out of Five
Running time: 90
Tom DiCillo's Doors documentary is decently paced and packed with previously unseen archive footage but it never scratches beneath the surface and doesn't tell Doors fans anything they don't already know.
What's it all about?
Directed by Tom DiCillo (Living in Oblivion), When You're Strange: A Film About The Doors is, as its subtitle suggests, a film about California rock band The Doors, guitarist Robby Krieger, drummer John Densmore, keyboardist Ray Manzarek and legendary, genital-flashing, controversy-baiting singer-slash-frontman Jim Morrison. Taking their name from William Blake's “the doors of perception”, the band formed in 1965 before hitting the big-time with the release of Light My Fire in 1967 and going on to record six albums before Morrison's tragic death in 1971.
Narrated by Johnny Depp, the film tracks the band from their early days until Morrison's death, with the use of previously unseen archive footage, including what appears to be Morrison's own experimental art movie HWY, which shows him driving through the desert.
The previously unseen archive footage is genuinely fascinating and includes concert material, backstage stuff and pre-fame home movies, all of which showcase Morrison's powerful charisma. The film also attempts to explore how the band created their unique sound, though the lack of talking heads means that this is less informative than it should have been.
The main problem is that the film largely skims through the various anecdotes surrounding the band and never bothers to scratch beneath the surface, meaning that the film doesn't tell you anything that you couldn't get from a quick whizz through Wikipedia or a viewing of Oliver Stone's The Doors. (If you've seen that movie, you'll spend the whole of When You're Strange waiting for the bit where Morrison chucks Pamela Courson in a cupboard and sets fire to it, only to be disappointed.)
In addition, Depp's narration is rather bland and has the feel of a TV special, while the lack of interviewees means that we're denied anyone else's perspective on the band – The Doors apparently gave their full co-operation for the film, so the decision not to have Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore provide talking head interviews seems particularly bone-headed.
When You're Strange: A Film About The Doors isn't quite the film it should have been but it's still worth watching in a Doors For Beginners sort of way and the superb archive footage ensures that hardcore Doors fans won't be disappointed.
When You're Strange: A Film About The Doors (15)