Dir. Tom DiCillo, (2009), USA, (18), Colour/B&W, 86 mins.
Narrated by Johnny Depp.
Love them or hate them The Doors left a legacy of hugely influential music with Blue Oyster Cult, Iggy Pop, REM and The Verve acknowledging the band as an inspiration. Today about one million CD’s/downloads of Doors’ music are sold annually. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that The Doors’ notoriety and impact on rock culture have generated a raft of TV documentaries and films. These include Oliver Stone’s uninspired The Doors (1991), which featured the ridiculous posturing of Val Kilmer’s Morrison, and the surviving members of The Doors’ riposteinThe Road of Excess (1997).
DiCillo’s When You’re Strange transcends these earlier attempts and gives us something special. Yes, itfulfils all the expectations of a music documentary charting the milestones in the band’s story from 1965 to 1971: their Los Angeles formation, swift rise to fame, live shows and TV performances, Morrison pressing the self-destruct button and his untimely death in Paris at 27. What lifts DiCillo’s film far above the competition is the cinematographer’s, (Paul Ferrara), live footage of the band, much of it not seen before. Ferrara was a contemporary photographer of The Doors and his backstage film clips give a vivid insight into the characters and pressures on Morrison, John Densmore, Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek. The director expertly splices in interviews with band members,1960’s newsreel recordings of assassination, the Vietnam war and the decade’s counterculture, plus narrator Depp quoting Morrison’s father. These elements give the film historical context and a measure of insight into Morrison’s troubled family life, which may help us understand more clearly why The Doors’ frontman’s downward spiral was so fast and furious. Forty years on the story of The Doors is fascinating and relevant to celebrity culture today. Brilliant soundtrack, intelligent filmmaking.
What the critics said
‘Clips from a film Morrison made of himself in the desert are alone worth the price of admission … New fans and old will find the experience hypnotic.’ Peter Travers, Rolling Stone.
‘DiCillo’s achievement cannot be underestimated, as he seamlessly balances the scenes that made the band infamous, with the intimate moments and the atmosphere of an era, all in all making When You’re Strange the definitive cinematic account of The Doors.’ Daniel Hooper, eyeforfilm.com
‘A weirdly gripping documentary about the Doors … DiCillo’s film material of Jim Morrison is sensational.’ Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian.
2011, Grammy Awards nomination, Best Long Form Music Video: The Doors/Tom DiCillo and others.