Doors Documentary "When You're Strange"
By Carl Bookstein
May 02, 2010
"When You're Strange", the rock and roll documentary about the
legendary band the Doors, directed by Tom DiCillo and narrated by
Johnny DeppJohnny Depp, is a fascinating portrait of the group. The
vintage concert footage of the Doors in particular is magnetic as the
film focuses on rock star singer and poet Jim MorrisonJim Morrison.
"When You're Strange" tells the story of the Doors rocketing from
obscurity playing the Whiskey a Go Go on Los Angeles' sunset strip to
top of the Billboard charts in just a year.
The documentary tells the tale of the Doors through the prism of the
1960s and the times they were living in, including the war in
Vietnam, the youth movement and the growth of the counterculture. The
film however does not capture the hopeful idealism of this era, due
to the often dark nature of the Door's music as well as Morrison's
drug and alcohol abuse.
"When You're Strange" starts off with a vision of a piercing sun and
an image of Morrison leaving a car wreck. As the movie progresses, we
see eerie footage of Morrison driving through the desert, shot for a
film called "HWY" that the singer planned to make.
"When You're Strange" captures the Doors as Morrison and organist Ray
ManzarekRay Manzarek came together and created the band in 1965 in
L.A. Guitarist Robbie Krieger and percussionist John DensmoreJohn
Densmore soon joined in.
Most of the attention in the film as in life went to Morrison, who
narrator Johnny Depp describes as "innocent and profane- a rock and roll poet".
While director DiCillo seems to break little new ground here, the
film is nevertheless a fan pleasing account of the Doors' history and
their legacy. It is remarkable all that the band accomplished in just
54 months together.
Songs like "The End" and "Riders on the Storm" remain dark
masterpieces of rock history. From their very first hit "Light My
Fire", the Doors made a lasting imprint on the landscape of rock.
It is their talent that has made them last, from Morrison's powerful
singer charisma to Manzarek's garage rock organ and from Krieger's
fine guitar stylings to John Densmore's jazz influenced drums.
While it is the music that makes this movie special, "When You're
Strange' is nevertheless the story of Jim Morrison's drug and alcohol
abuse and his Dionysus like following, as we see this poet and rock
idol head into a tailspin. Morrison started with psychedelic drugs
and wound up a self destructive alcoholic who died in 1971 at the age
of 27. It is the unique and powerful music of the Doors however that
remains their lasting contribution.
Doors documentary doesn't disappoint
By Peter Kourkouvis
April 22, 2010
For a band named after its singer's desire to be the bridge between
the known and the unknown, much about the Doors remains a mystery.
The latest cinematic production about the band, a documentary titled
"When You're Strange," seeks to demystify some of that enigma.
Inevitably, any hour-and-a-half-long flick that tries to capture the
essence of the Lizard King and company is bound to be inaccurate,
unfaithful or at least embellished to a certain extent. Oliver
Stone's 1991 movie about the band nauseated critics and the living
members of the group because of the artistic liberties Stone took in
portraying the band members.
But this film, directed by Tom DiCillo, is different. It doesn't aim
to shock the viewer with any major revelations about the group.
The storyline follows the major points in the band's progression:
from the moment Jim Morrison recites his songs for the "rock concert
in his head" to bandmate Ray Manzarek on Venice Beach, to their
tenure as the Whiskey-a-go-go's house band. It then focuses on the
defiant performance on the Ed Sullivan Show, their ascendance to the
top of the charts, the infamous act of exhibitionism at a Miami show
that incited decrying for decency from moral conservatives, and
finally Morrison's sudden death at the age of 27.
The stories have been repeated over and over, becoming myth, with the
poet-rock performer reveling in the Dionysian as Manzarek, guitarist
Robbie Krieger and drummer John Densmore provide the choral support.
What's really fresh about this documentary on the group is the
metaphorical grout between the rock. Previously unreleased footage of
performances and band interviews, in addition to clips from
Morrison's disorienting short film "HWY: An American Pastoral," are
interspersed throughout the film. These unseen moments portray the
bandmembers as complex characters with distinct personalities and
backgrounds. Tension predictably arises, threatening to dissolve the
group. But, of course, it never does.
Furthermore, DiCillo succeeds in contextualizing the Doors as a
symptom of a generational mood.
With a seductive, contemplative, yet detached tone of voice evocative
of the lizard king himself, Johnny Depp narrates the film, at one
point describing the '60s counterculture movement as a "cultural
earthquake ... out of a crack steps a band named the Doors."
A short clip of RFK speaking of a new America at Kansas State
University reminds us that by the late '60s, the country was
changing. Preceding the clip, Morrison, bearded, contemplative,
recites a line from one of his poems: "Have you been born yet and are
you alive?" The sense of becoming anew, of questioning the current
and striving for something more genuine or clearer, grips not just
Morrison, but an entire nation.
The idealism would soon fade: Morrison heads to Paris, weary that his
band's music had taken a backseat to the spectacle, one in which the
protagonist is expected to entertain the audience with his erratic behavior.
Brilliantly, DiCillo juxtaposes scenes of America's own fall from
grace, images of war in Vietnam, newspapers bearing headlines of
leaders assassinated and shots of Hendrix and Joplin, dead at 27,
with the Doors playing "The End" in the background.
However, it's not all gloom in this film. In fact, it presents a band
that is serious but also mischievous and funny.
With great approval, Manzarek lauds the film, saying it's "the
anti-Oliver Stone, ... the true story of the Doors."
However, with the Doors, especially Morrison, obscuring the truth is
where the joy arises. Perhaps the most telling moment of the film
occurs toward the very beginning, as a reporter asks Morrison what
his occupation is.
In response, Morrison smiles slowly from the corner of his mouth,
staring directly into the camera but saying nothing.
The film, on the other hand, has much to say. The unseen footage is
revelatory, as it gives a first-person impression of a group of
musicians for whom much fact and fiction has been said. By keeping
the embellishment to a minimum, while not detracting from the
mythical allure that has become the Doors, DiCillo has created a
documentary that is worth checking out whether you're a Doors fan or
simply interested in getting a glimpse of the one of the bands that
led the '60s cultural renaissance.