When You're Strange - A Film
About the Doors
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.
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.
was so intriguing, in fact, that this story has been filmed many times
before, in other documentaries and even Oliver Stone’s controversial biopic
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.”
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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
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
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.