Notes From Winter
The flight to Sundance is over-sold. The plane is jammed with ski-bums and half the NY independent film scene. Bad news; I got stuck with a middle seat. Good news, I got an exit row so at least I can stretch my legs and sleep.
Just discovered exit row seats don't recline. But the window seat beside me is vacant so at least I'll get some elbow room. There is a delay as the crew waits for the last passenger to board. I notice he is so fat his paunch simultaneously knocks the heads of people on both sides of the aisle. He takes my window seat.
As he struggles with his seatbelt he apologizes profusely for forcing me and the woman next to me out into the aisle. He asks the stewardess for a seatbelt extension. I close my eyes, thinking, "4 1/2 hours...4 1/2 hours." And the plane hasn't even pushed back yet.
Just then the stewardess returns. She says she can't give him a seatbelt extension because he's in an exit row. Since he is required by law to buckle his seatbelt he has to move. He switches seats with a very skinny guy and I take my first real breath in 10 minutes. My new seatmate is a music critic for the NY Times. But he signals he's deaf and won't be talking for the entire flight.
Park City, Utah.
The town is clogged with agents, managers, publicists, actors, directors, journalists and tourists with cameras; all stepping with tense caution over the iron-colored ice while searching for celebrity in every passing face. I do the morning press with Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger; I'll be with John Densmore in the afternoon. The first interview goes well. Ray is hyper but eloquent. Robby is quiet, slipping in brief comments that send out ripples of meaning. Both are highly complimentary about the film. It suddenly penetrates my jetlag that I'm actually sitting with 2 members of The Doors talking about a film I made about their lives.
At the next interview I notice a small keyboard set up across the room. I nudge Ray with a wink. "Why don't you play something?" "Yeah," he laughs, "you know how many times I've heard that in my life?"
I leave the room for a moment. Someone starts playing the piano intro to "Riders On the Storm." I turn and see it's Ray. Robby is standing beside him strapping on an electric guitar. He checks his volume, then slips into the music. Around the room people's jaws are dropping. As the song builds Ray's eyes close, his head goes back. Robby studies his fretboard, a faint smile touching his lips. At that moment they both look 20 years old.
In the middle of an interview with Densmore. He's sharp and gracious. He's also the only thing keeping me awake. About 25 other interviews are taking place in the room around us. The jabber is deafening. John gives Oliver Stone some professional respect but then, when asked about Jim his voice takes on a deep, quiet reverence and I see Morrison suddenly come alive in his eyes.
The camera crew leaves. Another one quickly sets up. A short, thick-set blonde from Australia announces she hasn't seen any of my films; including When You're Strange. I express puzzlement as to what we'll be talking about. "OK," she sniffs, "tell me about your films then."
John drifts away. A wave of drowsiness almost crushes me to the floor. "I do mainly porno," I hear myself say. "I specialize in threesomes, usually girl-on-girl but sometimes girl-on-hamster-on-girl."
The blonde stares at me. I stare back.
Three Kings Road
A dinner is going on for the film. I am not there. I am standing on the road in front of my housing unit waiting for the bus. It is a free bus. It comes every half hour.
It's 5 degrees. The street is dark and absolutely still. The cold has already made it through all three of my coats. Above me the obsidian sky is glittering with millions of stars. I take a breath. The whole night sky rushes into my throat, the stars tickling into my lungs like tiny fragments of ice.
Footsteps down the road. Three kids emerge from the darkness; a girl and two guys. They're about 17. Only the girl is wearing a hat. The guys wear jean jackets, unbuttoned, and no gloves. They want to know if this is the free bus going into Park City. I tell them it is and ask if they're going in to the festival. They say no. They're from a town 20 miles away. They drove their snowmobiles over the mountain, parked them down the road, and are heading into Park City to hit a few bars. They take note of the street sign so they can find their way back.
No bus comes. We keep talking in the bitter cold. They're all Obama supporters. I find this surprising in such a conservative state. One of the kids, a little taller and somewhat aloof says simply, "No brainer, dude."
His regal attitude is explained a moment later. "He's stiff," his friend says, "because he just crashed a snowmobile into a tree a week ago. He shouldn't be riding tonight."
"Why?" I ask.
"He broke his back," the friend answers. The tall kid lifts his jacket and reveals a tensed metal brace encircling his entire lower torso. I ask how it happened.
"Too many beers," he replies with a soft chuckle.
A long moment of silence. The girl puts her arm around the guy with no broken back. Far down the road, the bus slowly appears; the lights of its interior making it look like some enormous phosphorescent sea creature floating through the darkness.
Finally made it to the dinner. Japanese restaurant. Note: sake and high altitude induce a rush only slightly less intense than Super-Ultramega Blue Krystal Meth. I realize this only as I leave the restaurant and try to cross the street. It takes me a while but I make it.
Sting had been at the premiere. Word came back that he'd really liked the film and wanted to meet me. He invited me to a party which is why I've crossed the street. At the door a sour-looking publicist checks her list then tells me to step aside. I do. While I wait she lets three people behind me in. It takes me a moment to realize she will not, as I had imagined, be looking at another, more detailed list with my name on it. Just then one of her assistants mutters, "Move over," and pushes me.
I'm already pressed back against the railing with nowhere to go. I look down at her hand still clenching my forearm and a rush of blood fills my head. "Get your hand off me," I say, shaking her hand off. In a speed that amazes me a security guy appears. "Alright, man. You need to leave; immediately."
Although I've been studying boxing for 3 years I've never actually hit anybody. Something in this jerk's tone makes me realize this could be the night. I'm thinking, "Go with a jab to the nose because it's going to be really hard to get anything into a right with all these coats on." I'm just about to let one go when someone hugs me from behind. It is Sting. He's laughing and shaking my hand and telling me how great it is to meet me and thanks for coming and how much he loved When You're Strange. As he leads me inside, the publicist, her assistants and the security guard all find a way to magically disappear while not moving.
I stay 15 minutes. Sting is warm and generous in his affection for the film but I'm still jittery. I can't help thinking that if he'd come 5 seconds later I would have met him flying headfirst down the stairs.
The free bus has stopped running. I start walking. I keep wondering if those three kids ever found their way back to their snowmobiles parked somewhere up the road in the darkness.
1. 20. 09.
3 Kings Road.
I call my wife back in NYC. She listens to my litany of complaints and disappointments for a few minutes before interrupting me. "Tom, do you even know what's going on right now?"
"What do you mean?" I return, not a little defensively.
"Turn on the TV. "
She hangs up. I turn on the TV. On every channel Barak Obama is giving his inaugural speech.
Something odd is happening. No one believes the footage of Jim Morrison is real. 10 minutes into the 1st screening a distributor walks out cursing, furious that we'd used a "re-enactment." I find him later and explain nothing was re-enacted. It really is Jim, from his own film called HWY. This makes the guy even angrier, as if I'd played another trick on him.
But the disbelief persists. At the next screening I introduce the film and state very clearly that all footage in the film is real. I explain that it is from Morrison's film HWY in which he plays a bearded loner hitch-hiking through the desert. I ask the audience to repeat after me, "There are no actors or re-enactments in this film." Laughing, they do.
After the screening I answer a few questions. I make the point again; "Everything in the film is authentic. Nothing is re-enacted. Do you see?"
"Yes!!" the audience returns. A woman raises her hand. "I understand there are no re-enactments," she says. "But in the desert scenes why did you use an actor to play Jim Morrison?"
The "actor" Jim Morrison playing Jim Morrison in When You're Strange.
Some hotel ballroom.
I go to a party thrown by a large Hollywood talent agency. Someone had an in. It wasn't me. Nonetheless it still takes 20 minutes to get in the door. It is dark, deafening and jammed with thousands of eager, absolute strangers. 10 minutes later I turn to leave. Behind me a cluster of 9 young agents perch on a U-shaped couch. Though facing each other none of them make eye contact. In the darkness they all lean over their blackberries, the tiny screens casting an identical pale blue light on each of their rapt, oblivious faces.
1. 22. 09.
Festival shuttle van.
I leave the mountain for a screening of When You're Strange down in Salt Lake City. The festival has provided a young driver, a volunteer. The moment we begin our descent a startling sense of relief passes through me. On the interstate I see a religious license plate with the initials: WWJD? For a moment I think it stands for What Would Jim Do?
The theater is sold out. The vibe is completely different from the festival crowd. The first words out of my mouth bring an unexpected burst of applause; "I can't tell you how good it feels to be down off that mountain."
The film plays well. I take questions for almost an hour afterwards. Someone asks me what I learned from making the film. After thinking for a moment I respond, "The Doors, especially Morrison believed in complete artistic freedom. I learned that if you believe in something the only thing you can do is fight for it, as hard as you can."
On the 50 minute ride back up the mountain the driver begins recalling his favorite Simpsons episodes--in minute detail. He finally stops after number 32. My eyes close in the welcome silence. Then he starts all over again with King of the Hill.
My last screening of the film. The theatre is in an active Jewish synagogue lent to Sundance for the festival. I wait in the lobby, hearing the last 5 minutes of the film through the closed doors. I am alone. Everyone else from the film has already left town.
When the screening ends I take questions from the audience. Afterwards a middle-aged couple corners me by the door, describing a documentary their nephew made 12 years ago about blind tattoo artists in West Virginia. A young woman waits quietly a few feet away.
"I really liked your film," she says when the couple walks off. She looks down then glances up with a pained smile. "My father was a big Doors fan. He really loved them." A slight tremor goes through her. "I'm sorry. I have no right to lay this on you."
"Lay what?" I ask, half wary and half concerned by her increasing emotion.
Again she looks down. When she looks up this time I see her eyes are welling with tears. "He died last week."
I take her hand. She squeezes back hard, the tears coming stronger. "I'm sorry," she says again then gently withdraws her hand. Ducking her head she slips swiftly through the crowd.
After a few moments I step outside, still staggered by her sorrow. Snow is piled in crusty, 5 foot drifts but the sun is warm and soothing on my face. I walk to the edge of the parking lot and squint against the sun. Two parking attendants sit right on the snow, smoking and talking quietly. Something in the slush at my feet catches my eye. It's the poster for When You're Strange. I pick it up. Knowing the absolute futility of my actions--there will be no more screenings at Sundance--I re-attach the poster to the metal pole it had fallen from.
Leaving for Berlin in an hour. I've done this enough times to know the drill: the "night's sleep" of about 2 hours on the plane is merely a weak attempt to disguise the fact that you are landing at 3 in the morning. I'm on a long walk between terminals, each step bringing me closer to the pending blur of sleep deprivation. The disorientation has already begun. Someone has stopped in the middle of the corridor and is staring at me; one face asking for recognition out of thousands of strangers.
It's Geoff Gilmore, the head of the Sundance Film Festival. I'd seen him only 3 weeks earlier when he introduced me at the premiere of When You're Strange. But seeing him here in an airport hallway throws me. He's flying to Dublin for a few days before starting his new job. After 25 years he is leaving Sundance to take over as head of the Tribeca Film Festival. The news is significant. All of my films have gone to Sundance, all with the support of Gilmore.
We embrace in the middle of the corridor then he steps onto a moving walkway and disappears.
Delta Gate 47C.
Someone taps my shoulder as I wait to board. Note to self: why is my first thought always that I'm going to be arrested? I turn and see Steve Buscemi. He's with his wife Jo, and their son Lucian. Steve's got 3 films in Berlin and we're all on the same flight. Filmmaking is a constant rhythm of people coming together and pulling apart yet somehow with Steve each separation and reunion finds us exactly where we left off. Every time I see him it feels like we just walked off the set of Living Oblivion; as if only a week has passed. Of course, more than a week has passed; Lucian hadn't even been born yet. Now he's 16.
Delta Flight 1609.
Somewhere over the Atlantic.
Knock back some wine during dinner hoping to knock myself out for sleep. Thinking about Berlin. It's one of the big 3 European festivals, along with Cannes and Venice. Just Densmore is going; Ray and Robby are touring. Several of the producers will be there. They'll make the announcement that Johnny Depp is doing the narration. He heard about the film out of Sundance. He'd been my original choice many months ago but now his interest and his schedule are finally in sync.
The search for a narrator has been tough. At one point an offer was made to Jack Nicholson; a great actor but my sense is that a younger voice is needed; someone to help bridge the 40 year time gap. We tried several musicians but the narration is tricky. It can't just be read. We need to feel that whoever is speaking has an emotional investment in the words and believes what he is saying.
Which is why I'm glad Depp is doing it. Mainly I will be happy to get my voice the fuck out of there.
I finish dinner and go to sleep. Two hours later I wake and eat breakfast with a pale blue dawn breaking outside the tiny window egg.
Drag myself into the shower after sleeping a couple of hours. The jetlag crush is definitely kicking in. More than once I discover myself standing and staring at the wall. The day outside is cold and colorless, so familiar from the other times I've been here that it is almost comforting. My first trip was in 1979 with Jim Jarmusch and his first feature, Permanent Vacation, which I shot. I stayed with a German friend, Christoph, in his loft in Kreuzberg. Christoph played bass in an art-punk band. He was constantly rolling cigarettes, into which he crumbled soft, dense chunks of Moroccan hash.
Not surprisingly we were stoned most of the time. He showed me the Berlin Wall. He told me I could ride the subway without paying as no one would ever ask for my ticket. 5 minutes into my first free ride I was arrested by two German transit cops and would have gone to jail if I hadn't immediately paid the $40 fine. Christoph thought this was pretty funny.
He gave me a big nugget of hash as a going-away present. Still buzzed, I tossed it into my suitcase and locked it. It wasn't until 9 hours later when I was moving forward in the US Customs line at JFK that I realized this might not have been too smart. Ahead of me the cops were opening every suitcase. I broke out in a sharp, prickly sweat thinking of that thick block of hash just sitting there on top of my socks and underwear. It did not help that I could actually hear Christoph laughing. I was so paralyzed with fear that I could barely mumble 'thanks' when for some reason the cops just waved me through.
Berlin Cinemaxx 8.
The first screening is a good one. A sold-out house of around 400. A sharp contrast to the Sundance premiere where the theater was smaller and more remote, lost in the night snowdrifts like some all night 7-11 in Siberia. Here the screen is huge and the film lives up to it. It's a bigger than life story and needs to be presented that way. Afterwards the team files down for questions. Densmore gets a huge round of applause. One of the producers breaks the news about Johnny Depp. It is now official. As the audience applauds I see a thick trickle of blood flash on the producer's neck. He'd lost the handle to his razor that morning and had shaved by holding the cartridge in his fingers.
Berlin Grand Hyatt Hotel.
Another full day of press. It's all very relaxed and informal. The whole group sits around a table and the journalists come in one by one. The questions are directly mainly to me and Densmore but anyone who feels like answering weighs in. I don't mind. I'm hovering in a jetlag-no sleep fog that is not entirely unpleasant. My standard routine is reliable and working: double espressos every two hours until 8 pm and then an immediate shift to alcohol right up to bedtime.
Had a late dinner last night at my friend Dimitri's, a filmmaker from once-Soviet Georgia now living in Berlin with his wife and 2 sons. When I left at 2 am I was not only plastered but utterly bewildered about how to get back to my hotel. Dimitri sent his oldest son Davidov to guide me on the several subways I needed to take. Davidov obliged cheerfully although the round trip would take him over 2 hours.
As we made our way through the crowded stations, getting on and off trains, I walked behind, focusing intently on Davidov's Spiderman backpack. In the cars, on the platforms, in the corridors almost everyone was drunk. Clots of people, mostly young men, staggering, laughing, yelling, shoving each other into walls while openly gulping from bottles.
"Drinking in public is legal in Germany," explained Davidov as we boarded another train. In the corner a group of young men and women bleated out an apparently endless drinking song. "Is better to keep it in the open, I think," Davidov said with the infinite wisdom of a 13 year old.
Berlin PlexxiCine 4.
My last screening in Berlin. Once again, the entourage has left before me. My flight out is at noon tomorrow. Another sold-out screening. My friend Christoph comes, with his ex-girlfriend, his new girlfriend and the new girlfriend's girlfriend. The film plays very well. Alone on stage, aided by several scotches at dinner with Christoph, I loosen up with the audience. I've discovered it is best not to wait for the first questions but to start by asking questions of my own. People answer and quickly become used to the sound of their own voices.
An older guy (an American) in the very front row says, "I don't have a question. I just want to say this is one of the best fuckin rock docs I've ever seen!!" I take the mic from him and look out at the audience. "Ladies and gentlemen, I deeply apologize for my father's language. If I'd known he was going to be here I would never have come."
The questions are clear and genuinely inquisitive. I enjoy the give and take until a young woman asks, "I know Morrison had a death wish and I would like to ask what you think about that."
I had just finished explaining what I set out to do in the film; to drag off the dusty cloak of myth, superstition and legend about Morrison and show him as he really was--as a real human being. I take a breath and respond.
"I tried to avoid making assumptions or generalizations about Jim's behavior. Mainly because there is very little documentation to back it up. Jim's own sister says there was no real problem with him and his father. Everyone else says the two were locked in a primal power struggle. Sure, Morrison did some wild, disturbing things. But are you absolutely certain they weren't part of the role he had created for himself? I don't happen to believe he had a death wish. But, the only one who truly knows the answer to that question is Morrison and he's not here. Look at him in this film; he's laughing, playing, goofing around with the band."
"I think he had a life wish," I continue. "Certainly he was very troubled and there is no question he was a severe alcoholic. But, my sense is that he lost his way and fell off the edge."
I see the woman's face harden. She doesn't like my answer. Neither does a man across the aisle. "You can say what you like but it is obvious to me and many, many others Jim did have a death wish." The man wears a gray goatee, wire-rimmed glasses and his voice is tense with disdain.
"Are you a psychiatrist?" I ask carefully, both alarmed and curious.
"No," he answers after a short pause. "I'm an animal yoga instructor."
A bar somewhere.
Christoph and I go out for a drink with all the girlfriends. I look at my watch and realize I have to get up in 2 hours. I have another scotch. Ellen, the ex, is very upset because strangers stop her on the street to tell her she looks just like Karl Lagerfeld. She's wearing a 3-piece men's suit with a tie, large sunglasses and her frosted blond hair is pulled back in a tight ponytail.
We drop the new girlfriend and her girlfriend off at another party then Ellen and Christoph drive me back to the Hotel Movenpick. The front door is locked. Ellen has to get out and read the instructions for punching in an entry code which she does effortlessly even with her Lagerfeld sunglasses on.
I sleep for an hour and am jolted awake by the wake-up call at 7am. My festival liason gives me a box of chocolate-covered pretzels as a going-away present. As soon as she's out of the car I give it to the driver.
Berlin Tegel Airport.
I sit in a heavy stupor as the minutes drag past. Everytime I look at my watch the strain on my eyeballs makes me almost pass out.
But the trip has been successful. Offers for theatrical distribution are in from Spain, England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Greece, Poland and Japan. Other offers are coming. More importantly, my faith in the film has been stengthened; and re-validated.
Someone taps me on the shoulder. My first thought is a question: do I have any hash on me? It's Buscemi, with Jo and Lucian. They're on their way back to NYC. I never ran into them once at the festival. Lucian says he too has been up all night, googling the history of Berlin. He gives me a cd from one of the three alt-rock bands he plays in, called Fiasco.
Delta Flight 1607 to JFK.
I sit for so long staring at the seatback in front of me that the male steward eyes me several times in concern. I'm so exhausted I can't move. Finally the steward stops. He leans closer with an almost doctorly frown and asks, "Are you going to be alright?"
Not, "Are you alright?" but "Are you going to be alright?"
That's when I realize I really need to get my shit together. "Oh, yeah. I'm good," I reply with what I'm hoping is the smile of a person who's really got their shit together. I slip Lucian's cd into my laptop. It's the only music I have. The neo-surf-on-acid snarl of Fiasco crawls snakelike into my brain. After 5 songs I finally fall asleep.
I’m glad you liked Box of Moonlight. One thing I was trying to do with the film was show the pleasures and joys that can come from some very simple things in life.
But, there are some darker elements in the film as well that you should not over-look. The way Al (Turturro) treats his son. The way the local men abuse the Kid (Sam Rockwell). It is not totally a fairy tale. There are moments of real discomfort in it.
Thanks very much for writing.
I talked about you again tonight. To an American actor who is performing with me in that commedia we are putting up called “The power of magic”. He didn’t know you. So, I told him. I thought it was a bit weird that he didn’t know you. Then, I tought may be I should stop saying to everybody how great Tom Dicillo is! So I can remain one of the priviledged people. No, I’m kidding. I will continue to recommend you to every nice person I meet. Who would be honored as I would be to see your movies. And may be to meet you one day. Peut-etre. Un jour.
Well, I think he’s a wonderful actor. He would have loved it if he’d had the chance to see it. These two films are the best comedies of all times, with a couple of others…prf, prf, prf!!
Something I forgot from the vanishing message.
I like every minute of Living in Oblivion.
I love the way it is written. The first surprise of the first dream.
The second surprise of the second. And the third surprise of the not-a-dream-this-time-whereas-you-thought-it-would-be-one. It’s perfect!
There are other things I would like to say. I guess it’s a bit too personal to be written on a blog.
Oh, it’s so nice to have a reply from you!
I still remember me in that cinema watching Living in Oblivion when it was just released in Paris. So that would be in 1994 or 1995. I went on my own. I remember laughing so much – and my laugh is loud and sounds a bit like a witch’s laugh- that some people sitting next to me were a little bit annoyed. But I remember a lot of people laughed a lot. Which is great! It’s sharing something.(I felt so good after the screening. The best drug. I was smiling like an idiot. Same as when I’m in love.) I remember once going to the cinema to see ” Serie noire” by Alain Corneau. The script is adapted from a book written by Jim Thompson. I was the only one who laughed all along during that screening. Even the friend I had gone with hadn’t laughed. Anyway. I recommend that film. As well as “Coup de torchon” by Bertrand Tavernier ( also adapted from a book by Jim Thompson}.
How many times have I watched Living in Oblivion? I couldn’t tell.
Many, many. Ever since I saw it in that cinema in the latin quarter, I have recommended it. It is in my top list of favorite films. I used to teach English in Paris for adults and very often I would show Living in Oblivion in class. And, they generally really loved it. I think I like every minute of this film. I guess so.
As I was thinking of how funny it was seeking Tom Dicillo desperately, it reminded me of that French T.V programme on Cinema called Cinema, cinemas. It no longer exists. It was ace. The best. One day, they decided to find Sue Lyon, the actress who played Lolita in Stanley Kubrick’s film. They put an add in a American newspaper. She replied. They interviewed her. It is very special to me. Here is the link where you can watch the interview (it’s in English with French subtitles).
It is very nice to read your comments and reactions. I’m not at home at the moment so it is hard to get on a computer to respond.
First, I’m glad you like Living In Oblivion so much. That line you refer to comes after Wolf, the cameraman, says to Nick, the director,
“It’s your choice, Nick. His acting or his face.”
They’re discussing how to adapt to the change actor Chad Palomino has suggested to the blocking.
I’ve always loved Nick’s response. Though, I must confess at most screenings I’ve sat through the line goes by without much reaction. Sometimes a sharp laugh comes from someone a few seconds later, as if it takes a little while to get it.
Your interests in film and books is very diverse. I will try to see and read some of them.
I will write more when I get on another computer.
It’s funny this seeking Tom Dicillo while in Philadelphia. I go and see the blog everyday. It has become a little rituel. I quite like it. There are a lot of very interesting records too where I’m staying. Quite amazing. One morning, there was a record of Josh White. A very particular emotion. So I played it the next morning. Then I found other treasures: Robert Blake; Donovan’s; the Mills brothers; Joseph Spence; Peter, Paul and Mary. So great!
Thinking of film directors I like, there are also Orson Wells, Stephen Frears, Ken Loach, Charlie Chaplin, Tex Avery, Kurosawa, Shoei Immamura,Fritz Lang, Murnau…When I’m in Paris, I’ll be able to continue the list…!!
It’s weird to do that. I know. But I’m doing it.
Here are two books I would like to recommend. Two books that I really love.
“Le bonheur des tristes ” by Luc Dietrich and ” La chouette aveugle” by Sadeq Hedayat. Let’s make it three. ” L’arrache coeur” by Boris Vian.
And do I like Maupassant? He’s one of my favourite writers! I love his stories. I also like Dino Buzzatti short stories.
In French, I would say : ” Un homme de gout!” That means: a man who has really good taste. That’s you! Youhou!
I’m going to the rehearsals now. Of the commedia dell’arte we are creating from improvisations for the Fringe Festival. I’ll walk down Broad Street.
Write to you soon.
I have always admired you from the far…or close? That sounds very professional… What if…what if…what if we met some day somewhere…this is crazy, I know. I have searched on the internet a way to contact you for the past few days as I’m in Philadelphia performing a commedia for the Fringe Festival, staying in this amazing place full of artists and animals- a dog, a parrot and an iguana and I’ve just found this link hoping that you’ll read it. I think I found some link last night but I’m not quite sure as I’m hopeless at computers…Anyway. I hope you didn’t get it in the end because it was quite clumsy, I thought afterwards. I read your blog. No surprise. I really knew we spoke the same language, you are a brother of mine and I could be your sister, O.k, half sister, cousin. Same. My family. It’s so rare that I want you to know that and I would be so glad to meet you one day. I know I’m not Sting. Fair does. I know I’m French-nobody’s perfect. Still. Not to worry, I will not lay my sweety hand on your wrist like Reena did…oh, oh, oh…I would like to write all night long. It’s now 2.23 am. I want to thank you some much for this jewell you made- Living in oblivion. How many times have I seen that film, I couldn’t say. So many that I know a lot of lines by heart. A hell of a lot. Here in Philadelphia I asked the flatmates- they don’t know you. So I went into a shop, found Box of moonlight, bought it for them. ” You bought it?” asked one of the guys when he saw the DVD on the kitchen table. “Well, yes, I can’t steal anyway, that’s a problem I have but yes, I bought it.” I watched it again. It’s a great movie. While I was trying to find a way to write you, I saw you had played in Stranger than paradise!!! I was amazed!! Did I love that film… Oh my god!! I saw it when it was released, probably in 1985 or something like that. I had the poster in my room. I remember convincing a friend to come and see it. I had already seen it twice. She didn’t like it. I remember I couldn’t understand why. I have grown up since. Still. I loved that movie. Movies… At that time I was totally boulimic. I saw all the Lubitsh movies. I saw a lot of crap too. What do I like? Affreux, sales et mechants by Ettore Scola. Nearly all the film of Joseph Manckiewicz. Some like it hot by Billy Wilder. Naked /. Secret and lies by Mike Leigh. The servant by Joseph Losey. Jackie Brown by Tarentino. Annie Hall / Mysterious murder in Manhattan by Woody Allen. Le pigeon de M. Monicelli. All the films by Esenstein. I could continue but I think I’m gonna go to bed now. i will write again tomorrow. Bonne nuit. Bacioni. Claire ( Mon e-mail est email@example.com)
You’re not being naive. The timing to get Depp’s voice in by this summer would be hugely effective. We’re still waiting, waiting, waiting…
You always blow my mind with these quotes. This one is great. Where did it come from?
Also, very cool link to Daryl.
Thanks for the link to the Edinburgh Film Festival. It does look great. We have a sales company based in the UK, called ContentFilm. If you wanted to open this door a little you could have the festival contact them.
I have been on several sets where the actors walking off and performing the scene all by themselves might have resulted in a much better film.
Great to hear from you. You should write something about your experiences in New Zealand. What a rare and exciting opportunity. I think people would welcome your observations.
Glad you liked the trailer. Still waiting on Depp.
I’m glad you find this stuff interesting. Sometimes I think the public (and even a lot of cinema journalists) have no idea of what goes on behind, in front and around the scenes of making a film. Sometimes I think they shouldn’t know. But, then sometimes I think it is actually destructive for people to live in such blissful oblivion. I think in some ways it is helpful for as many people as possible to know that in most cases making a film has nothing to do with the public’s idea of ‘filmmaking’ at all.
For cinema lovers it’s an amazing experience
to have the chance to talk with the director about his film,
about the process and the progress of his work.
Congratulations for keep the blog going on, this must be an example
for other artist.
Simple curiosity, I have made music and sound for short films and have interest in this aspect.
Reality has never been a strong suit of mine. But I can tell you this. There is major interest for theatrical distribution for the film throughout Europe. Once Depp’s narration is cut in many things will become clearer and all these pending deals will be made. There is especially strong interest from the UK which would also include Scotland. I cannot imagine it not coming up your way.
Great choice for us all on Earth Day. I don’t think anyone has used words to describe the abuse in such chilling eloquence as Mr. Morrison.
Good to hear from you again. I am glad you find some enjoyment in these words. I do too; both in getting them out of my brain and engaging in the always fascinating responses from people.
And now to your question.
I shall begin.
Here it is.
I believe this moment with Johnny is one of those rides. He’s seen the film. He’s heard my narration. I can only assume he was impressed enough with both to join the party.
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences
And dragged her down
Sam from Sweden (remember?)
Thanks for the nugget. Tell your friends I really appreciate it. Not to beat a dead horse but so much work went into Delirious. After the pathetic fart of its distribution it is amazing to me that anyone has seen it. So, again, thanks.
No word yet from Mr. Depp. He’s kind of on his own schedule. My understanding is that he’s really into it and will have something for us “in a few weeks.”
Kind of in the waiting game.
But I do think it is very much worth it. Johnny is a big Doors fan. He’s also a very talented and intelligent actor. Believe me, those two qualities are rarely combined in an actor. He also has an emotion connection to Morrison’s trajectory, having been on a similar one himself.
I’m as anxious as you are to hear his take on it.
I admire Almodovar very much. Not the least for establishing and pursuing his own very personal and specific cinematic aesthetic. The truthful unique voices are rare and inspiring.
Your professor sounds great and I like everything you said he said except the analogy to Hollywood as a dream factory. I only take issue with it because I so strenuously made a point in Living In Oblivion to keep Hollywood completely out of it.
If you notice there are no agents or producers in the film. It is just the director, his crew and the actors. I wanted to reduce the filmmaking experience down to its most minimal and then see what happens when the fool has the idea to roll the camera.
It would be great to come to Edinburgh with WYS. I don’t control the other two films so I can’t comment on them.
Your link to the interview causes my computer to crash for some reason. But I was able to read the first page.
There is a lot of information from a number of people as to what happened during Morrion’s last few days. Much of it is very compelling. I do believe that the ‘official’ story is not the most convincing, considering what Pam was doing.
However, the only real fact is that Morrison died. There are many mysteries in between.
I think the greatest benefit from his death though would be for all the people who have been inspired by him to honor him as a human being and let the myth go.
No, I haven’t had a chance to see Man On Wire. I’ve heard great things about it. I’m writing these days and find the free time harder to come by.
I did see three other films I liked very much. Two Lovers by James Gray was pretty amazing. I also just saw two docs, Valentino and Anvil, The Story of Anvil. Both were very impressive.
Welcome to the nuthouse.
Thanks very much for writing. I’m glad you snagged that little thang about the deaf music critic. I wondered if anybody would catch it. I’m always surprised at how literally some folks take my words. If you trudge backwards into Delirious territory you’ll find a post where I describe meeting Hugh Hefner and swimming in his famed Grotto in a borrowed fluorescent orange thong.
Someone actually stopped me on the street and expressed genuine remorse that I’d stooped to such a low. I was furious. I said, “Do you really think I would wear a fucking thong!!” She said she supposed not but something about the way I described it made her think it had really happened.
What film class were you taking that showed Oblivion. Just curious. That film was actually prompted by some of what you have sketched of your first impressions of filmmakers in LA–in my case NYC–the whole idea of the independent director as some hypercool deity in leather jacket and carefully dangling cigarette.
Every independent director I’ve known, including myself, is a complete neurotec mess on the set–lying, faking, sweating, ie doing anything to prevent people from seeing we have literally no idea what we’re doing.
I guess I have some idea, but my point is that we’re all human. And it is this intensely foolish humanity that interests me.
Your suggestion on Joris Ivens is intriguing and I will follow up on it. Thanks for that.
I said one and only because at the moment that’s what it is. I’m not ruling out more documentaries but I must confess I am desperately feeling the urge to return to the lush freedom of narrative fiction.
I love going where I want to go. I love making stuff up. I love creating characters and bringing them to life in worlds that exist only in my brain. My films are firmly based in reality but strict reality per se is profoundly uninteresting to me. It is in the fiction that the magic lies.
The Doors film has great elements of this magic. It has my touch, my sensibility, my belief in trusting the intelligence of the audience. I have no regrets there whatsoever. If it stands as my only documentary then I can rest easy.
And perhaps like Morrison I just can’t stand people telling me what to do.
I should just sit back and let you drop more and more of these nuggets upon us. What a fascinating and complex glimpse into your experience with Jim. I’m glad he called you, even though it was 6 months later.
One of Jim’s nephews took serious issue with me when I innocently mentioned Jim’s drinking to him. He informed me quite strenuously that alcoholism is not something you choose, but a disease. His delivery sucked but his point was valid and important. It greatly affected how I shaped the film.
Sounds like you ran into Jimbo.
Thanks for your eloquent recollection.
Really, am really blown away by the blog, it’s just that many filmmakers I have encountered since moving to the hellhole that is Los Angeles have nothing interesting to say outside of their films (or even in them), while your interpretations of your real life are almost more fascinating than the film fictional version. Hmm, could it be possible that having a wealth of experience outside of “Me: Hanger-on, You: Hollywood” could make one a better filmmaker?
In terms of the narration, I always have a flashback to the beginning of Almodovar’s ‘Women on the Verge’ with Carmen Maura performing voice over to a larger than life Joan Crawford … Does Depp have a larger than life screen in which to lose himself to the story? (Scratch that, the man has an island). Also, your thoughts on narration remind me much of Joris Ivens’ thoughts from his journals presented in the Camera and I. If you haven’t read it, you should! In terms of documentary, Ivens really is a wonderful teacher.
Thank you so much for taking the time to detail the inner workings of your mind. Now I can’t wait to delve into all the previous journal entries!
Your note is fascinating. It staggers me actually. I’m only now beginning to realize the huge difference between the persona Jim created and the reality of who he was. A whole film could be made just on this schizophrenic split. I touch on this in When You’re Strange but clearly it is only the tip of the iceberg.
What a strange, elusive monster Jim created. The greatest tragedy will be if it obliterates him.
Your words do much to counteract that. Please don’t hesitate to grace us with them again.
I welcomed your comment as much as I did Sting’s sudden appearance just as I was about to punch the bouncer in Sundance.
Your questions and responses with Jim are amazing. The answers really give me confidence and encouragment to keep trying to make clear what I feel has long been missing in people’s portrayals of Jim.
Thank you for posting the link to your interview. I will place it on the home page when I get a moment. Everyone should read it.
Thanks for writing. There was a momentary blending of our two Sally/Salli’s but I am very aware of which Sally/Salli is which. What I was not aware of is that Sally also spoke with Jim during his last days in LA.
But, yes, Salli Stevenson’s interviews with Jim were helpful to me in the making of the film and I greatly enjoyed talking to her with Kerry Humpherys.
I agree; I think the match of Depp and the Doors is a strong one. It is a little odd for me at the moment because the film is sort of “euthanized on a table” until he gets the narration recorded and we cut it in.
My instinct is as you suggest, to re-premiere the film at the next most prestigious US Festival. Taos is a real possibility.
Wow, you are amazing in your ability to find these interviews with me and John Densmore. I remember them from Sundance as being some of the most enjoyable.
It was a strange location. It was like an abandoned set for a credit card commercial. It did feel like an airplane. And we definitely did not get any pretzels.
Yes, Rhino did correct the spelling of my name on the official site. I’ll have to get the Doors site up to speed.
Once again, my sincere thanks.
Another intriguing comment from you. First, yes–the image quality of the entire film is pretty amazing. If most people’s only experience of some of this footage is the snippets on YouTube then they’re in for a completely enveloping experience when they see it on the big screen. It is really a movie. It feels big; bigger than life.
Some thoughtful musings on some connections with me and Morrison but seriously I wouldn’t put too much into it. Mainly, I would say that the shared experience of having a father in the military was the most powerful. My guess is that Morrison at a very early age rebelled against the IDEA of Authority; in other words he did not like it when people imposed their will upon him simply because they could. “I’m your father so you must do what I say.”
If you look at Morrison’s life he seems to be constantly striving for absolute abandon, complete freedom. His respect for the sanctity of the artistic spirit echoes my own. Especially now when we live in a world where art means cash means your photo on the cover of Entertainment Weakly.
I admire Jim Jarmusch immensely, and we are good friends, but trust me–there is no Manzarek comparison there.
I’m not trying to push my films on you but I think for a minimal investment at your local video store you could rent Living In Oblivion, or even Delirious, and get a sense of what interests me as a filmmaker. It will probably inform your viewing of When You’re Strange–not compulsory but it might make you appreciate more why I chose to do this film as my first and only documentary.
The narration is a tricky thing. In the wrong hands it can sound corny and falsely grandiose. I’ve always felt with When You’re Strange it should be quiet, intimate and personal; as if you’ve been invited into the cool shadows of someone’s very interested, and interesting, brain.
I wrote the narration during the whole process of discovery. As I learned, so I wrote. Now, we will take Johnny Depp’s reading, lay it in against the film and see how it illuminates the footage. That is a pretty time-consuming process. Sometimes it requires ‘redo’s’. Johnny has told us he’s willing to do that.
Basically, what we’ve all learned from the past few months is that the fewer words, the more power. But, the challenge with this footage is that not a whole hell of a lot of it is self-explanatory, nor does it have clear beginnings, middles and ends. So, the narration has the difficult task if subtly guiding the audience, bridging the gaps in time and location and providing some personal insight into what is happening on screen.
Goddammit, Jeff. Stop making me write these booklong responses.
So nice to hear from you. Thank you for the vote of confidence regarding my observations on Jim’s “death wish”. I’m really getting the sense that people have enormous personal investment in perpetuating their own myths about Morrison–even in the face of clear facts and evidence to the contrary.
What the hell. The film will be appreciated by those who are truly interested in him, and The Doors.
Word is that Mr. Depp is working away on the narration and will have something recorded for us by the middle of the month. I’m as curious, and anxious, to hear it as everyone else.
As soon as it is recorded we will cut it in, adjust the picture accordingly and lock it. Then I believe the plan is to re-introduce it to American audiences at another prominent festival and nail down US Distribution.
What were the circumstances of your meetings and conversations with Jim?
Great to hear from you again. I’m glad you liked this post. I’ve always been affected by these odd experiences that go with the filmmaking business. I wanted to leave Sundance and Berlin on a personal note, and not let the whole experience be dictated by the crrrrkritttticckkkss. (Not my spelling actually–I stole it from Samuel Beckett: critics).
Thanks for your personal account of bringing WYS to the festivals. It was interesting reading. I felt exhausted with you. Yeah, “the actor you hired to play Jim Morrison” is dead on. That’s not Val Kilmer, is it? I assume those pics are from the film? I can see what you mean by the image quality.
MR. DICILLO RISIN: I found a book called “Breaking In” by Nicholas Jarecki at the local library and read the interview with you. I don’t want to put too much of a point on it, but as you’ve said you and Morrison share similar backgrounds: military upbringing (though your dad sounds cool), being a serious reader at a young age, a brother and a sister, studying film. Maybe there’s even the Manzarek aspect with Jim Jarmusch, meeting in school and then taking your art to the public together. Not an exact match but experience you could use to get into Morrison’s head.
The account of making your first film “Johnny Suede” was fascinating. If things are slow in the film business right now I wouldn’t mind a memoir of getting films made. I’d read it. Talk about ups and downs! They didn’t want Brad Pitt but you did, then he became the next big thing and Miramax bought the rights. Then, because of a critic they threw the film to the wolves. I can see why critics drive you crazy. And the D.P. that tried to sabotage the film because you were directing and he wasn’t (even though you did your time as a D.P.). Fascinating story but I’m sure tough to live.
I’m sorry to say I haven’t seen any of your movies yet. I guess at this point my intro should be WYS in a movie theater and then track the others down. But I was a nut for “Stranger Than Paradise” back in the day so it’s cool to find out you were involved.
I’m also curious about the narration process and the length of time it takes. One might assume Depp would just take a day or so to record it and that would be that.Is it about cutting it to the film and seeing what works, or is Depp recording it on his own, or what? Since that’s the process that’s going on now, that would be interesting to hear about.
The words about the actor in the desert are absolutely true. What I did not write down was my reaction. I turned to the audience, my mouth open, my eyes glazed with helpless, hopeless desperation and said, “I’m sorry, but I really, really need some help here.” The audience applauded, which only made me feel worse because now the poor woman who’d asked the question was being publicly ridiculed and I had to apologize to her.
Well, that is good to hear. You said it, the experience is really all that matters; not the judgements and opinions of a bunch of peons (again I’m channeling Les Galantine).
Like I said, I didn’t want to leave either of the two events mired in the negative aftertaste of kkrritttickkks. The moment with the young woman affects me to this day. She never said her name. She never asked me for anything.
Check out “Pierre et Jean” by Maupassant. Just re-published with an amazing new translation. Blew me away. See what you think.
Don’t think for a second that thought didn’t cross my mind immediately; even as I was about to punch the jerk. But unlike Les Galantine–I was invited!!!
And now for further Twilight Zonation: you should have seen me sitting in the airport at JFK (when I met Buscemi on my way to Berlin) and telling him the story. It was really hard to tell who was who.
Thanks for your comment. I’ve contacted Rhino Entertainment and forwarded them your email and interest. We’re still working hard to get Johnny Depp’s voice recorded and cut in. Not sure how long that will take. That is the version I prefer you to see.
Thanks very much for your kind words. I don’t know you either, but from your note I have a strong sense you will like the film.
My best to you.
I’m contacting you from the Guth Gafa Documentary Film Festival in Ireland. We have heard great things about your film “When you’re strange” and we would love to get a screener to our festival, which takes place between the 12th and 14th of June. I can’t seem to find a contact anywhere for you or the production companies involved and I don’t know if you have a distributor. So I just thought I’d use your blog.
Ours is a very intimate and friendly festival where we create an atmosphere for debate and discussion. We’ve had great filmmakers and guests from all over the world in previous editions, and the feeback has been excellent. Our website is http://www.guthgafa.com if you wanna have a look. It would be great if you could le me know how to get a screening copy for consideration for our festival. Thanks so much in advance. All the best, Maria.
Soft Parade is right. It’s all a surreal trip, with more to come.
Thanks very much for your comment. I’m pleased you took the journey with me. You know, sometimes you have all this stuff in your head and even though you write it down you’re never really sure people see what you see. My sense is you caught a real glimpse and I’m grateful.
Yeah, the Hollywood poseurs are depressing. Mainly because they don’t even have a clue that other realities exist. But what can you do? I’m glad I told that assistant to get her hand off me. She may have the “List” by my arm is mine.
God, the experience with the young woman who’s father had just died almost destroyed me. She was in so much pain, yet she didn’t want to bother me. I guess some part of her wanted to make contact with me for her father. When she left I was crying my own self. Seriously.
The footage really does look amazing.
The dvd release will be coming after a theatrical release. Not exactly sure when that will be but you can be sure it is coming.
That is an amazing story. Knowing a little of how loose things were back then I can absolutely see it happening. It’s cool the way you called your brother.
I’m glad you enjoyed Box of Moonlight. Listen, When You’re Strange is a very different movie but there are elements of my sensibility throughout it. My sense is that you will enjoy it too.
Strong words, especially coming from you. Thank you. You know, I’ve been sitting on all this stuff for months and I wanted to put it down. I got a little crasczzed after Sundance and Berlin, dealing with the kkkrrrtttcciicccs and my exhaustion. I didn’t want to leave those two events tainted by only those reactions.
Certainly neither of them was Disneyland but at least now the more inclusive experiences are out there.
And you know, I love words. If they can help me slip people inside my brain for a moment then that is pretty amazing.
And it’s all true.