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By Christopher Stipp

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Check out my new column, This Week In Trailers, at SlashFilm.com and follow me on TWITTER under the name: Stipp

YOUSSOU N’DOUR: I BRING WHAT I LOVE - DVD Review

youssou_posterThis has been a wild couple of weeks with the number of documentaries I’ve been watching about musicians as of late.

From a couple of Blu-ray releases of live concerts, a movie about the Doors, and now this, it has been a whirlwind of performances that showcase music of all kinds. The thing about YOUSSOU N’DOUR: I BRING WHAT I LOVE is that I was not expecting to like it as much as I did. Ballasted by the fact that this movie has come out under the Oscilloscope Laboratory banner, becoming required viewing simply because it has so far had an unbeaten track record of films that have a unique way of telling a story, I quite didn’t know what to expect other than this was going to be a movie about music. It’s much more that, however, as I found out.

Youssou is a musician that many know but probably didn’t realize. Heck, I didn’t realize. He’s the chanting voice you hear in the song In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel. A man who embraced music from all over the world, Gabriel help push Youssou into greater prominence among those within the industry. It was shocking to see that as a Senegalese pop star he received worldwide acclaim for his music and recognition for it as well all the while I was blissfully unaware of this man for decades.

This movie goes beyond just capturing Youssou’s time on the road, and we get many live performances in venues all over the globe, but it charts the time when he had to deal with an album he made called Egypt, a record that was deemed incendiary because of its content. Not that it had blasphemous, dirty language but it contained his own thoughts and feelings about a religion and faith not many were too keen on learning more about in 2004: Islam. This movie captures his feelings on the matter and it’s rather gripping and forces you to reflect about what it would be like for anyone to believe something so fervently and want to share that joy with the world only to have your native land, here Senegal, turn away. Heartbreaking and sad, Youssou’s determination and love comes though in one the films that I have been able to watch about musicians which doesn’t make me think that all the world’s musicians are in it for themselves. Youssou genuinely seems passionate about the things he’s been allowed to do and to share with the rest of the world and you simply do not see that in today’s crop of entertainers.

Wholly refreshing, wonderful to look at, director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s film captures the essence of Youssou’s music that you can feel come through the screen. I had never heard of the man before seeing this film but I was a fan by the end and I think that’s the point of any good movie like this. You don’t necessarily have to be enthralled by the music but you cannot help but to be in awe of one man’s perseverance to be the best man he can be in the face of so many who would try and change that course.

If you have a chance to rent it or buy it you could not do yourself a better favor than picking this title up and seeing some music come alive.

Synopsis

YOUSSOU N’DOUR: I BRING WHAT I LOVE is a gorgeously photographed, music infused cinematic portrait of world famous Senegalese pop sensation Youssou N’Dour. Best known in the West for his collaborations with Bono and Peter Gabriel, N’Dour is one of the most beloved musicians in pop music and his legendary career has spanned decades.

In 2004, responding to negative perceptions about his Muslim faith, N’Dour recorded EGYPT, a deeply spiritual album dedicated to a more tolerant view of Islam. In a critical and career-defining moment, the album was awarded the 2004 Grammy® for BEST WORLD MUSIC ALBUM. While Western audiences embraced N’Dour’s brave musical message, it encountered a serious religious backlash in his native country of Senegal where N’Dour is considered a national hero. Local critics and the media accused him of insulting Islam, arguing that pop and religious music should not mix.

Combining unprecedented images of Senegal’s most sacred Muslim rituals, vibrant concert performances filmed around the world, and intimate access to N’Dour and his family, I BRING WHAT I LOVE chronicles the difficult path this remarkable artist must take. It is a stirring journey of faith, redemption, and the power of music to overcome intolerance.

Tom DiCillo - Interview

The documentary is endlessly fascinating, let’s get that right out of the way.

Using footage from Jim Morrison’s own film HWY: An American Pastoral from 1969 the new Doors documentary When You’re Strange also uses footage never before seen of the band that ignited a generation. For any fan who thinks that Oliver Stone made the definitive Doors movie this doc sheds some light on the figure that is Jim Morrison the legend and dispels the ideas that he walked around in a constant drug-fueled stupor. In fact, this film shows Morrison as a rather humorous individual capable of so much more than just being a part of a cliche.

Using footage never before seen and utilizing Johnny Depp’s silken vocals to narrate the story of how the band came together to take over a nation, then the world, you get a new perspective on a band that most feel like they already figured out. It’s endlessly fascinating from a documentary perspective, like reading years of biographies on one person only to find their autobiography and putting the two together. Comparative literature it is not but there is a story here that you have to open yourself to in order to wade beyond all that you already think you know. When You’re Strange is a brisk foray into a brief period of time when music could rattle a population of listeners and a glimpse into a band that never sold their rights to have their music played in a car commercial. And they never will.

WHEN YOU’RE STRANGE opens today

when_youre_strange-posterCHRISTOPHER STIPP: Hey, Tom. How are you doing?

TOM DICILLO: I’m good man. How are you?

CS: Doing fine. Hopefully this hasn’t been a long press day for you.

DICILLO: Well, it has been but it’s been really enjoyable because people are really digging this film and that’s just exciting to see.

CS: I really dug it.

DICILLO: Good.

CS: I did a search for Doors films or documentaries and I was floor by the lack of them out there. Did you immediately look at this project and immediately jump on it?

DICILLO: Well, the project was presented to me as a possibility and then I was asked if I wanted to direct it. And I said yes immediately without question. I didn’t know what I was getting into. In fact, I hadn’t seen any of the footage. After I said yes, then they began the process of them showing me stuff and asking me to come up with the concept. I just think it was the right timing. They had been trying to make something with this footage for sometime and I don’t know, I think perhaps they just didn’t have the right combination of people. And, something about my idea about only using this original footage just freaks them out and just freaked The Doors out too. They said, “How can you make a film about the Doors in which we don’t have The Doors talking?” I said, “Because I think if you look at this footage it’s so astonishing that it will ultimately be better.” When they saw the first half hour I put together, they were floored. Let’s just thank the Lord…not the Lord, because there is no Lord…

(Laughs)

Thanks to whoever that it worked out and all came together.

CS: I’m interested to get your take – as a filmmaker – you’ve done feature film, you’ve done television, was there a learning curve as a documentarian when you had to sift through this info and try to create a narrative?

DICILLO: Oh, absolutely. Are you kidding? Very good question, man. My experience is with writing and directing and working that way. Creating every image and then choosing the best image and then editing it. This one – I had to go, “OK, here’s the footage, here are the dailies from the film…What can I do with it?”

Certain things hit me immediately.

I didn’t know that this footage of Morrison walking through the desert was from his own film HWY. I just thought they were random shots of Jim walking through the desert. So I felt free to use them. I knew that they were going to go in the film and I knew they were going to be kind of a framing device immediately. Almost like, there’s a shot of him getting out of a car stuck in the sand. I said, “That’s going to be Morrison.”

It’s the spirit of Morrison – re-emerging, so to speak.

But then I had a whole story to tell and your probably could make six stories about The Doors, they did so much in that short period of time. In some cases, the footage helps me. It was easy to do it because I had great images. In other cases, I had to do a little bit of explaining or somehow bridging gaps in things. And the narration became critical and I realized immediately that the narration was going to have to sustain this film. It was going to have to pull it together and I think Johnny Depp brings such an amazing intimacy and sense of belief in things he’s saying that he becomes almost as a fifth character in the film.

CS: Right. And he does. I was read in a previous interview with Ray [Manzarek] who said that Oliver Stone got it wrong when he made The Doors. That he wasn’t that drunken, wacked out of his skull 24/7 kind of guy people saw in that film. Do you think you saw a picture of the real Morrison as you went through this footage?

DICILLO: I saw several pictures of the real Morrison. That’s what I wanted to do, was to not limit the ones that I saw. I think that Stone’s movie limited severely the dimension of what Morrison was. I really do. And I’m not disrespecting Oliver Stone but saying he probably gave a thumbnail, a fingernail of what this guy really was. He was an immensely complicated guy. Immensely complicated. At times he was, yes, the drunken ass that was just pissing in his pants in the middle of a recording session. And then I had this footage of him dancing in the sand in the middle of the desert with complete strangers, these kids and the look on his face, it’s absolutely convincing that he’s enjoying the hell out of himself and that he’s really there, dancing with those kids. That’s as much a part of his character as the other stuff, and I wanted to try and show that.

You know what? I just feel there was something deeply compelling about him and that, for me, it wasn’t just the drinking, it wasn’t the excesses, it was the more personal things. Because if you talk to any of these guys, they’ll tell you the same thing. He was immensely articulate. He enjoyed life. I don’t think he had a death-wish. I don’t think so at all. I think he just got caught up in something and could not get out of it.

when-youCS: And I think he comes off – I was surprised to see he was quite erudite and scholarly as a young man – completely different than public perception of what people “thought” he was.

DICILLO: Yeah. It’s pretty phenomenal that at 16 he was reading Nietzsche and Kerouac and this was before he even took acid. He was an intensely intelligent man and I think to only show one aspect of his character does him a huge disservice. And also, the same for the rest of the band members. They were hugely involved in the creation and development of the band. All of them. And each one was critical to the band and all of them amazing musicians. That’s what I wanted to show. I wanted to go from the more basic sort of misunderstanding that a lot of people wrote Light My Fire. Well, I wanted to clear that up and say well, “No, he didn’t.” Actually, it was Robby Krieger.

CS: I was shocked to see that was the first one out of the box as a writer and it gets the guy a number one slot on the charts.

DICILLO: Isn’t that amazing? It’s just astonishing. And then he had a number of other number ones.

There’s a lot there that you can appreciate that you don’t have to build up a myth about, do you know what I mean? And I wanted to try to create a new myth but one based on reality.

CS: Do you think it was important to know the band deeply before working on this? Did you pour yourself into the mythos, what people had to say, or did you intentionally go in there blind and create something from what you had?

DICILLO: I went in blind but I did a lot of research. I had to be careful though to avoid simply paraphrasing what other people had said. I didn’t want to do that. A lot has been written about this band, some of it really amazing, intuitive. Some of it is conjecture and some of it bullshit. I just said, “Listen, I’ve got to try to find something new for myself, something new for myself to drive me through this entire process.”

That’s all you can do as a filmmaker is to have such a belief in the subject that it pulls you through every single agonizing moment of nightmare and terror when you feel like it’s all meaningless. And for me that was showing them as they were. Just letting the material speak and allowing the audience to experience the band as if they were alive in 1966 and they happen to walk in and here’s a new band called The Doors.

That was the thing that kept me going.

And I talked to the band members and I read the books of Ray and Don and I talked to a lot of people and essentially decided I would only try to use stuff that had been collaborated – stuff that would be true – as far as people knew.

Ray Manzarek - Interview

I don’t own any Doors albums.

when_you_re_strange_movie_image_the_doors_jim_morrison__1_CHRISTOPHER STIPP: Ray, I don’t know if I should start out with Your Highness, Your Holiness, I don’t know which one you would prefer…

MANZAREK: Your Obsequiousness. That’s what you should call me.

(Laughs)

CHRISTOPHER STIPP: Well, I’ve got so many questions and only a few minutes.

MANZAREK: You don’t have that much time so you can’t have sooo many!

(Laughs)

“I’ve got quite a few questions for you”…OK, go ahead, dude!

(Laughs)

CS: I want to start kind of lighthearted but getting ready to talk to you I was reminded about William Shatner’s Saturday Night Live sketch where he tells people to grow up or get a life and find something else to talk about with regard to fanatical nature of the fans who obsessed over Star Trek. Are The Doors like that for you in that, yes, it was a part of your life but you’ve gone on and accomplished other artistic things. Is this something you really love talking about again, and again, and again?

MANZAREK: Absolutely, because it was The Doors. You know what, if I don’t talk about The Doors how can I thankfully work in the word psychedelic into our conversation?

(Laughs)

And I can if I talk about The Doors and I can talk about The Doors, I can talk about opening the doors of perception and if I talk about opening the doors of perception I can talk about psychedelic substances to wit, LSD.

CS: Exactly

MANZAREK: So, it’s a great opportunity to bring the message of psychedelics to the 21st century.

CS: Please. School me on something. I was reading previous interviews with you and I was absolutely amazed, as you just mentioned, the psychedelic, the opening of one’s mind. And how the current crop of what we call musicians that flail themselves around on purpose, have no real similarity to what Jim was. I was at fault when I thought it was just Jim flopping around when it was really him internalizing the music. Can you talk a little bit about the misconception about Jim vs. what other people are aping?

MANZAREK: It’s hard for me to talk about yours or the people’s misconceptions because I don’t know what the hell they’re thinking about. I know what I’m thinking when I’m making music with Jim Morrison is entering the ineffable oneness, the zen, peace and time. That’s what you do as a musician. You surrender yourself to all that goes into creating a song and you give up your ego and you become one with the music, the chord changes, the rhythm, the lyrics, the beat, all that stuff.

That’s what you are. You are nothing else in time. People are watching with their eyeballs, Jim Morrison but Dionysus, the spirit of Dionysus, the spirit of madness and chaos and wildness that enters through the ears. As far as what Morrison did on stage, I’m hardly even aware of him. I know the singer on stage, the performer but I don’t know the mad character people are watching on stage. So, it’s virtually impossible for me to answer that idea.

CS: Understood. Absolutely understood.

MANZAREK: I’m on the inside looking out. I’m not looking in. I’m looking out.

CS: Jim, when he started, humble beginnings, you and him, he had no form of musical training. What did you see in each other that you said, “You know what, we need to express ourselves.” What was that moment that you two shared that really started the genesis of the band?

manzMANZAREK: Well, that moment was Moonlight Drive. He sang Moonlight Drive to me. I heard the lyrics, and I heard his rephrasing and his singing and he was right on pitch and he had a good sense of timing and a good sense of space and I said “You know what, I can play all kinds of funky Ray Charles kind of stuff and Jimmy Smith organ behind that” and Jim said, “That’s cool man, that’s what I hear too. If you can do that that would be fabulous.”

And then he did My Eyes Have Seen You and Summer’s Almost Gone and those were great songs, I could play Bach behind Summer’s Almost Gone. My Eyes Have Seen You I could play all kinds of Latino jazz, southern California Latin style stuff. And Jim says “Sounds great to me, I love that” and that’s what we shared. We shared those ideas – those complimentary ideas.

CS: Was there a theology with the band? Was there ever an overarching theme to what the band should be about?

MANZAREK: The band should be about entering a state of transcendental consciousness. Yes. The band should be about LSD. The band should be about rising up out of the mundane, ordinary state of consciousness into a higher state of consciousness, that virtually the entire generation of the 60’s was into and that’s what we tried to do.

CS: I was reading previous articles about how I think people – I don’t think in our current time people – there is not a rising up of the youth against the oppressive nature of government and what have you that we’ve become a little soft. Do you see yourself, or at least your place in musical history, as something more powerful than just music but you were a force of social and political change?

MANZAREK: Just being in The Doors. A lot of people said “You guys didn’t participate in the marches” and whatnot but I always thought The Doors were political just by their nature. Morrison was the son of an Admiral, for God’s sake. For him to be a rock and roll guy and the son of an Admiral at the same time was virtually unheard of. Everything we did was political. Everything everyone was doing was political. We were in Vietnam just like we’re in Iraq and Afghanistan. The only difference between now and then was there was a draft and anybody could go at any moment. Just pick you up and you’re gone – you’re gone off to Vietnam. Now it’s a volunteer army so I suppose that people who haven’t volunteered for the army are, “Cool, I’m not going.”

I didn’t volunteer.

If you want to volunteer to go fight – go ahead – go fight. It’s like, man – we got to make love here not war. I’m getting a little tired of waiting. It’s the 21st century. When do we make love and not war? I don’t think that we’re going to. We like war. We love killing. We think death is great. Kill the bad guys. Aren’t we the good guys by the way? I hope we’re not the bad guys.

CS: I think it gets blurred and I’ve seen it in the idea of capitalism. I think that wraps that up really tightly – killing and capitalism. I think the two have gone hand in hand and I think the youth have gravitated to greed and their ideas are in things – not ideas of ideas.

MANZAREK: Well, Jesus was a capitalist I think. So, it’s OK to be capitalist. I always thought Jesus was a lover. He loved humanity. He said love the Lord thy God, etc. and love thy neighbor as thyself. Somehow I think we’ve abandoned that idea of love but maybe we’ll get back to it. Who knows?

CS: I don’t know if he ever said anything about being untruthful but in an interview with you I read that your feeling about Oliver Stone’s film was his take of Jim was completely, off, false, not right.

51315665FM001_millerMANZAREK: Yes. Oliver Stone movie….no good. It makes Jim Morrison an alcoholic and a wino, a drunkard, a crazy man. He was actually very intelligent, very sophisticated, very funny. He was a funny guy. It’s entirely the wrong portrait. That’s what so much fun doing When You’re Strange. You are going to get the real Jim Morrison being Jim Morrison and you will see the real Doors. It’s nothing but Jim Morrison as Jim Morrison and that’s what’s so great about When You’re Strange.

CS: Great film.

MANZAREK: That’s cool. Thank you, man.

CS: I was blown away – and I’ll tell you straight up that I am just a casual fan, not just a guy who says, “I love The Doors!”, but I got a deep appreciation for the real thing. It wasn’t a fictionalized representation. I was, however, curious about a couple things: One, your involvement was limited. I was expecting to have you and the other band members talking every so often, that didn’t happen, and, two, I was also really floored that Jim’s movie was incorporated into this documentary.

MANZAREK: See that. He was brilliant. He was a brilliant filmmaker. He was a filmmaker, and a writer, and he was Dionysian and wore leather and he was a poet. So there you are.

CS: Was there any part of you that wanted to – was it Tom [DiCillo's] idea not to have you talk on screen or have anybody else talk on screen?

MANZAREK: No, the idea was we don’t have to talk. Just watch the footage. We’ve got plenty of footage. What do you want to see me talk for?

(Laughs)

I want to watch Jim Morrison and if I see Ray Manzarek….I want to see The Doors. So why should we see old guys saying, “When I was a youngster…” I don’t want to see that. The only time that was interesting was in Warren Beatty’s movie, Reds.

CS: Good movie.

MANZAREK: It is a good movie. You see the actual people who are being portrayed. But I mean, we got The Doors. Let’s just watch The Doors. To hell with watching the guys comment.

CS: And one of the special things about the band and you might agree or disagree is that The Doors feel like band that was never corrupted by a money man, a corporation. Do you feel it was always true to its own self?

MANZAREK: Incorruptible. The Doors were pure. The Doors were rock and roll. The Doors were artists. They would not sell their souls to the man. No way.

CS: Is that a point of pride for you? That you get to say, “We were what we were and we never compromised?”

MANZAREK: Never compromised. Absolutely it’s a point of pride. Absolutely man. You bet it is.

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