As I AM: The Life and Time$ of DJ AM

At the Movies Blog
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As a music fan that enjoys documentaries, I was really looking forward to this. As a person that hates DJs scratching records and creating beats — I was dreading two hours listening to it. Yet the Electric Daisy Festival documentary held my interest, so I figured there was hope for this. Boy was I right. It’s easily the most powerful film I’ve ever seen dealing with drug addiction (side note: as I was watching the screener on my computer, news came on TV that confirmed Prince died from an overdose to opiates).

DJ AM grew up Adam Goldstein — a chubby kid that didn’t have the best childhood. Even then he was about to spit out some rhymes, with his “New Jew Rap” performed at his bar mitvah.

He found out his dad wasn’t his real dad, and he started partying and clubbing with other teens. This led to him being sent to a rehab bootcamp, where the adults tortured many of the kids (it was exposed on 60 Minutes).

Filmmaker Kevin Kerslake (more known for music videos than movies) gives us some interesting animation, and some edits that increase the energy. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t have shown us more about his personal life than an elaborate shoe collection.

DJ AM’s rising career was almost sidelined due to his addiction to crack cocaine, and when he got clean in the 1990s, it’s when he really gets endearing. He spends so much of his time trying to help others struggling with addiction (including a show on MTV dealing with this). He’s always willing to give props to other DJs or help them out (we hear him sing the praises of Mix Master Mike [The Beastie Boys], and DJ Jazzy Jeff [Will Smith]).

And how can you not love a person so enthusiastic about mixing A Tribe Called Quest with Guns ‘N Roses, or finding an old record and discovering a riff that was sampled in a rap song?

I think the types of mash-ups he made famous were a chaotic mess, but the club kids seem to love it (side note: You kids stay off my lawn!!).

He became the first DJ to score a million dollar contract in Las Vegas. He was DJing parties for Tom Cruise and Madonna. He got small parts in Entourage and in Iron Man 2 (we get to hear Jon Favreau among the many talking heads you might not recognize).

As he gets more famous, starts dating Nicole Richie, and slims down — it’s great to see that he actually gets more grounded. He speaks openly about his 11 years of sobriety, and in one scene that is the most powerful thing I’ve ever seen regarding addiction — he is talking to a police officer with all the drugs that were recently confiscated. He has to excuse himself from the room, saying all he kept thinking about was how he could steal the drugs when the cop wasn’t looking. As he leaves the room, he shakes his arms, telling the camera about his mindset. It’s the first time I truly realized what it means to be a struggling addict. I figured if you went 11 years being sober, you were home free. I watched as my parents went from smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, to quitting cold turkey. I watched as my stepdad, an alcoholic, just quit drinking and never had a relapse. I thought it was that simple, and this was a dose of reality of what it’s like for many.

If you caught the Amy Winehouse documentary last year, as good as that was, you are less sympathetic to her plight. Mostly because she makes obvious mistakes with the men in her life (her father, who exploits her and her boyfriend, who’s a heroin user). DJ AM is just…so damn likable. And speaking of exploiting, I could’ve used without hearing from Dr. Drew, but that’s a rant I’ll save for another day.

DJ AM, along with blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, survived a plane crash that killed six others. He was burned over a lot of his body, as he picked up his phone and calmly called his mother. He didn’t want to go on the pain meds the doctors were prescribing, because he wasn’t sure if that would hurt his sobriety. Dr. Drew seems to think it did open those floodgates, but who knows. Certainly his new found fear of flying didn’t help.

Although I’m not a fan of his style of music, it was great to hear the Talking Heads and The Doors mixed into some things, as well as the best rap song of all time — The Message, by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. The movie would bookend with Grandmaster Flash, as the last tweet he ever sent were the lines from another song of theirs: New York, New York, big city of dreams, but everything in New York ain’t always what it seems.

If you want to see this in the theatres, you can catch it in San Diego tonight (June 2) or on June 8th. After that, you can go to FilmBuff.com and order it.

I’m giving it 3 ½ stars out of 5.

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