When You're Strange

The Doors

Just when you thought the Doors had finally come to a close, the film When You’re Strange comes along and puts a whole new spin on the phenomenon. And what a trip it is with tons of raw footage, including shots from Jim Morrison’s own unreleased films HWY and Feast of Friends, used to great cinematic effect in framing the piece. The minute Johnny Depp’s narration pops in, the story of the Doors — told so many times in so many different ways — begins to build and take shape. Unlike other documentaries, this one doesn’t subscribe to a straightforward narrative with insider interviews; instead, it flows outwardly with ease, reassurance and little dialogue, welcoming each and every viewer, with or without credentials, into the house of detention.

Through a whirlwind of archival photos and film clips, the Doors' (and Morrison’s) rise and downfall comes to life. Their evolution parallels and, in many ways, mimics the revolutionary air of the 60s — from the assassination of JFK and war in Vietnam to the rise and fall of the hippy dream and the dawn of the 70s. At times, the narration, written by director Tom DiCillo, borders the melodrama of Morrison’s mystique to extremities. You have to wonder if this makes the tale any more intriguing than Jerry Hopkins or Oliver Stone’s versions. Clearly, all are in agreement when it comes to calling out Jimbo’s shenanigans, fuelled by a curious mind and copious amounts of LSD and alcohol. “To Jim, obedience is suicide,” Depp says without deference to the singer’s stern father.

Yet, some clips — Morrison strolling through the crowd at a Who concert or driving through the desert in his 1967 Shelby GT 500 Mustang and stopping by a gas station for a smoke and fill-up — convey a more human side of the man, albeit one hiding behind a cloak of madness and chaos. As usual, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore are at the periphery — their stories only coming into play as far as the music and interactions with their lead singer. Once the fiasco of Miami (spelled out in rich detail) and Morrison’s escape to Paris loom, the downward spiral of the Doors doesn’t seem nearly as traumatic or worth dwelling over. Morrison’s demise simply ends any further introspection.

What may be the calling card of the DVD and Blu-ray Disc sets is the bonus material. For the first time ever, Morrison’s relatives — his father Admiral George S. Morrison and sister Anne Morrsion-Chewning — open up and tell their side. In the film and numerous books, the good admiral is made out to be a foil in his son’s life. Here, the senior Morrison speaks admirably and respectively about Jim’s childhood, creative spirit and ambitions. You almost wish the two could have patched things up before 1971, the year of Morrison’s death. This is just another layer to the aura. As a package, When You’re Strange isn’t your usual bio-pic for a Saturday night. You might actually need an open Sunday morning to take it all in and appreciate its artistry. Who'd ever think documentaries could become so engrossing. Wake up! The ceremony is about to begin.

~ Shawn Perry

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