The story of the famous and influential 1960s rock band and its lead singer and composer, Jim Morrison, from his days as a UCLA film student in Los Angeles, to his untimely death in Paris, France at age 27 in 1971.
A five year project involving filming on NYC subway. Camera observes people and events unaware they are being filmed. Emotional, intimate and deeply human. All done by director Tom DiCillo.... See full summary »
A chronological look at The Doors, focusing on lead singer, Jim Morrison (1943-1971), from the formation of the band in 1965, it's first gigs, and first album, to Morrison's death, after years of alcohol and drug use. Along the journey, we see archival footage of rehearsals, performances, and private moments including a Miami concert resulting in Morrison's arrest and trial for indecency. His love of the spotlight, his desire to be a poet, and his alcohol-fueled mood swings lead to a back and forth between public and private desires, successes, and failures. The band's music plays throughout. Written by
A mock newspaper clipping announces both that Sharon Tate and her friends have been found murdered and that Charles Manson and his "Family" are suspected. Manson and the "Family" were not identified as the Tate killers until December 1969, more than four months after the murders happened. See more »
When You're Strange is made up of all archival footage, clips taken from some famous scenes (i.e. Ed Sullivan Show appearance, intro's at the airport, infamous concert) and not-so-famous ones (clips from the rarely seen films Highway and Feast of Friends are seen here), and it's done in what could be called objectively adulatory. That might not make sense, but what Tom DiCillo wants to show is what the Doors were like, the times they were in, and what was up with their frontman, Jim Morrison, who was with the band for five years before dying one night in a bathtub under mysterious circumstances. At the same time as he's giving us the facts via narration read by Johnny Depp, and with the footage, he wants the audience to see what was so unique about the Doors, their strange appeal as rock figures unlike anyone else at the time; there were other hippie-rock bands, and other poets, and other blues bands, but not quite in this combination.
For the newcomers, the documentary basically tells you everything you need to know, or would care to know, about Jim Morrison and the Doors. I mention his name first because, as a liability with the documentary for fans, it doesn't really go that much into the other members' lives at the time. Perhaps DiCillo saw that not a lot of interest was really there with Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore (comparatively to Jim, the documentary might tell us, they were very much normal, save for trading off from acid to meditation), or that Morrison is such a dynamic figure- an icon to some, just another wasted rocker to others- that he'd have to take up the screen time. A similar issue could be taken with Oliver Stone's bio-pic - on the other hand, as the film makes pretty clear, after Morrison died, the Doors were practically bust (the doc fails to mention that the band actually *did* go on to make a couple of albums in the 70's, both huge flops, and cynically tour a few years ago as "The 21st Century Doors", but I digress).
An issue can be taken with nothing too new being given to us historically about the band, and (more-so) that DiCillo frames it into the history we've seen so often: tumultuous times, upheaval of society, Johnson and Nixon's Vietnam and domestic policies, Kennedy and MLK assassinations and Charles Manson and Kent etc etc. But what works best is when we can focus on the band as a whole, what made them different, how they somehow gelled together as equal parts blues, poetry, psychedelia, jazz, rock, whatever, in how they approached the songs (no bass player for one thing) and how they recorded tracks. One of the more fascinating aspects is hearing how long the creative process took; their best albums took mere days to record (self-titled debut and LA Woman) while a mixed-bag of pop-tunes like The Soft Parade took nearly a year.
And in the middle, like a vortex of leather and hair and strikingly handsome (or as some might say "Hawt") lead figure, Jim Morrison takes up a lot of the airtime. He's an intriguing, baffling figure, how a man with such talent and natural charisma, as a singer and a writer, felt insecure about himself and also became "Jimbo" as Manzarek called him, a wild alter-ego on stage that made a split between those who wanted the Doors, and those that wanted to spectacle of "JIM". He doesn't come off too well as a person ultimately, as a philanderer and alcoholic and sometimes just cruel person... but at the end of it all, his creative output with the Doors in a few years amounted to more than some rock bands can get in decades of work. Again, this is nothing too new to realize, and some of the big facts are so well covered as to be like pop-legend. But DiCillo does a thorough job putting it altogether, and, substantively (if not as a visionary experience) it trumps Stone's film.
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