Friday, April 9, 2010

"when you're strange: a film about the doors" movie review

"when you're strange: a film about the doors" opened in limited release at the angelica here in new york city today. it premiered at the sundance film festival last year to generally excellent reviews. since the premiere, the initial voice over, done by (writer/director) tom dicillo himself, was replaced by a narration performed by johnny depp! it's a fascinating film, composed entirely of archival film clips (mainly from concert and studio performances).

one highlight is the rarely (if ever) seen footage from jim morrison's experimental film, "hwy: an american pastoral," that was shot in 1969. it's the glue that brings together the multitude of film clips assembled by dicillio. the completed documentary exists in a time warp that encapsulates the rise and fall of the doors. if the film has one weakness, it's the inclusion of one too many stock images of the 1960's. how many times to we need to see images of the "turbulent" times - especially when they're at the expense of additional footage of the doors!

but overall what dicillo accomplished with his take on the band is well worth watching (if not a must watch for fans). the gritty verite of "when you're strange" is a startling contrast from oliver stones's slick dramatization "the doors." while val kilmer did morrison justice, there really is only one jim morrison. watching morrison perform, watching him self-destruct on screen, is powerful stuff. that said, the film takes a much broader look at the rest of the band members. it's not (as one might expect) just about jim!

aside from the "hwy" footage, one real nugent in this film is the "wild child" studio sessions. the behind the scenes look at the evolution of the song, the work of the band in putting it together makes a powerful impression on how serious these guys were about the music. that aspect doesn't come off in the concert footage - which mainly devolved into jim's efforts to rile up the audience. in that vein, the footage from the miami show that led to morrison's prosecution (and conviction) on lewdiness charges is pretty harsh stuff.

miami, which itself followed the the images from the equally disastrous hartford concert where jim taunted the police (after one had maced him backstage) until they stopped the show, included a particularly nasty screed where jim repeatedly insulted the audience. despite the apparent bottoming out of their touring plans (all the shows were eventually cancelled), the doors managed to regroup and a year later managed to release "l.a. woman" and once again top the american charts.

but the band's resurrection was short-lived. within six months morrison would be found dead in paris bathtub - from a heroin overdose. but the film doesn't dwell on the particulars of his death. instead, we get a matter of fact portrait - in line with the other rock stars that preceded him (notably hendrix and joplin). there wasn't any moralizing about his self-destruction and the end of the band. in this respect, one could say "when you're strange" focused on the highs and lows of the band and bypassed the explanations.

interestingly, i just finished john desmore's "riders on the storm" only two months ago - so the doors saga (via desmore's point of view) was fresh in my mind as i watched the film. all three surviving band members worked with dicillo in varying degrees (at a minimum, they looked at his work in progress and agreed to his interview requests). all in all, except for some of the lame 60's stock footage - it's a good documentary, and a story well told by dicillo.

1 comment:

misszippy said...

I love the Doors and really fascinated with that time period in music. I'll have to check it out--thanks for the review.