The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out by Wayne Byrne

The Cinema of Tom DiCilloBook Review
Title: The Cinema of Tom DiCillo: Include Me Out
Author:  Wayne Byrne
Publisher: Wallflower Press
Released: September 2017
Pages: 208
ISBN-13: 978-0231185356
Book Reviewer: Christine Bode
Stars:  4.5

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 that 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), over seven years ago. 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 ever since, 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 enamored 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 an interesting 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)
Delirious (2006)
When You’re Strange (2009)
Down in Shadowland (2014)

I own all DiCillo’s films and have watched them all 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 really get a feel for the director’s unique style and voice, use of colour, choice of music (often created by composer Jim Farmer) as well as the themes that inspire him. It is DiCillo’s way of viewing and expressing humanity in his work with his distinct sense of humour and pathos that 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. If you agree, read this book.

My Favourite Books: Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Let The Great World Spin

Book Review
Title: Let The Great World Spin
Author: Colum McCann
Publisher: HarperCollins
Released: 2009
Pages: 368
ISBN-10: 1554684830
ISBN-13: 978-1554684830
Stars: 5.0

Redemption, joy, wonder; that which is meaningful to the human heart. These are just some of the themes of the most brilliant book I’ve read in years: Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann. This story will stay with you for a very long time. As McCann writes in the Author’s Note at the back of the book:

“Literature can remind us that not all life is already written down: there are still so many stories to be told.”

Let The Great World Spin intertwines the stories of several remarkable and yet ordinary people’s lives, how they intersect with each other over time, and how life can be changed in seconds by people who don’t even know us. In these stories, he punctuates that no matter how badly our hearts break, the world doesn’t stop for our grief, so it is essential to realize that love, joy and the journey are all there is. “Our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we become.”

We see the world through the eyes of Corrigan, an Irish priest living in the bowels of the burning Bronx surrounded by hookers and have-nots as he struggles with whether or not he will fail God if he breaks his vows and gives in to his love for a Guatemalan woman named Adelita. We meet Corrigan’s brother Ciaran and later, his wife Lara and the hookers that Corrigan tries to help in modest ways. Tillie Henderson is a 38-year-old hooker whose daughter Jazzlyn walks the streets in her footsteps and Jazzlyn’s two young daughters who may or may not have a future.

On the other side of the city, a group of mothers who mourn the loss of their sons to the Vietnam War gather in a Park Avenue apartment to share their stories. We are particularly captivated by Claire and Gloria, who are as unlikely to be friends as two people can be, and yet they find peace with each other. Gloria was my favourite character because her strength and integrity are inspirational, but it is hard not to love something about every one of them.

“A big smile went between us. Something that we knew about each other, that we’d be friends now, there wasn’t much could take it from us, we were on that road. I could lower her down into my life and she could probably survive it. And she could lower me into hers and I could rummage around. I reached across and held her hand. I had no fear now. I could taste a tincture of iron in my throat, like I had bitten my tongue and it had bled, but it was pleasing. The lights skittered by. I was reminded how, as a child, I used to drop flowers into large bottles of ink. The flowers would float on the surface for a moment and then the stem would get swamped, and then the petals, and they would bloom with dark.”

The characters have a depth, honesty and beauty that come alive with such truth that it seems inconceivable that McCann created them from his imagination. All but one character, the tightrope walker, who is based on the true story of Philippe Petit, are works of fiction, but in some ways, they are more authentic than many people I have known.

While described as the “first great 9/11 novel”, the New York City of 1974 that McCann describes with his magical, eloquent prose is as alive in every sense on the page as the pulse within my wrist. He also takes readers back to Dublin, Ireland, where we not only discover Corrigan’s history but McCann’s.

Winner of the National Book Award and a plethora of stupendously positive and prestigious reviews, Let The Great World Spin should become a classic for the ages and have as much longevity and relevance as The Catcher In The Rye. I often buy novels by Irish authors and leave them on my shelves unread for years while I am distracted by other books. I purchased two other works by McCann ages ago. Everything In This Country Must was also an Oscar-nominated Dramatic Short by McCann and This Side of Brightness. As I have fallen in love with this author, they have moved to the top of my must-read list.

If you read one book this year, let it be this one.