When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors

Movie Review
Title: When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors
Director: Tom DiCillo
Studio: Rhino Entertainment
Starring: Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek & John Densmore; narrated by Johnny Depp
Run Time: 90 min.
Release Date: April 9, 2010
Stars: 4.0

As the imperturbable narrator Johnny Depp has already said, “As a rock n’ roll documentary, or any kind of documentary for that matter, it simply doesn’t get any better than this.” I concur.

I went to see the new, mesmerizing rock documentary When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors, written and directed by Tom DiCillo tonight with friends, my niece and her boyfriend (20 & 19 respectively) and I was disappointed that there wasn’t more of a buzz going on at the premiere screening in Kingston, hosted by K-ROCK 105.7 radio. The theatre was two-thirds full with an audience of mixed demographics and everyone sat still with rapt attention and watched for the most part in sober silence for the next 90 minutes. There were a few laughs along the way, usually at Jim’s expense, and I caught myself smiling through much of the film. There’s something about being middle-aged and having to be responsible that goes against my inner will to be weird. Watching When You’re Strange made me want to party with my friends and listen to Doors music all night long but reality had something less debaucherous in mind.

When You’re Strange opens with never-before-seen footage of Jim as a drifter in the desert in his friend Paul Ferrara’s 50-minute 1969 film HWY that is so clear and vibrant that it could have been shot yesterday. As he drives along a California highway in a slick, blue Shelby GT500 we hear reports of his death on the car radio and so begins a factual and retrospective look back at one of the most unique and influential rock bands ever to grace this planet. With Johnny Depp at the helm, we’re taken for a sail back through time to an era when counterculture was born and a gorgeous, young, very well read James Douglas Morrison was obsessed with Elvis Presley and could quote William Blake at the same time.

“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite”.

Jim also knowingly said, “The music can’t help but reflect things that are happening around it.” That is still true of music today although no other band has so clearly defined an era in history as perfectly as The Doors depicted the end of the 1960s and the end of the Kennedys’ Camelot vision for America. Tom DiCillo has captured this fact perfectly in his commanding film about Robby Krieger, John Densmore, Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison and he made sure to emphasize the importance of each band member’s contribution. Presented primarily in chronological order from archival footage supplied by Wolf Films and producer Peter Jankowski, When You’re Strange is not only a bittersweet love letter to the band, but a Dear John letter to the era that spawned them.

Although I knew much of what was presented about the band already, I still thoroughly enjoyed the footage that I hadn’t seen before and I loved being reminded of the band’s relevance in the history of rock’n’roll. My only complaint is that I wish it was longer because when the music was over, I didn’t want to leave, I didn’t want to turn on the lights, and I didn’t want to stop listening to the band. This is probably why people will want to go to see it over and over again.

“For the music is your special friend
Dance on fire as it intends
Music is your only friend
Until the end
Until the end
Until the end

What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down

I hear a very gentle sound
With your ear down to the ground
We want the world and we want it…
We want the world and we want it…
Now!”

~When The Music’s Over~

When You’re Strange can’t help but stir up emotions for anyone who lived through the time period it represents but it also gives new, younger fans the big picture as to why The Doors’ music is timeless and why it will continue to live on long past the lives of the men who dared to challenge the boundaries of rock music with intelligent, poetic lyrics and jazz, flamenco, classical and blues infused rock’n’roll. No one had done it before and no one has made music like it since.

Ray, Robby and Tom talk about When You’re Strange at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival

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One comment

  1. Teresa McDonell · April 17, 2010

    Hi Christine, you really wrote a fantastic review of this documentary. I am so disappointed that I missed the premiere here but I will get to see it. You are so right about The Doors and the influence and the timelessness of their music. The sadness is that their music still describes what we, as humans are still doing to Mother Earth. How insiteful artists can be. Teresa

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