When You're Strange: A Film About the Doors begins with a home movie of Jim Morrison driving a car, listening to the radio. The blaring psychedelic music is interrupted for breaking news: The Doors' frontman was found dead of a heart attack in Paris at the age of 27.
That's the setup, and once this documentary disposes of the usual '60s milestones (JFK's death, the civil-rights movement, the rise of youth culture), Johnny Depp chimes in with the band's bio: Morrison meets keyboardist Ray Manzarek at college, they start a group, and the rest is history.
Loaded with tons of archival footage, When You're Strange is at its best when it drops the somewhat intrusive narration (this is more of a film for newbies, not hardcore fans) and lets the black-and-white rehearsal footage, grainy concert clips, and colorful TV spots play out.
The movie recounts Morrison's many screw-ups (showing up drunk onstage, not showing up at all, maybe whipping out his penis at a Miami concert), but they're presented as part of the myth: the rock & roll hedonist untamed by society's laws, morals, or standards. A bigger chunk of the film is devoted to Morrison's problems than the band's music. Of course, much of the Doors' legend is based on the singer's extracurricular activities.
At times, Depp's narration gets heavy-handed ("[the music] carries the listener into the shadowy realm of dreams"); then again, the Doors themselves were always kind of heavy-handed and pretentious (Morrison's poetry, which you hear in the film, is mostly pompous blathering).
But the Doors were one of the few rock bands to mix artsy surrealism and mainstream success. At the center of it all was Morrison, writhing onstage, mumbling through interviews, and exuding dangerous charm. In other words, playing the rock god that he was.Send feedback to [email protected].