Tom DiCillo is a stubbornly independent director whose career began as a cameraman on Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise” (1984). With films like “Johnny Suede” (1991) and “Living In Oblivion” (1995), DiCillo worked with such rising stars as Brad Pitt, Steve Buscemi and Catherine Keener. Curiously enough, DiCillo’s gig on “When You’re Strange” came as a result of directing an episode of long-running TV series “Law and Order,” which impressed the NBC producer handling the Doors project. In an interview with The Japan Times, DiCillo says that times have never been tougher — “I think we can honestly say at this point, American independent film has simply evaporated” — but that “When You’re Strange” was a happy exception: “I was in my apartment, the phone rang, I was offered the project, and for the first time in my life, all I had to do was say ‘yes’ and begin to work.”
On his approach to the film: They were pressuring me for a concept, because they had all this amazing footage that had no real continuity to it. So I said, if you really want me to give you a concept, I’ll have to see every inch of the footage you have. So for the first 3 weeks I did nothing but look at footage, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The thunderbolt hit me when I just became so saturated with this footage; I said, if I break the spell of this incredible footage that shows The Doors in their prime by cutting away to old farts talking about the significance of “The End” or something, then I will be f-cked. The only way to do it is to somehow stay in that world and never break out of it.
On constructing the film: Morrison had this idea, early on, for Paul Ferrara to start following them around with a camera. He started in 1967. But the footage was like confetti; the stuff wasn’t organised in any way, and most of the shots were only usable for, at the most, 5 seconds, if you were lucky. And just as a shot got interesting, it would go out of focus (laughs). Or they’d forget to turn on the recorder and there’d be no sound. These guys were probably dropping everything they had . . . So really, to illustrate a certain point in the film, I would have to use pieces of film from 7 different points in The Doors’ career. We wrote the film in the editing. But I was really pleased by the fact that it holds together.
On his earliest memory of hearing The Doors: My father was a colonel in the Marine Corps; I didn’t know Jim’s father was an admiral in the Navy until I got into this project. But that same sort of discipline existed in my family. And like Jim, I kind of fought against it from a very early age. When I was about 14, I went to this junior high school dance, and we were in a car, and I had emptied a shampoo bottle and filled it with my father’s scotch. At the moment I took a swig from it, on the radio came the full-length version of “Light My Fire.” Living on a military base, I had never heard a song that was longer than 3 minutes, because that’s all that was on the radio in 1967, but especially not one that went way off into this instrumental section . . . I’ll never forget it.
On the Oliver Stone Doors film: I think that Stone made a movie about four guys, it just so happens that none of them were The Doors. Even in five frames of the real footage, Morrison is infinitely more interesting and complex than he is in the 2 and half hours of “The Doors” film. (Stone) did not in any way suggest the complexity that was Jim Morrison; he had no sense of humor! In the doc, there’s this footage, completely spontaneous, where Morrison is out in the desert, clearly they stumbled across some family camping on the sand, and they shot footage of Morrison dancing with those kids. The look on his face, man — he is almost indistinguishable from those children. I tried to show him as a human being; he’s much more interesting to me as a man than as a devil or a god.
On the chaos at The Doors’ concerts: I was shocked, especially because you look at the guys in the audience and they’re wearing suits and ties! (Laughs.) And they’re jumping up on stage and totally freaking out. Talking to (Doors members) Ray and Robbie and John about it, they would always say to me that playing live with Morrison was an experience that completely changed their lives. They never knew what would happen. Some nights it was for shit, because Jim was so out of it, he couldn’t bring it alive. Other nights, the spontaneity was beyond comprehension. But how many groups today live for the live, unexpected moment?