set out to become one, in the sense that I never said, “I would love to be a  writer when I grow up,” nor ever pursued it academically.  It just wasn’t on my radar when wondering what to do with myself.  I always thought writers were Ivy League academic types, an exclusive club that I would never be privy to, and my not being academically inclined meant it was just never a consideration.

I wrote this book out of necessity.  I wanted to own a book on Tom DiCillo and for that to happen I had to write it myself.  That is the essence of the “accidental writer” quote you are referring to.

Even though writing is now my life, there’s an element of accident, or perhaps fate, to my professional breakthroughs.  At some stage many years ago, I started writing my own movie reviews for nothing other than the fun of cataloging what I was watching.  At the suggestion of my friend I submitted this massive portfolio of amateur scribbling to the editor of a newspaper just for the sake of doing something with them.  I didn’t think anything would come of it, and looking back on those writings now, I’m surprised something did.  The editor replied to set up a meeting with me.  So, I went in and he pretty much hired me then and there as their film critic and columnist.  I couldn’t believe it!  I did that for two years, before the Arts pages were cut from the paper to allow for more advertising inches.  But it was the springboard for my professional writing career.

I’m currently a music journalist, again not something I intentionally set out to do.  I was asked by the editor of a highly-regarded magazine here in Ireland called Hot Press if I would be interested in joining them as a regular contributor.  This was after I had sold to them what I thought was a one-off freelance piece that I wrote about a musician friend of mine.  I’ve been an avid reader of that magazine for twenty years so it’s very exciting to now be part of it.  What an honor to be asked to join them.

I’m familiar with Hot Press as I’ve been to Ireland three times and read it while I was there. It’s an excellent magazine! I think that being a music journalist is possibly one of the coolest jobs in the world. Do you still have fun with it or is it simply work?

Oh I absolutely have fun. Of course there are occasions where you don’t necessarily like a band that you are reviewing, either live or their album, or you’re not familiar with an artist that you have to interview, but you have to be fair and diligent and go do your homework and have some context going in.  Often I end up very surprised that I like an album that I would normally have reservations about.  If I’m unfamiliar with a band who I’m reviewing I will often go and listen to their back catalogue.  But yes, I am fully aware of how cool a job it is.  Getting paid to go to a Morrissey concert or listen to the new Weezer album?  Hell yes!  But it is an important magazine and I treat it as such, with absolute professionalism.

Can you speak to your process as a writer? Where do you like to write? Do you listen to music when you’re writing?

My process has certainly changed over time, having become busier and juggling various writing jobs. When I began writing The Cinema of Tom DiCillo, I wasn’t under any contract, I had no publishing deal, and so I had no deadline.  While there was a certain level of uncertainty there in not knowing if all of this work was ever going to be published or not, it also gave me complete freedom of time and effort.  It allowed me to write the book I truly wanted to write.  It meant I could wait for people to become free to interview them.  If a very busy actor said they could talk to me in two months that was fine, I would wait, rather than having to move on without them.  Only when I was ready and happy with my book, and had satisfactorily covered everything I wanted to, did I say, “it’s finished!”  It took me nearly five years, from developing the idea, research, interviews, writing, editing, getting a publishing deal, proofreading the final text, arranging the illustrative materials, coordinating all the Interview Release Forms, and then seeing it published.

It sounds like a long time, but it is time-consuming, especially in wanting it to be of an extremely high quality and a definitive study of Tom’s work, and I was also learning to become a writer as I wrote.  I have no formal training and I’ve never taken a class on writing or literature; I learned as I was doing it.  I don’t know if that would work for everyone, but it worked for me.  And after it was finished, I submitted the manuscript to some publishing houses and there weren’t too many people I sent it to before I got the reply that I wanted.  I knew I wanted to sign with Columbia because they own Wallflower Press, an imprint that has released some of the absolute best books on films and directors.  It was the company I had always wished would release a book on Tom DiCillo. And now they have, but I wrote it, which is still surreal to me.

I tend to write exclusively, at home. If I don’t have my easy chair by the fireplace, then I don’t write. I don’t listen to music while working on the books, but when I’m writing about a specific film I will have it playing in the background, so I can jump in at any time to analyze a particular scene for any number of reasons: thematically, aesthetically, technically.

But when writing for the magazine I do listen to music, because I have to if I’m discussing a particular album or song, and so I will inevitably end up hearing something, some small musical flourish or nuance in a song that I didn’t hear upon first listen but I can now work it into the article or review.

One thing that you and I have in common is that we have both met Tom DiCillo and have had the pleasure of getting to know him. How did you initially meet Tom and how long did you know him before you decided to write a book about his films?

My first contact with Tom was just as a fan, contributing conversation to his blog posts. Soon enough I had cause to contact him in a professional capacity to request an interview for the release of When You’re Strange, as I was writing about it in my coverage of various film festivals.  The idea for the book came about a year into being acquainted with Tom personally, having written him several times and covered his work for various publications.  It was during this period that I mentioned to Tom that I had wanted to buy a book on his work for many years but all I could find were some career overviews in film encyclopedias and reference books; no books wholly devoted to him.  So, at some stage I put forward the idea that I wanted to write the first book on his career.

As Tom is my favorite director, I knew I was in this rare position of being able to talk to him and pick his brain.  Before I began the actual work I experienced some moments of insecurity, not knowing a single thing about how to write a book, and I started questioning how you go about doing that – do you have to go to college to be a writer? How do you become a published author?  I really didn’t know how the whole system of professional writing worked.  But when Tom gave me his blessing and support it encouraged me to just go for it, to write it and worry about becoming published later.

How difficult was it to gain access to the actors that you interviewed for the book?

Not difficult at all, thankfully, for 99% of them.  In almost all cases Tom introduced me personally to the actor and we talked and arranged everything between us.  Brad Pitt was a different story.  There was a team of “people” I had to maneuver through. I would get some positive responses such as “Brad is considering it but is very busy at the moment and will get back to you.”  This went on for a period of time and at this stage I was close to finishing the book.  I felt it was just about ready, so spending more time waiting on responses from people was starting to drag the whole endeavor out.  I asked once more, stating that I needed to know if Brad was in or out because I had to finish the book and they came back and said Brad had, after carefully considering it, decided he could not contribute at that time.  While it wasn’t the answer I would have liked, especially after the kernels of hope I had received, I appreciated that it was at least a firm answer.

Who would you say provided you with the most detailed insight into Tom’s process as a filmmaker, aside from Tom?

It’s hard to name any one person.  Everyone brought their own great insights into Tom, but Catherine Keener, Steve Buscemi, and Chris Noth gave me perhaps the most detailed account of what Tom is like as a person and as a filmmaker, because they have either worked with him a lot or have known him for a long time.  In the case of Chris Noth, he and Tom’s friendship goes back to their acting class and cater-waiting days in the early-eighties.  Chris gave me so much insight.  We spoke at length about their very long friendship, reminiscing about the old days of trying to make it in movies in New York in the 1980s, and their time working together on Law & Order.  Likewise, Steve Buscemi has known Tom since around that time as well and so there’s a great history there between them.

What was the most surprising thing that you learned about him?

It was fascinating to discover the intimate details of his life before the films and the fame: his background, his family life, his influences, his world view, and the relationships created early on with other artists.  It was those more personal moments that were revelatory, and very interesting and rewarding to me as a writer.  No detail was too minor or superfluous.  It all added up to help me create what I hope is a definitive work of this great artist.

I believe your book is the definitive work about Tom DiCillo.

I really appreciate that, Christine. I’m happy to have written something that would be considered Wayne Byrnedefinitive, but I also always look forward to any other film commentators or scholars writing about Tom, I would always be interested to hear of other people’s opinions on the films, maybe spotting something I didn’t see or analyzing something from a different perspective.  The great thing about any arts criticism is that it’s completely subjective.  Every person brings their own personal history and sensibilities to their experience of a work that makes it exclusively their own. What I see in Tom’s work could be completely different to what another writer sees, and I would always be interested to hear what other people see in his work.

I find it difficult to pick a favorite of Tom’s films, can you?

It depends on what day of the week it is.  I find it hard to pick one favorite, but I do know the ones I connect most immediately with for different reasons.  Johnny Suede will always be the most important film for me, so it is probably my personal favorite, as it was the film that opened my eyes to cinema.  It’s because of that film that we’re having this interview.  While Living In Oblivion is perhaps the definitive DiCillo film, being so perfect in every way, and being released at the time it was, it’s such a crucial piece of American Independent Cinema.  But, objectively speaking, I do think that Delirious is a frontrunner as his best work.

That said, I have programmed Tom’s films at many events (festivals, clubs, etc.) and the film that most people tell me is their favorite is Box of Moonlight.  Something about that film really clicks with audiences.  What Al Fountain (John Turturro) experiences in that film is probably something many people experience in their lives at some point, and Tom pulls it off with such cinematic skill, a deft surrealist aesthetic, and with great humor and pathos, those elements which are so distinctly DiCillo.

I agree with you about Delirious.

It’s a masterpiece. It has such a vital energy, such a range of emotion, and a stunning command of style. Tom was really firing on all cylinders on that one; the performances speak for themselves, and it has some of the best scenes of Tom’s entire catalogue.  For me it is easily the best American film of the last decade. Certainly it’s my favorite film to come out since Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.

For me, one of the things I enjoyed the most about your book was that you elaborated on the themes that run throughout Tom’s films. Can you reiterate those themes for my readers?

Yes, of course.  It is one of the main objectives of the book, to acknowledge and analyze the crucial and relevant themes that run throughout Tom’s films.  I have always been very unsatisfied with critical commentary of Tom’s work, because very few, if any, acknowledge the themes at the heart of the films.  Rather, they look to the immediate context of satire, trying to pick up on sly digs here and there at these venerated institutions, painting Tom as purely an iconoclast.  And that’s fine, but there is so much more to Tom’s films than that.  I think a lot of critics overlook the pathos of Tom’s work.

Look at the thread of familial discord that runs through from Johnny Suede right up to Down in Shadowland.  Even When You’re Strange, a film about The Doors, shares many of the same themes as other DiCillo films, such as the illusion of fame, the fragility of ego, identity crises, the severed connection of family and the toll that takes on someone.  It’s amazing that all of these ideas remain present in a documentary ostensibly about one of the biggest rock bands of the last fifty years. Because of Tom’s ability to weave these deeply personal themes throughout, the film becomes less an objective biography of a band, but, for those familiar with DiCillo and his work, a very intimate portrait of two artists: Jim Morrison and Tom DiCillo.

You’re so right!  That’s something I’ve never been able to put into words, but you’ve nailed it. When You’re Strange is how I first connected with Tom so it will always have a special place in my heart as a result, but I also happen to be a big Doors fan.

I was very familiar with The Doors but never a “fan”.  But, testament to the power of Tom’s film, I am now a fan.  I now deeply admire their mysterious style of music and their prodigious musicianship.  I love the whole social and political historical context that was going on around them, which makes them a fascinating band to write about. The chapter on When You’re Strange is one of my favorite chapters in the book.  I interviewed drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger for it, which is a pretty cool thing, to have those guys in there.

I love that you mention how wonderfully eclectic the soundtrack to Box of Moonlight (Wall of Voodoo, Peter Murphy, Nick Cave) is as it was a highlight for me.  One of the things that so attracted me to Tom’s personal music project, The Black and Blue Orkestre, was how his musical influences resonated throughout their first album. Tom’s taste in music really endeared me to him. Do you feel the same way?

Tom’s involvement in music is very important to me and to our friendship.  We have spent a lot of time working on music together.  I played guitar and piano on the Black and Blue Orkestre track In Your Dreams.  I’m very proud of it.  It was very exciting working with Tom on vocals and the actor Kevin Corrigan on bass – my job was made easier working with such skilled performers.  I love Tom’s voice and the sonic universe that he creates.  It just makes you want to grab the guitar and start recording, it’s so inspiring.

Tom’s use of music in his films is also wonderful, it is so crucial to the tone and atmosphere that he creates.  And the fact that he uses some of my favorite bands – such as those you just mentioned – just sweetens the deal.

I had no idea that you played guitar and piano on In Your Dreams!  That’s fantastic! I can’t wait for Tom to release the new songs that he’s recording with The Black and Blue Orkestre. Have you collaborated with him on any of them?

Thank you, I appreciate that. Yes, that song is pretty amazing.  I love how Tom mixed that song, it sounds terrific.  I have worked on a number of tunes, but I’m not sure what songs will end up on the next release, as this is Tom’s project and I just came in and did some guitar.  I like that session player aspect of working with the bones of a track, fleshing out the sound and my work is done.  Tom then does his production and engineering work on it and I just look forward to hearing the finished version just like any other fan.

Who are some of your favorite recording artists?

Music is a big part of me.  I love everything from 1930s dance bands, to 60s surf music, to 80s pop, to hardcore punk.  I’m inspired by every kind of music.  If you are over at my house for dinner or a beer, you could hear anything from The Circle Jerks to Slim Whitman to John Denver to Madonna.  I’ve started collecting vinyl, so I’m going back to albums I really love and relishing the great sound of records, so I’ve recently been listening to the first two albums from Bruce Hornsby and The Range (The Way It Is and Scenes from the Southside), Heartbeat City by The Cars, Lives in the Balance by Jackson Browne, Diesel and Dust by Midnight Oil, Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell.

I know I probably sound like some nostalgic dinosaur pining for my lost youth, when there is a whole world of new music out there, but I hear enough of the new stuff in my job writing for Hot Press (legendary Irish music magazine), so when I’m home and relaxing I tend to listen to the albums that continue to thrill and comfort.  I’m tragically unhip when it comes to music – I just like what I like.

My favorite albums would include:

Tango in the Night by Fleetwood Mac
Midnight to Midnight by The Psychedelic Furs
Déjà vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
Book of Love by Book of Love
Heaven on Earth by Belinda Carlisle
Candy Apple Grey by Husker Du
Heaven or Las Vegas by The Cocteau Twins
In My Tribe by 10,000 Maniacs
Famous Monsters by The Misfits
Straight to Goodbye by Pale Divine

Wow, that’s an eclectic collection of favorite albums, but I love it!  If it’s any consolation, I’m probably just as tragically unhip when it comes to music because I still love listening to 70s and 80s music the most but maybe that’s the same for everyone who came of age in a certain time period.  The music of our youth remains special to us forever.  Are you familiar with The Tragically Hip who are from my hometown of Kingston, Ontario? I couldn’t resist slipping that in here…

Yes absolutely, I am a great admirer of The Tragically Hip.  Road Apples is a great album, and I absolutely love Small Town Bringdown EP – which has, for me, some of their best songs – Small Town Bringdown, Last American Exit, I’m a Werewolf Baby…just sublime! The production is fantastic, very much of that late-80s era. Just sublime!  You must have been able to see them live during those times, which would have been great.

What has writing this book taught you about filmmaking and The Arts in general?

That I know almost nothing about filmmaking.  I am truly in awe of filmmakers. They’re part of my intense interest in the subject of cinema.  Yes, I detailed a lot of the production methods and behind the scenes activity of Tom’s films, but filmmaking is still a mystery to me, and I hope it always is a mystery.  I want whatever magic is conjured in creating the art to remain elusive.  I want to retain some of that awe that was instilled in me upon seeing Masters of the Universe in the movie theatre when I was four.

I do sometimes ask the question of myself, “Who am I to write about or teach film?”  I have never been on a film set.  I have never acted or directed.  All I can offer are my opinions and thoughts on the films, back it up with some words from those who were there and have actually made the films, and then try and edit it into some kind of legible or readable context.  That, really, is my job.  I’m just spreading the word about movies and artists I love.  I consider myself less a writer and more a proactive fan.

Of the Arts in general, writing this book has made me appreciate the dedication of every other writer who takes the time to write about a subject that fascinates them, no matter what discipline they work in, because their passion fuels the passion of others.  I hope my book fills the gap on the shelf that Tom DiCillo fans have been waiting to fill, and I hope it inspires others in the way that other film commentators have inspired me.

Who or what will your next book be about?

This has taken a lot of people by surprise, because it’s a completely different cinematic universe to that which I cover in The Cinema of Tom DiCillo, but my next book will be on Burt Reynolds.

Some people think that because you love art films and write about independent cinema that you wouldn’t have any time for the kind of stuff that Burt Reynolds is known for, but I always ask, “well, what do you know of Burt?” and the answer is inevitably Deliverance, Smokey and the Bandit, and The Cannonball Run.  They aren’t aware of or haven’t seen the eighty other films he has made, some of which are simply fantastic works of cinema. Reynolds has worked with some of the greatest directors, and to name just a few of the brilliant films he has starred in with these filmmakers: Hustle (by Robert Aldrich), Starting Over (by Alan J. Pakula), Breaking In (by Bill Forsyth), At Long Last Love (Peter Bogdanovich), Navajo Joe (by Sergio Corbucci), Semi-Tough (by Michael Ritchie), White Lightning (by Joseph Sargeant).

My writing process on this one is completely different to that of The Cinema of Tom DiCillo.  On that book I spent five years writing about eight films.  On the Burt Reynolds book, I have one year to write about eighty films and several entire TV shows, the major ones that Burt starred in, which means Riverboat, Gunsmoke, Hawk, Dan August, B.L. Stryker, and Evening Shade.  And I couldn’t be happier, but it means I am extremely busy. There’s a lot of people to interview, a lot of films to analyze and write about, and I still have my bill-paying day and night jobs (librarian and journalist) to keep me busy.  So when I’m not in work I’m still at work.

Will it be published by Columbia University Press?

No, this book isn’t the kind of thing that Columbia would go for.  Columbia is really focused on publishing works on contemporary, influential directors who are presently relevant throughout the entire spectrum of World Cinema, and whose work has immediate academic currency, all of which applies to Tom DiCillo.  Burt Reynolds, however, doesn’t necessarily fall into those categories because he hasn’t directed a film in nearly two decades, is mainly celebrated for his acting work rather than his directing, and some people might not see the “academic” value of my writing about Cop and a Half or Smokey and the Bandit II.

My Burt Reynolds book needed a publisher who understands and shares my perspective on Burt Reynolds; that he is one of the truly great American film stars and an enduring icon of US cinema. There is something absolutely compelling about him every moment he is on the screen, and he’s one of the few actors left who you can genuinely call a living legend.  As a book of film history and film criticism it will benefit from Reynolds’ prolific and expansive work which spans many important movements through American film history, going from the Golden Age studio system of the late 50s, through the New Hollywood of the 60s and 70s, to the blockbuster world of the 80s, and indie cinema of the 90s and up to today. For this book I’ve already been talking to some great directors, cinematographers, and actors – some truly fascinating people.

I signed with a distinguished publisher who have an amazing catalogue of film books to their name and who immediately understood what I wanted to do and shared my enthusiasm for the man.  They also saw the gap in the market for a book on Burt Reynolds’ actual films because while there have been books on him in the past, they were more concerned with his personal life.  I have no interest in his personal life, but I absolutely love his films.  He’s probably my favorite movie star, alongside John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Doris Day, Steve Buscemi, and Dennis Hopper.

I’ve definitely enjoyed some of Burt Reynolds’ work that I’ve seen but I’m sure that after I read your new book, I’ll want to revisit his work.  I’ll look forward to that!

Thanks Christine! Yeah, I hope it encourages people to check out his work which has gone under the radar or is simply forgotten.  It’s also a celebration of and tribute to this great figure of cinema and his vast body of work, as well as an opportunity to appreciate the art of the films.  Burt has recurrently worked with some of the finest cinematographers, such as William A. Fraker, Nick McLean Sr., Vilmos Zsigmond, to name just a few.  You don’t read much technical and aesthetic analysis of many of Burt’s films, and so that’s partly what I’m doing.

I think I could talk to you for days, Wayne, but I should probably end our conversation here. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me and for sharing your passions with my readers.

It was my pleasure, Christine.  I hope people enjoy the book and go out and watch Tom DiCillo films. That’s really what it’s all about.

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 the Transatlantic Musical Collaboration that is THE BLACK & BLUE ORKESTRE

“Heavy beats, deep bass, wild guitar, moody vocals–some might call it Sturm und Twang. The Black & Blue Orkestre’s vocals and instrumental music sips from the sticky cups of Spaghetti Western Surf and Cinematic Gothic Rockabilly Groove on acid. Their sound was once described by someone as “sweaty vampire Elvis”, which resulted in a punch in the face and the instantaneous collapse of a multi-million dollar recording contract.”

The Black & Blue Orkestre (B&BO) is a transatlantic collaboration between three musicians who at first don’t seem like probable band mates.  Lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Tom DiCillo (NYC) is also an award-winning independent filmmaker (Living In Oblivion, When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors) while lead guitarist Will Crewdson (London) has a busy career playing not only for his own project, Scant Regard, but also for the likes of Rachel Stamp, Johnette Napolitano, Adam Ant, Bryan Ferry, Bow Wow Wow and even Celine Dion and Tom Jones. Backup vocalist and bassist Grog is the lead singer of her own successful London/LA based neogoth/hard rock band Die So Fluid, and has been known to delve into the session world with the likes of Melanie C from the Spice Girls, Kelly and Ozzy Osbourne, Mike Smith (Gorillaz) and Dave Rowntree (Blur).

Mike Scott of The Waterboys once tweeted about The Black & Blue Orkestre’s music, calling it “Fab Morricone influenced music”.  Lyrically, their music possesses just the right combination of irreverence and irony, not to mention a seriously cool sound.  So what else makes this trio so special?  Come join me for my recent conversation with Tom, Will & Grog to find out.

CB:  Tom, how did you, Will and Grog connect and decide to form this transatlantic triumvirate?

Tom:  We all met in a strip club.  Will was on stage.  Grog was the bouncer. Actually, it goes back a few years.  I’d started a website chronicling all the sordid details of the release of my film, Delirious.  Well, Will wrote in with a very cool comment about how he liked my films and offered his help with the British release. He mentioned he was a musician and we started exchanging emails about the kinds of music and films we liked.

I’d been knocking together some songs for a while; very simple stuff.  I’d gotten my home recording system to the point where I could lay down a few tracks and I experimented with some singing.  I started with 16 Tons because it seemed like it was easy enough for me to handle it vocally.  I also liked the dark undercurrent of the lyrics. Something prompted me to send it to Will.

I’d never played music with anyone, nor had anyone listen to my music other than my wife, Jane.  I think I just sensed a real compatibility with Will and I really hoped he didn’t laugh at me.  Will, I’m curious what you thought when I sent you that first mix of 16 Tons?

Will:  Initially I was very impressed with the vocals.  I couldn’t compare them to anything and I found it hard to believe that they had only been heard by one other person.  I knew they had to be heard by more.  I always liked that song anyway so to have a crack at arranging a new version with a fresh take on it was really cool.

Tom:  I was blown away by Will’s musicality.  Suddenly, the song had a whole new dimension.  Will’s guitars were very rich and atmospheric.  They helped me clarify this vague idea I had about creating a sound that was very modern but that drew from the coolest parts of some older music; like the surreal twang of the surf guitar or some of the chunky, stomping beats and rhythms of Bo Diddley.

So, I emailed Will another song; the 2nd song I’d learned how to play on the guitar–St. James Infirmary.  And then I sent Whiskey Promise, the first song I’d completely written.  And in each case our shared sensibilities resulted in better songs.

Now, all this time one of the most crucial parts musically, the bass, was being poked at with one finger by me on my synth.  Will played a series of gigs with Grog and after a while he suggested we see if she’d be interested in adding her skill to the mix.  I was kind of dumbfounded when she said yes. But, from the first track we sent her everything and it just clicked.  There is nothing comparable to real musicians playing and what she does with the bass really brings the song into a kind of trio feel; voice, guitar and bass all working off each other.

CB: Where did the name of the band come from?

Tom:  It just hit me one day.  It implies something bruised, something that has felt the impact of something and is showing signs of the encounter. It’s not homogenized or smoothed over–the bruises show.  I realized it touched the tone and theme of some of our music.  The songs are about people who’ve been knocked down or who are really struggling with something.  I happened to see the word ‘orkestre’ spelled that way and I really liked the way it looked.  And, I like that implication too; that there’s something a little formal about us–but just skewed.

CB:  What does each of you bring to the B&BO?  How do you technically manage to put all the pieces together to record a song?

Will:  Well all the original ideas stem from Tom’s incredible imagination.  He is definitely the driving force.  I try and embellish what he has come up with, with guitar lines and production/mixing ideas.  It’s definitely unlike any other collaboration or band I’ve been involved with.  The bare bones of the song – lyrics, melody and chords are normally sent to myself and Grog with some expert direction from Tom and we do what we can to make it sound like we’re all in the same room.

CB:  Although Tom writes the lyrics for the B&BO’s original songs, Grog, what themes would you like to explore if you were to write material for the group?

Grog: 
Well, I do nearly all the lyric writing in my own band, so I guess I’d want to write about things that don’t necessarily fit with Die So Fluid’s vibe.  It’s pretty hard to put my finger on what that would entail but I might indulge in some ‘my man done me wrong’ stylings, more raw emotional improvisational stuff, which might piss off some of the post neo punk DSF fans but be most therapeutic for me.  That’s all hearsay anyway because this is Tom’s baby.  It’s refreshing being in a band where that’s not my role and I can really focus on the bass and embellishing the feel of the songs Tom comes up with.

CB:  Tom, were you simply a shower singer before you sang for Will or have you had a secret desire to perform as a singer for a long time?  

Tom:  
I’m not really a “shower person.”  I don’t like getting my hair wet.  No, I sing more when I’m walking down the street which might explain why all the songs are in a kind of straight, walking 4/4 time.

I’ve acted in front of people in plays and on film.  I’ve given speeches in front of thousands of people at film festivals.  But, I have never, ever sung live.  I’ve come to trust my voice more but at the beginning it was really hard having people listen to me.  I like singing a lot but I’ve never fantasized about making a career out of it.  I’ve had an interest in music for quite a while though.  I’m very involved in the music for my films and have written songs and music that appeared in them as early as Johnny Suede in 1990.  This more serious interest just kind of happened because of some long periods of waiting between films and I decided I should try singing instead of going insane.

CB:  Will, you wear many hats: musician, producer, programmer…what is it about the entire process that you enjoy the most?

Will:    First and foremost I prefer being a musician.  All the other stuff for me is only a means to get across the original song or idea.  I still prefer playing live to wearing any of those hats.  That’s the real test.

CB: You have a stunning voice, Grog.  Forgive me for making a comparison but your voice immediately reminded me of Exene Cervenka (formerly of X), not to mention you’re incredibly photogenic with a real flair for dramatic video performance.  Who are some of your musical and non-musical influences?

Grog:   
Thank you kindly, that comparison is a first, but a good one to add to the collection!  I enjoy all the aspects that go into presenting that magical ‘other’ world created by music.  I’m inspired by many diverse artists ranging from Billie Holiday to Iggy Pop, with Debussy, Tim Buckley, Soundgarden, Deftones and Shirley Bassey in between!  They just need to excite me, if not with their technique, with their spirit, vision and energy.  Non musically speaking, I’m attracted to strong, don’t give a damn, larger than life iconic female figures such as Bettie Page, Vivienne Westwood and Wonder Woman, creative and spiritual forces like Paulo Coelho and Alan Moore for example, and I’m a horror fan; film and books.  Rob Zombie is great. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate plenty of other styles.  I enjoy Tim Burton films and also love the Coen Brothers, David Lynch, the weird world of Guy Maddin and, oh yeah, that guy Tom DiCillo…

CB:  It’s obvious that Will’s Ennio Morricone-style guitar-scapes stand out in the B&BO’s music, but whose style would you say that you most borrow from as a musician?

Tom:   I’m not sure I would say “whose” style but more “what” style.  Obviously, something about the surf sound imprinted on my brain at a very early age because I could listen to an Am chord with the whammy bar for days.  There’s something very evocative about the sound.  It is strange and beautiful but it also carries the potential of emotion and drama.

I’m not into nostalgia in any way.  I just like interesting musical sounds; I don’t care where they come from.  You look at Morricone’s work on his Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns in the 60’s and the musical ideas he incorporates into those scores are more original and modern than anything I’ve heard today.

I like singers, both men and women who have an organic, original sound–where you feel something truthful when they sing–whether it’s early Elvis or even Eminem. There is great energy today in the way rhythm and beat are recorded and mixed that was more subdued in the early days of rock music. I like combining the punch and grit of modern sensibilities with some of the cool ideas that came before.

CB:  Will, how much has film influenced your music and if you could score a major motion picture production, what would the genre and plot be?

Will:   
A hell of a lot.  Because I’m really into instrumental music the visual side is very important even if it’s only in your mind’s eye while you listen to it.  When you write words and use them in a song there are, of course infinite possibilities for interpretation by the listener.  Those possibilities are always multiplied infinite times when you leave them out.

I would like to score an improvised Zombie/Sci-fi/Noir/Comedy/Thriller please.  The plot, like the music, could take you anywhere at any given point in the film.

Tom: I would very much like to see that film and to listen to that score.  Most film music today sounds like it was all written by the same person.

Will:
 It probably was!

CB:  Grog, if you were to conceive and direct a music video for the B&BO, which song would you choose and how would you tell its story with images?

Grog: 
I would choose our most recent track Ball and Chain because it’s my favourite so far and it has a ‘f*ck you’ thing about it I can relate to.  It would probably be each of us escaping three individually harrowing scenarios trying to reach a destination where we finally meet and rock out.  I’ll let you know when I’ve written the treatment.

Tom:  
That’s a pretty cool idea, Grog.  I can see it!  Also, I’d like to say that though I write the vocals and sketch out the body of the songs I don’t feel this is my gig.  I depend very heavily on both you and Will for your musical and thematic ideas.  I see the songs as really coming from all three of us.  I know this way of making music, you know–none of us in the same room–could seem a little strange but I like the way it allows us all the freedom to do what we want.

I hate it when somebody tells me what to do; especially if it is even remotely creative.  Grog writes all the bass parts. The same with Will.  All his guitars come from what he feels like playing.

CB:  How did you create your first music video for the instrumental track Frozen Sunset?

Tom:   I was excited when we finished that track.  I think we stumbled into some very rich territory in terms of sharpening and defining our sound.  I was also beginning to think about ways to get the music out there more.  And suddenly it struck me this would be a perfect track to do a music video for.  There is no singing so that complicated (and expensive) element of syncing to the words wasn’t even an issue.  Of course, we didn’t have any money to spend and that was an issue.  So, the first thing I thought was, “Well, since we’re all in different parts of the world, maybe we could just film ourselves alone, as if we each were just sitting in our homes privately playing the music.  Will and Grog liked the idea so I suggested we each shoot ourselves with our iPhones.  They sent me the footage and I started trying to cut something together with other stuff that was free–which was some footage I’d shot over the years in NYC.

The little drop of glue that pulled it all together for me was dribbling some food coloring into a glass on my windowsill.  It cost $1.39 for the food coloring.  But, it added something–it was almost like a visual version of the Am chord on the whammy bar.

CB:  Will, what is Scant Regard Radio?

Will:   
It’s an online show I do once a month where I subject…er, enlighten my listeners with my own personal choices.  I mix up a lot of different styles and sometimes it even works!  You can tune in the first Wednesday of every month at www.wickedspinsradio.org from 8-11pm GMT.

CB:  Although you’re from the UK, Grog, you’re based in LA and tour extensively throughout Europe with Die So Fluid.  How does the music scene in LA differ from London’s and why did you decide to move there when it appears (from your website – http://www.diesofluid.net) that Germany & Finland love your band so much?

Grog:   I moved here about three years ago from London mainly to be with my now husband in LA.  We met on the road in the UK and started to visit each other until we reached the point when we needed to be in the same city!  Die So Fluid has done one extensive and very successful US tour with Mindless Self Indulgence and we have been discussing more work here, but of course Mr. Drew and Al can’t just jump on a bus for a couple of shows six thousand miles away.  It has to be financially sound and a well planned tour route; bands are fighting tooth and nail for those opportunities right now.  We love touring and I travel to Europe to play a lot. We’ve always said we’ll play where ever we find our audience around the world and that’s what we’ve embarked upon doing.  If you plan on being an international outfit then you just have to get used to the travel.  The internet definitely enables you to achieve a lot more as a band without being ‘together’, as The Black and Blue Orkestre proves!

CB:  When can we expect a CD from the B&BO?

Tom:  
Well, soon I hope.  We’d like to get at least 8 tracks.  Originally, I thought we’d use one or two of the covers we’ve done but since we’ve altered them slightly from the originals it makes getting licenses for them very difficult.  I still think our version of Ring Of Fire takes the song to a whole new level but we can’t use it.  So, I decided to come up with some more of our own songs.  That push resulted in Fade To Black, Frozen Sunset and Frozen Heartache. And Ball & Chain which is still in progress. That might be enough.

CB:  Do you have a title for the CD?

Will:    Not yet, no.

CB:  Do you see yourselves performing live and/or touring with the B&BO in the foreseeable future?

Grog:  I think it would be really fun; I’d be up for it.  I think Will would too.  But then we’ve been travelling minstrel poseurs for some years now, haha.  Tom goes pale and shudders at the mention of it.

Tom:  I shudder but I don’t go pale.

Grog:  Well that’s how I imagine it to look because I never see you!  Maybe some stiff whiskeys would be involved in making it actually happen.  If he received enough red roses and fan mail begging him to perform I can kind of visualize him adopting a rock n roll swagger and rising to the challenge.

Thank you for the pleasure of this interview Tom DiCillo, Will Crewdson and Grog Rox and for talking to Press +1 magazine.

Currently, you can listen to The Black & Blue Orkestre’s tracks exclusively on their BandPage on Facebook at www.facebook.com/theblackandblueorkestre.

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


DVD Review
Title: When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors
Director: Tom DiCillo
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
Starring: Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek & John Densmore; narrated by Johnny Depp
Run Time: 90 min.
Release Date: June 29, 2010
Stars: 4.0

As the imperturbable narrator Johnny Depp has already said, “As a rock n’ roll documentary, or any kind of documentary for that matter, it simply doesn’t get any better than this.”

The mesmerizing When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors, written and directed by Tom DiCillo, opened in North America on April 9th of this year and I attended the premiere that evening in Kingston. The theatre screening was two-thirds full with an audience of mixed demographics and everyone sat still with rapt attention and watched for the most part in sober silence for 90 minutes. There were a few laughs along the way, usually at Jim’s expense. The DVD viewing experience allows you to truly indulge in your emotional response to it, out loud. For Doors fans, it is the ultimate film treasure.

The opening sequence of When You’re Strange is riveting, with Jim Morrison climbing out of a crashed car on a desert highway in never-before-seen footage from his and Paul Ferrara’s 50-minute 1969 film HWY, that is so clear and vibrant that it could have been shot yesterday. As Jim drives along a California highway in a slick, blue Shelby GT500 we hear reports of his death on the car radio and so begins a factual and retrospective look back at one of the most unique and influential rock bands ever to grace this planet. With Johnny Depp at the helm, we’re taken for a sail back through time to an era when counterculture was born and a gorgeous, young, Elvis-obsessed, and very well read James Douglas Morrison was quoting William Blake. “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite”.

Jim also knowingly said, “The music can’t help but reflect things that are happening around it.” That is still true of music today although no other band has so clearly defined an era in history as perfectly as The Doors depicted the end of the 1960s and the end of the Kennedys’ Camelot vision for America. Tom DiCillo has captured this fact perfectly in his commanding film about Robby Krieger, John Densmore, Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison and he made sure to emphasize the importance of each band member’s contribution. Presented primarily in chronological order from archival footage supplied by Wolf Films and producer Peter Jankowski, When You’re Strange is not only a bittersweet love letter to the band, but a Dear John letter to the era that spawned them.

“The fact is the music is strange. It is music for the different, for the uninvited. It carries the listener into the shadowy realm of dream.”

The film’s editing is superb and perfectly paced with Depp’s narration while the sequence with “Riders On The Storm” playing during graphic footage of the Vietnam War is particularly powerful. When You’re Strange covers all the well known seminal moments in the career of The Doors as well as some private ones among the band members which offer a more well-rounded depiction of their relationship. It reveals the fact that even before the infamous Miami concert the cops were really hard on Morrison and denied him his constitutional right to freedom of speech. It was DiCillo’s position to simply allow their story to unfold as it happened within the contexts of the footage he had to work with and the major news events of the time period (1965-1971) and he let the material speak for itself.

You will thoroughly enjoy the footage that you haven’t seen before while being reminded of the band’s relevance in the history of rock’n’roll. When You’re Strange can’t help but stir up emotions for anyone who lived through the time period it represents but it also gives new fans the big picture as to why The Doors music is timeless and why it continues to live on long past the lives of the men who dared to challenge the boundaries of rock music with intelligent, poetic lyrics and jazz, flamenco, classical and blues infused rock’n’roll. No one had done it before and no one has made music like it since.

The one DVD bonus feature is an interview with Jim’s father Admiral George S. Morrison (who admitted that he was a very poor interpreter of Jim’s talent and didn’t know him very well after he left home) and his sister Anne Robin Morrison-Chewning who share their fond memories of Jim.

When You’re Strange was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, aired on PBS’ American Masters program on May 26, 2010 and has gone on to earn an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Achievement in a Non-Fiction Series. It continues to do well in Europe and will undoubtedly make Top 10 Best Rock Documentary lists all over the world.

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.