As I AM: The Life and Times of DJ AM opens with an eruption of sirens. From the start, we know this documentary is telling an ill-fated tale: DJ AM (a/k/a Adam Goldstein) was born into soap-opera levels of familial dysfunction and became a drug addict as a pre-teen.
He’d become a respected DJ by the time he was a young man, and his fame grew in tandem with the increasingly gaudy nightclub scene of the new millennium. Kevin Kerslake’s film follows a familiar Behind the Music trajectory with an increased helping of drama to hold our attention. It would benefit from more focus on the music, but the work stands as an effective (if overly long) portrait of addiction.
AM, who was able to get clean, gamely describes his difficult path in voiceovers. It’s clear he always had an obsessive personality, and the filmmakers ably illustrate a hyperfocused creative mind: AM recalls closely watching the motions of windshield wipers on cars as a child, studying their synchronization. Later, in his DJ sets, he would become known for perfectly coordinating song transitions by lyrical cues.
The film, though authorized by AM’s estate, does not sugarcoat his struggles or his tragic demise. AM’s relapse seems inevitable after he miraculously survives a plane crash and attempts to push through injuries and PTSD to get back to DJ’ing. He strives to resist drugs but ultimately dies of an overdose. Viewers without an active interest in the world of DJs may wish for more cultural context — it’s not entirely clear what musical contributions all the talking heads have made — but the film has a dramatic pulse that may engage even those who avoid a crowded dancefloor.
As I AM: The Life and Times of DJ AM
Directed by Kevin Kerslake
Opens May 27, Village East Cinema