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One World Cinema

Sharon Abella and her blog 1worldcinema report on the industry from New York and th emany festivals she is attending, she is a regular contributor to


"When You're Strange" Interview with film Director Tom DiCillo

 Singer/Songwriter/Poet/Writer/Filmmaker and Director, the legendary lead vocalist for "The Doors", Mr. Jim Morrison, attended UCLA's film school in 1964/65.  Along with his student film, Jim also financed a 50 minute long experimental film shot on 35mm, in 1969 called, "HWY: An American Pastoral", which shows scenes of him swimming in leather pants, and hitchhiking in the desert.  Along with the help of Paul Ferrara and Frank Lisciandro, Jim also created a documentary on "The Doors", called, "Feast of Friends", where Paul followed the band around while filming.  Jim's film production instructor at UCLA, Terry McCartney-Filgate, recalls Jim as being "narcissistic, undisciplined, quiet, a loner, who came from a wealthy family, and was a troublemaker, having threatened to beat another student up."  He describes Jim's student film as a montage, stating, "the film didn't have a story, but was made up of different images. In one scene Jim's girlfriend danced on a television set wearing a garter belt.  While she was dancing, a news clip came on showing a Buddhist monk burning himself."  Terry also taught Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for "The Doors", referring to Ray as "organized". While Jim did have formal training in film, he ironically, could not read music, and did not have any formal training in music.

"When You're Strange", narrated by Johnny Depp, and directed by Tom DiCillo, has amazing sound and is very beautifully edited.  No actors were used in the film, using ONLY original footage shot between 1966 through 1971. Tom explained that he had access to the original negative from "HWY", now owned by Jim's girlfriend, Pam's 87 year old mother, and was granted permission to use it as long as he didn't portray Pam in a negative light. "I love the scene in the desert with Jim laughing with the kids. It demonstrates him as a human being." 

Q: About "The Doors".

Director: Tom DiCillo:  

"I have such respect for the band. They did what they wanted to do. They did not sell out. Their sound was unique. It had a Bluesy quality. They were four brilliant guys where the only thing that mattered was making the music that they wanted to make. They were not calculated. Jim's favorite musician was Elvis, later replaced by Sinatra. Ray Manzarek, keyboardist, did not like the 1991 Oliver Stone film. He said Val Kilmer's character was definitely not Jim. I had to go through a lot of footage, most of it was jumbled, but I wanted to portray Jim as Jim. He was ahead of his time, reading the French poet, Rimbaud and Kerouac at 16 years old."

Q: How did Johnny Depp get involved in the narration?

Tom: "I only wanted to use original footage, which placed a tremendous responsibility on the narrator.  It needed to be someone who completely believed in what he was saying. My first choice was Johnny Depp. He is intelligent and intense in his work. He has also struggled with a couple of the things that Jim did.  Dick Wolf, producerof "Law and Order", helped me get in touch with him."

Q: What did you learn about the band, that you may have not known before?

Tom: "I did not know that Jim did not write "Light My Fire".  "Light My Fire" was written by Robby Krieger, guitarist for "The Doors", and credited to the entire band.  In fact, I didn't know that Robby Krieger wrote half the songs on the album, "The Soft Parade".  Jim insisted that the band consisted of the four of them. A lot of people think that all the songs were written by Jim, but it was all four of them; Ray Manzarek, keyboardist, Robby Krieger, guitarist, John Densmore, drummer, and Jim Morrison, vocals, that all contributed to the band."

 "The End" was written about a girl from high school who Jim broke up with, and who he later proposed to. She wound up being a waitress in his hometown."

"Pam, his lifetime girlfriend, inherited Jim's entire fortune, however, died of a heroin overdose three years after Jim in 1974.  Tom shared something very confidential, "Allegedly the autopsy report said they had took out every organ in her body and saw that she had a diaphragm in. She allegedly had been turning tricks on Sunset Boulevard. In the film, she comes across as a girl scout."


Q: Talk about his alcohol use.  "I drink so I can talk to a&&holes, that includes me". -JM

Tom:  "He was of Irish, English, and Scottish heritage, and his sister, Anne Robin, said to me, that "Jim did not choose to be an alcoholic, he was an alcoholic, he had a disease." This allowed me to think of Jim as a human being who was struggling with a complex illness.  Interestingly enough, Jim's sister never saw Jim perform live, explaining that they didn't have much money back then. There was definitely some level of dysfunction in their family.   Jim came from a military family, his father was a very conservative admiral in the US Navy, whereas Jim comments that he "was not an organizer, was not going to tell anyone what to do, that you should search inside one's self and listen to yourself and do what you think you should do",  "change can only come if all the rules are not obeyed," and that "obedience is suicide". Later after Jim's death,  his father called Jim "a unique genius that expressed his poetry without compromise".  Tom explained, "I tried to deal with only known facts in the film.  I did not want to get into conjecture or myths about the band, only known facts. I could have made four movies about his death alone."

Q: Will the band reunite?

"It was exciting while at Sundance, we were doing press in a music store, and I said to Ray, "why don't you play something?"  Ray Manzarek sat at the keyboards and started to play the introduction to "Riders on the Storm",  then Robby Krieger started playing the guitar, someone started playing the drums, and a woman started singing. It was exciting. They love to play.  Unfortunately, Robby and Ray don't talk to John Densmore anymore.  I had to do all the press with John separately.  John still plays, currently in a tribal jazz group. "The Doors" have sold over 80 million albums worldwide and continue to sell one million a year.  John Densmore, believes that the music should remain pure,  and because of him, the remaining "Doors" have turned down over $70 million dollar in offers to reunite and to license "The Doors" songs for commercial use, however, John is adamant that "we can't call "The Doors", "The Doors", if Jim is not here.

Q: Political views of the time period and today?

Tom: Ray Manzarek, said that "there was hope in the 60's that the people could make a change." Tom feels that,"It's time to bring that back. Every time I see Sarah Palin, I want to kick her. She is one of the stupidest people on the planet. People protested back then. They got angry and protested the Vietnam War.  We need to bring that back. It's important to speak out, to speak the truth. If you meet Ray, he will talk to you about the laws of karma, while, Robby is quieter and you may think he has done one too many acid hits. I don't know if you know this, but acid was legal in the US for awhile.  John is very smart and will talk about what "the Doors" were and meant."


Q:  Where can "When You'reStrange" be viewed?

Tom: "It opens April 9, 2010 in 20 cities, and 10 more if it is popular.  There was no advertising for this film, because the budget was so small.  It will be on PBS May 12, 2010, and out on DVD one month later.


"When You're Strange"  @ "The Angelika". (18 West Houston @Mercer Street)

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