In recognition of Friday’s limited release of When You’re Strange (Abamorama), Tom DeCillo‘s 90-minute Doors documentary, I’m reposting my 1.15.09 review, written at the start of the Sundance Film Festival.
“The short reaction to When You’re Strange is (a) it’s a much more perceptive dive into the legend of the Doors than Oliver Stone‘s film was, (b) it’s in love with Doors music (which I feel is a very good thing); (c) it has a good amount of heretofore unseen footage of Morrison and the band; but (d) it’s stymied time and again by tritely-written narration. And I mean ‘give me a fucking break’ trite.
“There has to be some way to recount the turnovers and disturbances of the hallucinatory ’60s without sounding like Tom Brokaw. You have to write and talk about those times with a sense of psychedelic impressionism. Or you have to talk about them like Peter Fonda did in The Limey — i.e., with subdued feeling and authority.
“I can only report that I began to go crazy listening to DeCillo’s litany of pat cliches. It’s not that the narration gets it “wrong” per se, but it makes one of the most electric and tumultuous times in American history sound so damn tidy and sorted out…almost vanilla.
Update: I haven’t seen a new version of DeCillo’s film, and wasn’t aware that Johnny Depp has re-recorded the narration. A mistake. For all I know the narration has been re-written since the version I saw 15 months ago. I’ll try and catch it this weekend.
“Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek has said he’s had no input into the film, but that he’s seen it and likes it, calling it ‘a tale of American shamanism‘ with a touch of the ‘supernatural.’ He says there’s also some rare footage in there that even stumped the Doors archivist. That’s all true as far as it goes. I don’t want to sound dismissive of this film, but it occasionally irritated the fuck out of me.
“Manzarek told Billboard earlier this year that When You’re Strange is ‘the anti-Oliver Stone… the true story of the Doors.’ Fine. Close enough.”