When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors


DVD Review
Title: When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors
Director: Tom DiCillo
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
Starring: Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek & John Densmore; narrated by Johnny Depp
Run Time: 90 min.
Release Date: June 29, 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.”

The mesmerizing When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors, written and directed by Tom DiCillo, opened in North America on April 9th of this year and I attended the premiere that evening in Kingston. The theatre screening 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 90 minutes. There were a few laughs along the way, usually at Jim’s expense. The DVD viewing experience allows you to truly indulge in your emotional response to it, out loud. For Doors fans, it is the ultimate film treasure.

The opening sequence of When You’re Strange is riveting, with Jim Morrison climbing out of a crashed car on a desert highway in never-before-seen footage from his and Paul Ferrara’s 50-minute 1969 film HWY, that is so clear and vibrant that it could have been shot yesterday. As Jim 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, Elvis-obsessed, and very well read James Douglas Morrison was quoting William Blake. “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.

“The fact is the music is strange. It is music for the different, for the uninvited. It carries the listener into the shadowy realm of dream.”

The film’s editing is superb and perfectly paced with Depp’s narration while the sequence with “Riders On The Storm” playing during graphic footage of the Vietnam War is particularly powerful. When You’re Strange covers all the well known seminal moments in the career of The Doors as well as some private ones among the band members which offer a more well-rounded depiction of their relationship. It reveals the fact that even before the infamous Miami concert the cops were really hard on Morrison and denied him his constitutional right to freedom of speech. It was DiCillo’s position to simply allow their story to unfold as it happened within the contexts of the footage he had to work with and the major news events of the time period (1965-1971) and he let the material speak for itself.

You will thoroughly enjoy the footage that you haven’t seen before while being reminded of the band’s relevance in the history of rock’n’roll. 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 fans the big picture as to why The Doors music is timeless and why it continues 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.

The one DVD bonus feature is an interview with Jim’s father Admiral George S. Morrison (who admitted that he was a very poor interpreter of Jim’s talent and didn’t know him very well after he left home) and his sister Anne Robin Morrison-Chewning who share their fond memories of Jim.

When You’re Strange was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, aired on PBS’ American Masters program on May 26, 2010 and has gone on to earn an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Achievement in a Non-Fiction Series. It continues to do well in Europe and will undoubtedly make Top 10 Best Rock Documentary lists all over the world.

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