Movie: When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors

I’ve flown to Paris and visited what is supposed to be Jim Morrison’s resting spot. While I did not make that pilgrimage with friends I did not go in alone. Others traipsed through the graveyard to find this iconic rock n roll destination. When we finally found Jim…silence descended upon us. This is it…this is what it all comes down to.

Time does not abate the passion and enthusiasm of Doors fans. It grows every year: millions of Doors records are sold. Not bad for a band that hasn’t done much since 1973.

So it’s no surprise to see a Doors documentary in 2010. Directed by Tom DiCillo and calmly narrated by Johnny Depp which is a logical and safe choice. (How much cooler would it be if one of Depp’s characters narrated instead? Edward Scissorhands would be boring but say Jack Sparrow or even better: Raoul Duke).

It’s odd to name the documentary When You’re Strange a send up of the Doors’ single: People Are Strange released in 1967.  The 2 minute diddy articulately encapsulates the Doors philosophy that when you’re strange “no one remembers your name.”

Clearly this isn’t true…Morrison’s philosophy needs reworking. From Michael Jackson to John Waters people do remember you when you’re strange. More they become your fans (which is short for fanatic). And it’s the Doors fans who will find little to mine in this documentary.

DiCillo’s documentary is rather benign. It flows in a loose chronological order of Morrison’s life with the Doors as the epic centre of the entire ruckus. There are no fascinating insights or revealing patterns not that a documentary’s job is to be earth shattering. The shallowness of thought saps the subject’s strength leaving viewers with little more than a visual wikipedia entry. Where the doc does shine is in the visuals.

DiCillo has successfully cobbled together footage ranging from Morrison’s student film days right up to end. For example I’d never seen much footage from HWY Morrison’s 1969 film. He liberally sprinkles HWY footage along with live material, interviews and photos to form a visual historical record.

No doubt having half the band meeting during film school resulted in a band well aware of visuals and the power of film long before the MTV era commenced. Through it all the Doors seem comfortable in front the cameras. I can’t imagine how much footage DiCillo had to view before finally selecting the winners for this doc. Winners for true. In this area his choices were smart, bold and flowed well.

While veteran Doors fans will find few nutrients in the documentary those who have just checked into Morrison Hotel will discover a strong primer. The doc comes off almost with an earnest desire to set the record straight. There was and is much grumbling among fans with Oliver Stone’s Doors movie and some of its “facts” and liberal storytelling.

In the end like all good tales there are more than 2 sides to any story. When You’re Strange is another (brief) chapter in the story known as Jim Morrison and the Doors.


Also published on Medium.

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