When You’re Strange

Oliver Stone's 1991 biopic of Jim Morrison, The Doors, was a silly affair, one of those Hollywood movies you watch and then wish you had just seen an actual documentary starring the real people portrayed in the film. Almost two decades later, Tom DiCillo answers the call with a doc that is a must for fans of The Doors, entertaining for the casual listener, and maybe just a little too reverent towards the work of singer/poet/alcoholic Jim Morrison.

I myself am not a major fan of the band, but my West Hollywood house is in the middle of Doors Central: Although the band formed in Venice, California, they played their first gigs at the London Fog and the Whisky a Go Go, just a couple blocks from me. Less than a mile in the opposite direction, Morrison made his home at a cheap motel (where you can still stay in his old room for a bargain price) and The Doors recorded their final album, LA Woman, in what is currently a Mexican restaurant. But my hopes of seeing rare footage of my neighborhood back in the day were scuttled; this is about The Doors, not West Hollywood. Still, there is a wealth of fascinating clips of the band on stage and behind the scenes, although the story isn't much different than Stone's somewhat fictionalized account: The Doors were around so briefly that there's not much to say other than they formed, they became huge, Jim Morrison turned into an obnoxious drunk, then he died.

When You're Strange is at its best when it shows the pure chaos of a Doors concert, and when it makes clever use of Morrison's unfinished film HWY, in which he stars as a guy driving a car around. Johnny Depp's dry and occasionally pretentious voiceover narration brings to mind Malcolm McDowell's in the 1984 documentary The Compleat Beatles, which might have been what DiCillo (normally a feature director) was aiming for. Nothing revelatory here, but lots of great Doors tunes and plenty of footage of the enigmatic Jim.