Review by Briege McGarrity
As I Am: The Life and Times of DJ AM screened as part of the documentary selection at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Written and directed by music video veteran Kevin Kerslake, this tragic autobiography chronicles the rise and fall of the late influential disc jockey Adam Goldstein, better known as DJ AM.
We learn that Goldstein (henceforth DJ AM) grew up in Philadelphia in an unconventional family setting and later moved to LA with his laid back mother, Andrea Gross. Amidst parting with ravers and Hollywood brats, he developed a passion for electronic beats and immersed himself in the culture of DJing. Like any struggling artist, the talented 20 year old got his start spinning real vinyl on the LA party circuit for $40 per night with free beers throw in.
DJ AM had an addictive personality and battled depression, drugs and deep-seated demons.
Emotional issues stemmed from the turmoil of having an abusive father who turned out to be gay and died from AIDS. As an adult, DJAM learned that his mother had an affair and that his biological father was somebody else.
After a suicide attempt fueled by heavy drug use (crack cocaine) and obesity, DJ AM finally stopped using and got gastric bypass surgery, transforming his look completely. He began dating then-popular reality starlet Nicole Richie (The Simple Life) and the couple got engaged in February, 2005. A-list DJ gig requests came flooding in from Madonna, Tom Cruise, Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Lopez and Leonardo DiCaprio to name a few. DJ AM worked his magic from his DJ booth, showcasing his technical skills, unusual remixes and signature mash-up style pairings such as “Wonderwall” with “Rent”, “Beat it” with “Valerie,” and “Do the Twist” with “Take on Me.”
Success continued with the opening of club LAX, which he co-owned and a lucrative deal to be the resident Friday night DJ at Rain nightclub in Las Vegas. In keeping with his sober living, DJ AM gathered even more fans by becoming a crusader for addicts to beat addiction and starred in his own MTV reality show, Gone Too Far. DJAM made impact by staging interventions with users. This touching archival footage is so different from superficial guest appearances on
Entourage and Iron Man 2.
Another catalyst for the show was the traumatic fiery plane crash in 2008 that claimed the lives of four souls. DJ AM and his frequent collaborator Travis Barker (Blink 182) survived with injuries and serious burns that apparently led to his addiction to pain killers. The harbinger of doom according to Gross, who believed the fallout from the crash, nightmares, survivor’s guilt and prescribed medications triggered a relapse. In spite of suffering severe post-traumatic stress disorder, DJ AM took an excessive number of short and long haul flights to gigs and nightlife events.
Peppered with archival footage of DJAM’s musings and commentary from friends, family and colleagues, we get to know a generous, experimental and talented man who brought the art of DJing to a new level but had demons and addictions. Notable cast members include, DJ Jazzy Jeff (also from Philadelphia), Jon Favreau, Mix Master Mike, Sal Masekela, Paul Oakenfold, Rockaton, Pasquale Rotella, DJ Vice, Z-Trip and Mark Ronson.
Whilst the commentary was poignant, it is still difficult get a solid understanding of this complex DJ. Disappointingly, Nicole Richie is not featured. Andrea Gross did not sugar coat her son’s many struggles and should be commended for her pivotal role in this documentary. Mother knows best: Gross predicted he wouldn’t have the emotional wherewithal to cope with the fame his unparalleled DJ artistry would bring.
Overall this retrospective style doc is well paced, interesting and entertaining at times. Kerslake tried hard to craft an intimate film about the person rather than the star. But with the vagaries of fame, fortune and drugs, this is very hard to achieve. We are ready for the grim news of his accidental overdose in his Manhattan apartment in 2009 at the age of 36.
An innovative and well-respected DJ gone too soon.