Diane Warren: Relentless

17th Dallas International Film Festival

By Brian Landa

“I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”. “If I Could Turn Back Time”. “How Do I Live”. That caliente salsa number from the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos movie on the recent Oscars telecast.

With a demeanor and style not unlike Liza Minnelli, but a fierce passion all her own, Diane Warren cannot and will not be stopped. The new up close and personal documentary Diane Warren: Relentless just premiered in Austin at SXSW 2024.

I was at the second screening. Warren was in the house for the Tuesday night premiere. I was fortunate enough to be present for a director & producer Q&A. No distribution yet, which was a surprise, considering how well this one is made and the level of subject participation. From Cher to Common. That’s pretty uncommon.

Warren Doesn’t Give A Fuck. Warren is punk rock. Warren does not care what you think. Quick with profane words and a middle finger (in my preferred more forceful “cannon” style, no less. There is a difference), Warren is a conundrum. It’s more than a bit incongruous to be known for artery-clogging power ballads and curse like a sailor behind the scenes. But there’s more there. There’s always more. Very much so.

Filmmaker Bess Kargman (Best known for a fantastic documentary about the grueling word of high school ballet competitions, First Position, which I actually saw at The Dallas International Film Festival in 2011 and it was one of my faves that year) utilizes subject interviews, but no voiceovers, with onscreen text and archival footage to fill in the gaps. And as revealed in the Q&A, Warren was mostly cooperative, but curmudgeonly about anyone being in her personal songwriter space.

Cluttered doesn’t even begin to describe it. Genius emerging from chaos. And genius it is. Guilty pleasure is still pleasure. And if you’re the only one feeling the guilt, is it really guilt? Warren songs hit a chord. Music wordplay very much intended.

I love Billie Eilish, but it’s very odd to me that we are now in a world where Billie and Finneas O’Connell have two movie song Oscars each, and Diane Warren has won zero by vote. The world is not fair.

Every Oscar loss is a personal blow to Warren and her cadre of close personal friends. One longtime friend fell on hard times and is now her personal assistant and closest confidante. We really want to know the juicy secrets, but there’s not much to tell. That blank page with the lines for musical notes. The blank cassettes. The blank CDs. That’s the canvas.

Due to her style and gruffness, many assume she’s elsewhere on the rainbow scale. On film, she says she is as straight as they come, but not really interested in being with a man or a woman or any humanoid-presenting creature in-between. I’ve been seeing “Not Tonight. I Have Rehearsal” t-shirts a lot. With Warren, it’s “Not Tonight (Or Ever). I Have to Songwrite.”

Not exactly (or perhaps exactly) what you’d expect from a songwriter who sparked a multi-million dollar legal battle between country music sweethearts LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood, where at first everyone despised each other, and then everyone made so much money that the dispute is now the near highlight of everyone’s career.

Sometimes the ones you think are cheesy are the ones with the souls of iron. These people are survivors. Like Karen Carpenter before her (a fantastic documentary was just released on that subject as well), the songs of Diane Warren are a pleasure – one that is far less guilty once you know the backstory. Diane don’t need no man. Diane don’t need no woman. Diane just needs a song. Her cluttered office space (in the building that bears her name) would put those little cubbies with tiny upright pianos that Carole King and Neil Diamond used in The Brill Building to shame.

Jewish like her
NYC counterparts, and with an outwardly unsupportive mother, Dad was always very vocal with kind words, but Mom was all about pointing her toward secretarial work. With a present net worth of an estimated $100 Million, Warren certainly chose the better path for her passion.

The origins are simple. She saw the names in parentheses below the song titles on those stacks of 45 RPM records and wanted her name there too.

Until recently, her process was making cassette demos. Finally, she reluctantly moved to some CD and iPhone recording. Process is process, and Asperger’s is mentioned medically more than once. Representation matters. No matter how swift and subtle.

Writing is and has always been the thing. Relentless. Everyone who is interviewed uses that word. Legendary, but also known to be difficult, record producer David Foster says it. Undeniable diva Cher says it. Even those strong personalities can find her to be a bit much at times.

And yet…So many Oscar nominations, still without a peer voted win. But several songs that were worthy of winning, and will outlast the winners.
The one from Armageddon with father / daughter significance may actually be the most immortal. Yes, that particular cheesefest extraordinaire (it’s a personal guilty pleasure and always will be) had a Criterion Collection DVD release. That’s forever in cinephile terms.

Diane Warren is forever as well. She was finally given an honorary Oscar. Hoping for a real one voted by her peers someday. As does she.

15th Dallas International Film Festival