It’s simply impossible not to be fascinated by the story of The Doors, the mythology surrounding the short-lived rock group and the charisma shown by its bad boy rock star poet front man, Jim Morrison. The band was an international cultural phenomenon: during the 54 months it was in existence, it sold 80 million albums world wide. The Doors’ music is mesmerizing, and the players are enthralling. Tom Di Cillo’s documentary has a built in audience of fans, and the film will not disappoint them.
Jim Morrison in His Own Voice, and Johnny Depp’s voice over narration
The story of Morrison and the band is told exclusively through the use of archival footage, with voice over narration read by Johnny Depp. The film opens with crucial events that come late in the group’s brief history, but Di Cillo quickly takes us back to the band’s genesis via a fast rewind of archival footage. With Johnny Depp describing the original meeting between Jim Morrison and keyboardist Ray Manzarek, Di Cillo then begins unreeling that same archival footage to chronicle the group’s rapid evolution from garage band to opening act to headline artists, and show how Jim became such an iconic spokesperson for a generation who were of seeking social and political justice and experimenting with alternative life styles.
The Doors In Context
Di Cillo captures the historic moment and puts Morrison’s personal and artistic journey in to context by using clips showing the Vietnam War and protests against it, the assassinations of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Frances Kennedy, and the brutality at Kent State.
Johnny Depp is Pitch Perfect
The only element in the film that’s not actually of the moment is Johnny Depp — but his narration is pitch perfect. He manages to modulate the tone of his voice and control the cadence of his speech so that his delivery sounds almost uncannily like the spoken extension of Morrison’s singing. Depp, a risk-taking artist and legendary bad boy in his own right, really gets the Morrison yarn, and knits it into a tight tale. DiLillo’s choice of Depp’s engagement as the film’s storyteller is very smart, indeed.
Amazing Music Casts It’s Spell
There is also a lot of performance footage, some of it showing Morrison as magnetically seductive, at his hard core rock star best, and some of it focused on his famous drug-driven shenanigans. Morrison’s ups and downs are well balanced in song, narrative and footage. Die hard fans and cognoscenti might quibble over details, but overall, this full out Morrison profile is accurate and compelling.Band members Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore all have their due, too. They’re profiled primarily in relationship to Morrison, but their outstanding accomplishments as musicians and their individual contributions to The Doors’ unique sound and ethos are fully acknowledged.
The sound track of this documentary is, as you may well imagine, superb. Light My Fire, Break On Through, The End and, of course, When You’re Strange, featured with other songs, are backed up with the back stories of their creations and insider details about the politics of production. It’s fabulous.
Although When You’re Strange uses a lot of performance footage and takes you behind the scenes at venues ranging from the Ed Sullivan Show to the Isle of Wight, this stirring music documentary is more than a concert film. It’s a welcome new look at a phenomenal band that both made history and was a product of its time. It heralds a whole new generation of fans for The Doors.
Watch The Doors: When You’re Strange – Turn off the lights
The Doors: When You’re Strange,