When You’re Strange (Tom Dicillo, 2009): USA

Reviewed by Thomas Stier. Viewed at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

When You’re Strange directed by Tom Dichillo is the new documentary about the Doors and Jim Morrison. This was the first film that I attended and not being a huge fan of the Doors, but mostly because of my lack of exposure led me to go into it optimistic and open minded. The lines were long and the theater was packed, and once everybody was seated, the former Doors drummer John Densmore walked out onto the stage to say a few words about Jim.   Densmore said a few words about one day when Jim Morrison came home to the band and was feeling strange, he went outside and wrote a poem which later became the hit Doors song “When your strange”. He read it off of a small piece of paper which I assumed was the same paper Jim had written it on. Whatever.

John Densmore’s introduction to the movie really gave it an intimate and authentic feel and was a perfect transition into the movie. The film starts out with Jim Morrison driving in the desert to nowhere. It seemed like new footage because of the good quality but you couldn’t really tell if it was of Jim Morrison back in the 60’s or not. He’s driving looking like he’s on all sorts of psychedelic drugs.  Although maybe this footage isn’t a reenactment at all, maybe its part of the “unseen footage” that the film claims. The movie then opens like any other rock band documentary but with a deliberate focus on Jim Morrison. Dicillo brings you into his early life and portrays Jim as a talented artist and a young man who loves attention.  Dicillo inevitable brings the audience into the times of the 60’s and 70’s youth and hippy movement against establishment althought the movie doesn’t really need it.  The movie seems to weave in and out of chronology which does the film a disservice.  We see lots of footage of the band in concert and back stage.  This is certainly the movies high points, hanging out with the band back stage and seeing the crazy fans and groupies they had.  Johnny Depps half hearted voice over narration throughout the film is dry and doesn’t tell the average Doors fan anything they didn’t already know.

The second half of the movie seems like a Vh1’s behind the music of Jim Morrison without the interviews. Jim Morrison seems more interested in fame and getting drunk than he does about the band and the music.  We see Jim Morrisons personal and artistic downfall. He is constantly drunk and even in some instances passing out on stage. You notice the bands frustration with him and you can tell they are getting sick of it.

Overall I enjoyed this movie with its many flaws. Previously I was only a casual Doors fan, but this movie has opened my eyes to the strange band. While the movie might not have been that informative to die hard Doors fans it did have lots of new footage that’s has never been seen before.

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