When You’re Strange: Tom DiCillo
This interview with Tom DiCillo, director of When You’re Strange, appeared in Clash in the summer of 2010. I think. It seems like a long time ago.
“Some of the responses have been almost violent,” states director Tom DiCillo of the feedback to When You’re Strange, his exemplary examination of The Doors. “The band touches people so personally that they feel like they own it. If I tread in their sacred psychological musical closet, they get very threatened by it.”
But what could possibly provoke such a reaction? Nothing more than DiCillo’s inclusion of glorious 35mm outtakes from the Jim Morrison-funded film HWY: An American Pastoral in which the iconic vocalist sports a grizzly beard. The accusation is that the director hired an actor to create these scenes.
“There’s so much myth and legend and in some cases just actual bullshit written about the band,” he sighs. “I hate nostalgia. I think it’s idiotic. America was in a really fucked up place and that’s what The Doors came out of.”
Central to the mythology is Oliver Stone’s depiction of Morrison as “a drunken lout who was in an existential self-destruction.” DiCillo offers no real vitriol to Stone’s film, but is adamant that the search for truth was his compelling motivation behind his film. Yet prior to being approached for the project, DiCillo’s mindset wasn’t radically different. After the director, then a self-proclaimed “Doors fan with a small f”, trawled through thousands of hours of footage, his opinion altered radically.
“The only real preconception I had was that Jim’s excesses were…” He deliberates for an eternity before opting for “intentional. That was a huge turning point for me when I discovered that wasn’t actually true. He was a very troubled guy and it’s clear he was a clinical alcoholic. It wasn’t that he was getting drunk as a lifestyle choice, he had a disease.”
And so, with the dry calculated wit of Johnny Depp’s narration, DiCillo’s film unfolds like a virtual time machine that plants the viewer straight into the heady days of the band’s success. There are no contemporary interviews and, as the director himself admits, little new facts for hardcore Doors fans. But the issue of correcting twisted mythology is just as important, guitarist Robby Krieger’s reaction proves.
“He came up to me and said, ‘Tom, thank you for letting people know that I wrote Light My Fire.’ If it was that important to him, it’s important to me and therefore important to the world that the little statement of fact is known.”