When You’re Strange (15)

Written and directed by Tom DiCillo
Screening at FACT from 2nd July 2010

Reviewed by Charles McIntyre

With six albums released between 1967 and 1971, The Doors were an unstoppable force in American music, and an integral component of the 1960s counterculture movement.

The untimely death of frontman Jim Morrison cut short what could have been a far more extensive musical repertoire (although the remaining band members did record two further albums) and this sense of lost potential resonates strongly in DiCillo’s adoring documentary, When You’re Strange.

This relatively obscure film has been brought into the mainstream thanks to Johnny Depp’s involvement in the project. I am glad to say, however, that his presence as narrator doesn’t distract from the power of the story, or from Morrison’s mesmerising antics. Instead Depp becomes an anonymous storyteller (a role that, incidentally, suits him much better) and his paced delivery unravels the band’s life story at a riveting rate.

The film retraces the story of The Doors from their innocuous conception to their explosive and heart-numbingly tragic end. A crucial decision of DiCillo in telling this tale was to exclude any new interview footage. For this the film has received criticism, as it relies almost entirely on archival footage, and excludes the vocalised memories and opinions of those involved. The film works nonetheless, and although it would no doubt be fascinating to hear modern recounts of the story being told, the externalisation would tear through the narrative. The beauty of this documentary is that the viewer falls into the era – and era is central to The Doors’ poetry and success.

The events portrayed in the documentary have been chosen carefully as to encapsulate Morrison’s rise and fall, but the band as a group and individuals are not ignored, and the unique sound of The Doors is explored in depth – a sound which was created, seemingly, at random. The footage used is immersive and has been seamlessly edited into a flowing composition. Featuring live performances, studio recordings, and back stage filming, the film is vibrant and moving enough to sustain the interest of any cinemagoer, and is a must see for all fans of the band.

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