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The most depressing thing about Kevin Kerslake’s documentary chronicling the all-too-brief life and tragic death of dance music star DJ AM is how utterly familiar it feels. Comprehensively tracing its subject’s remarkable rise to fame and constant struggle with inner demons that led to drug abuse, As I AM: The Life and Time$ of DJ AM (you can rest assured that’s the last time the gimmicky title will be listed) is but the latest in a seemingly never-ending procession of show-biz cautionary tales.
DJ AM, born Adam Goldstein, had the deck stacked against him from an early age. His father abandoned him upon discovering that his mother had conceived him with another man during a period of estrangement. After relocating with her to Los Angeles as a teenager, Goldstein had obesity issues and fell into drug use. He was sent to a treatment facility for teenage addicts that was later shut down for cruel and abusive treatment of its charges.
But along the way he found his calling, becoming obsessed with beats and quickly achieving DJ stardom for his innovative mash-ups and lyrical wordplay. Having lost weight with the aid of gastric bypass surgery, he also emerged as a major player in the L.A. dating scene, becoming tabloid fodder because of his relationship with Nicole Richie. Goldstein scored the first $1 million DJ contract, with a Las Vegas casino, and enjoyed high-paying, high-profile gigs including parties hosted by the likes of Madonna and Tom Cruise. We see clips featuring his cameo appearances in such films and television shows as Iron Man 2 and Entourage.
One area in which he wasn’t unique was his drug abuse. As one of his friends puts it, Goldstein was, “in addiction, not special,” adding that he was “just a garden-variety drug addict like the rest of us.”
Goldstein did manage to maintain sobriety for several years, during which his career flourished. He even hosted an MTV reality series in which he counseled young addicts in personally revealing, often self-deprecating fashion. But his life spiraled downhill after he miraculously survived, along with Blink-182’s Travis Barker, a plane crash that killed four others. Despite having suffered extensive burns, he quickly resumed his career, taking anti-anxiety and pain medications to help with the PTSD that resulted in a paralyzing fear of flying. Goldstein died of an overdose in NYC a year later; news footage shows his lifeless body being put in the back of an ambulance.
Like the similarly themed Amy, this documentary benefits from the extensive footage of its subject, whose every move seems to have been captured by cameras. But unlike Amy, it also features much commentary in which Goldstein talks candidly and often humorously about his travails. Like many addicts, he was painfully self-aware but ultimately helpless to prevent himself from falling into the abyss.
Besides its close-up portrait, the doc presents a vivid picture of the big-money dance club scene in which Goldstein operated and features interviews with such prominent peers as Mark Ronson, Diplo, Mix Master Mike, Steve Aoki and Paul Oakenfold, among others. Dr. Drew Pinsky also is on hand, not surprisingly, to offer his thoughts about addiction.
Production company: Manifest
Director-screenwriter-director of photogaphy: Kevin Kerslake
Producers: Robert Bruce, Dan Franklin, Kevin Kerslake, Joel Marcus
Executive producers: Andrea Gross, Todd Andrew, Alstrup, Sacha Chen, Balthazar Getty, Noel Lohr, Cheryl Horner Sirulnick
Editor: Joel Marcus
Not rated, 111 minutes