Title: The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out
Author: Wayne Byrne
Publisher: Wallflower Press
Released: September 2017
Book Reviewer: Christine Bode
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 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). 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 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 enamoured 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 a fascinating 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)
When You’re Strange (2009)
Down in Shadowland (2014)
I own all DiCillo’s films and have watched them 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 get a feel for the director’s unique style and voice, use of colour, choice of music (often created by composer Jim Farmer), and the themes that inspire him. DiCillo’s way of viewing and expressing humanity in his work with his distinct sense of humour and pathos 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. Then, if you agree, read this book.