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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > When You're Strange - A Film About the Doors

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WHEN YOU'RE STRANGE - A FILM ABOUT THE DOORS (2010)

Featuring archival footage of Jim Morrison, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Janis Joplin, John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Richard Nixon, Elvis Presley, Ed Sullivan, Andy Warhol and Adolf Hitler.

Narrated by Johnny Depp.

Written by Tom DiCillo.

Directed by Tom DiCillo.

Distributed by Eagle Rock Entertainment.  86 minutes.  Rated R.

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When You're Strange - A Film About the Doors

Jim Morrison was always a seriously schizophrenic American icon, so perhaps it is fitting that this film would tell his story in two distinctly different voices – one realistic and one fantastical. 

Was he a shaman or a poet or merely a drunk and a publicity whore?  Actually Morrison was all of the above and more during his short stint as the magnetic leader of rock group The Doors.  (There were a mere four years between the band’s breakthrough and Morrison’s drug overdose.)  He was an enigmatic and fascinating character. 

He was so intriguing, in fact, that this story has been filmed many times before, in other documentaries and even Oliver Stone’s controversial biopic The Doors. 

The survivors of the band were apparently disgruntled by Stone’s film and all these years later, they have decided to help get what they consider the true story out there.  In fact, Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek predicted that this film would be the “Anti-Oliver Stone.” 

The band opened up their vaults to filmmaker Tom DeCillo (Living in Oblivion, Johnny Suede) and gave him nearly free access to lots of rare (and some not-so-rare) footage of the band in their glory days. 

This has some truly fascinating footage which always keeps things interesting, though the film would have more perspective had they gotten some up to date interviews with the people who lived through the experience.  Nonetheless, Johnny Depp is an enthusiastic and passionate narrator who luxuriates in the band’s history – even when DiCillo’s text that he is reading is just a bit gushing or overly florid.  Still, the movie tells a well-known story with economy and enough fascinating rare footage to impress the hardcore fan or the casual observer. 

However, the film floats well out of the documentary range with a bunch of “reenacted” scenes of a still quite alive Jim Morrison driving around the American backwaters in a classic muscle car, listening to his obituaries on the radio and “experiencing” America in the early 70s. 

It is a well-known conspiracy theory that Morrison did not die in a Paris bathtub, but faked his death and instead lived on in sweet privacy and obscurity.  (Similar rumors have since sprung up for many other singers who died too young, including Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.)  In fact the rumor about Morrison being alive was so influential that it was fictionalized in the hit 80s movie Eddie & the Cruisers and his old bandmate Ray Manzarek’s novel The Poet in Exile. 

These rumors are a legitimate part of the Doors story and probably should be explored by the film.  However, When You’re Strange gives these scenes no context or exploration.  They seem to be saying that this really happened and here’s your proof – and then offer no proof.  Anyone can film “reenactments” of anything they want, but that does not prove that they are true (and here I am giving them the huge benefit of the doubt that these actions had ever actually occurred in order to be reenacted.) 

By definition, documentaries are supposed to deal in facts, not theories.  However, if they do explore theoretical ideas, the filmmakers have the responsibility to acknowledge that this is indeed a possibility but is not a fact that can be proven or verified.  Instead, When You’re Strange rolls out the segments as if they have discovered some long-lost footage showing Jim Morrison alive after death. 

That said the guy that played Morrison in these shots was spookily similar looking to the real singer.  If I didn’t know it was just an actor, I would believe it was really Jim Morrison. 

But this is what makes this technique so disturbing – some people will believe that this is real footage proving that Morrison is indeed alive.  And let’s face it – forty years on from the reports of his demise, Jim Morrison has had plenty of time to set that record straight if that was what he wanted.  So either Jim Morrison is really dead or for some reason he wants the world to believe he is. 

Either way, these segments of When You’re Strange do not benefit Jim Morrison the man.  They merely bolster Jim Morrison the myth.  That may even make good business sense for the filmmakers and the band, but I’m not sure that the subject of this mythology would appreciate how his memory is being portrayed. 

Then again, as the actual historical footage showed, Jim Morrison was rather seduced by the spotlight – so perhaps he would approve.

(Ed. note: Weeks after this review was posted we learned that the footage of Morrison tooling around the back roads was actually made by the real Jim Morrison for an aborted film project before he died [or perhaps didn't die, see above].

This obviously makes the footage much more viable for use in the film than we suggested, however the fact that When You're Strange did not ever give any context to these scenes still seems like a bit of a cheap trick on the filmmakers' part.  Also, it appears that the footage was monkeyed with for the purposes of the documentary at the very least I would assume the section with Jim listening to his own death announcement was doctored up in the editing room. 

That said, we apologize for suggesting that the footage was merely a cheap reenactment of Morrison.  We were incorrect on that point.)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 20, 2010.

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Copyright ©2010  PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 20, 2010.