The Lizard King has no clothes!!

There is no such thing as a movie about "The Doors." There just isn't. Oh, there are many that purport to be, but they aren't. What do exist are several documentary films and TV shows, and one feature length film about Jim Morrison and the guys who were in his band.

This isn't really much of a surprise. Morrison was one of the most charismatic figures the American music industry ever produced, and the rest of the band aren't exactly raconteurs. In any film about the band you get a shitload of information about Jim and a few talking head interviews with Robbie Krieger, John Densmore, and Ray Manzarek that last just long enough to remind you why the film doesn't focus on them more.

However, as Morrison died at 27, there isn't a whole lot of material there that hasn't been explored multiple times. "When You're Strange," attempts to mine further into the shallow pit that is Morrison.

For starters, I had some high hopes for this film. Tom DiCillo is a filmmaker who can do interesting things with minimal material. I remember watching "Living in Oblivion," at The Dobie theater in Austin many times when it came out, and being struck at how much it did with so little. It was a small film about small filmmakers that showed the insanity involved in shooting a few minutes of a film. The characters were well drawn, the dialogue was outstanding, and the situations were hilarious. This was a guy who could make a film.

Now, documentaries are a tricky area. Their success depends almost as much on the subject matter as it does on the delivery. The proper handling and set up of a documentary can make the most pedestrian of events fascinating. "Hands on a Hard Body," has no right to be as good as it is, but somehow S.R. Binder was able to take a group of people touching a pickup truck and pull a riveting story out of it. However, if there isn't a new or interesting angle in what you present your audience will have nothing to latch onto. This where "When You're Strange" runs into a problem. No matter how interesting you personally think the story of Jim Morrison is, there is nothing new or surprising here. It is a repackaging of a lot of well worn information and no matter how nice the new package is it's all stuff you've seen before.

This movie lives or dies depending on your feelings towards Jim Morrison. Here is a simple test that will tell you how you will react to this movie.

Finish the following sentence:

I think Jim Morrison is...

If your sentence contains either praise or total ignorance of the man then you will most likely dig this film. If you are critical, apathetic, or dismissive... maybe you should check out "King of Kong."

If you answered a or b you will probably really dig this. If you answered c or d...

I've been through a journey with the man that ranges from curiosity to fascination to adoration until I landed firmly on amusement. Put simply, he was a decent lyricist and a shitty poet who became a cultural icon before his excessive indulgences reduced him to a self parody. He is not some Bacchanalian poet warrior shaman; he was a good looking kid who could write some ok songs and crafted a public persona that was perfect for the time in which he lived. He was a kid who didn't know how to say no to anything and was able to portray himself as far deeper than he was because that's what a lot of young people needed at the time. "Break on Through" is a pretty awesome song though.

The only thing that stands out about this film is the new and interesting footage they used in it. There is some very up close and natural footage that makes "The Doors" in concert seemed a step away from a full blown riot. Johnny Depp acquits himself nicely as narrator, but there is a seriousness that permeates the film that makes it hard for me to take seriously. Morrison was a songwriter who drank a lot, HE WASN'T NELSON FUCKING MANDELLA. This film, like almost every other on the subject makes him look like some spirit guide for a generation who represented freedom and enlightenment while disguising every interview that makes it very clear that he was a rather selfish egotist who represented escape and irresponsibility.

This is a well made film that kept me wishing the director had chosen another subject, a different band. It is very well made, moves along nicely, and displays an incredible amount of talent for documentary film. It's just that we've heard enough about Morrison and this didn't teach us anything new. The filmmaking deserved better.

I think my feelings can be summed up this way. I watched this late at night, trying to fall asleep. At about 3:30 in the morning, after 81 minutes of hearing about a man whose drug problems were so intense, and had such a negative impact on his personality that band mates refer to him as two different people depending on his sobriety, a man who missed recording sessions, and collapsed during shows Depp leaves us with the thought, "you can't burn out…if you were never on fire," and I almost passed out from laughing. That about sums it up for me.


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