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Well worth seeing for Doors fans old and new
chriss-3115 April 2010
Having been a fan for over 20 years, I'm fairly jaded when it comes to bios on the Doors. The new footage and DiCillo's narrative structure offer a truly fresh look at the subject matter, since it's the first time I've really felt I've had an insider's view on the band. Morrison is treated like a real human being, stripped of all the legend and bombast. Instead of the pretentious rock star, you get to see Jim the person evolving over time, with all the joy and suffering that he experienced. There's a shot of him exiting the courtroom in Miami with a look of vulnerability that I found shocking, as it's at odds with image of the cool, cocky singer. The history of the band is subtly told though a wash of images and sparse narration which touch all the milestones without feeling like another retread. It definitely deserves another viewing, consider me a confirmed buyer of the DVD.
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Saw it this morning
rtcblc21 January 2009
I was able to see this at Sundance this morning. What an outstanding film!! By weaving original footage from many sources including takes from a movie Jim Morrison made himself Mr. DiCillo presents an intimate view of all the DOORS in the context of the 60's and early 70's. An intimate look at the complex relationships between Morrison and the other members and hugely entertaining. DiCillo spoke at the end of the movie and during the Q&A's he mentioned one critic accused him of "recreating" footage in the film. The supposed recreated footage was actually Morrisons own film starring himself. This rumor is extremely frustrating to DiCillo as it is spreading via the internet. See for yourself, this is a excellent movie. I asked DiCillo if he had cooperation from Morrison's family. He said he had a lot of help from Morrisons family especially on the relationship between Jim and his father. I hope someone picks it up for distribution. I'd go again.
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Definitive history of The Doors from the inside
larry-41130 June 2009
I attended a special screening of the music documentary "When You're Strange: A Film about The Doors" at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival. This was my 18th screening here and the first to be completely sold out.

Writer/director Tom DiCillo was able to gain access to original footage shot from 1966-71 by Paul Ferrara, a UCLA Film School buddy of flamboyant lead singer Jim Morrison. Those old, grainy films are all that were needed to make this stunning documentary -- no modern-day or additional footage was shot.

The dramatic voice-over was provided by Johnny Depp who, in a statement from DiCillo read prior to the screening, was the one person the filmmakers felt qualified to narrate the movie. It had to be someone with a passion for the music of The Doors, and Depp fit the bill.

With the assistance of the remaining living members, particularly band co-founder and keyboardist Ray Manzarek (who sat in front of me), the film is destined to be the definitive chronicle of the band's history. We finally discover the shocking truth behind the curious myths -- did Morrison really expose his genitals at that infamous Florida concert? Did he fake his own death? "When You're Strange" separates fact from fiction and puts to rest the many rumors surrounding the manic life and untimely death of Jim Morrison. The heretofore secret details behind the making of each amazing album (one took 11 months, another took less than a week) are mind-boggling. Naturally, there's plenty of music. Tons of it.

Like all music docs, the degree to which one connects with the film is directly proportional to one's familiarity with the music and/or artists featured in the production. This certainly applies here. Like some of the thrilling music documentaries I've seen at festivals in the past couple of years ("The U.S. vs. John Lennon," "Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing," "The Wrecking Crew," "Kurt Cobain About a Son"), I put "When You're Strange" right at the top of my list. I was blown away. However, while I walked away feeling that this was an absolutely brilliant film, I have to give it a qualified thumbs up if only because there is no doubt many simply won't have the emotional response that I did. But, for fans of this music, "When You're Strange" is absolutely a must-see.
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pfj4415 February 2010
I just saw it at the Santa Barbara film festival and it had a profound affect on me. Morrison is so perfect he looks fake, where did they get this footage? Depp is like Jim reincarnate, music is amazing (a little loud). Why can't bands be like this today? I knew the story but this hit me like a ton of bricks. Someone said this doc has been around for a while, but I haven't heard a thing about it except for a crappy review at Sundance last year. But I think this is a different movie because Depp wasn't in that one. The great thing about it is that it feels like you are there and yet it feels totally contemporary, like it happened yesterday. Highly Cool.
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Documentary Of An Avant-garde Band
Lechuguilla22 July 2010
"When You're Strange" recounts quite well the history of the 1960s rock band "The Doors" and its famous, charismatic vocalist Jim Morrison. Using archival and backstage footage, some early home pictures of Morrison, and integrating a history of the band's roots and rocky ride with then-current social upheavals, the film conveys all the chaos, change, and creativity that marked that turbulent era.

Some of the narrative retells information that the band's devotees have known for decades, like the origin of the name "The Doors", a reference to Aldous Huxley's 1954 book "The Doors Of Perception". And the very first song Robby Krieger wrote was "Light My Fire". But old details can be informative to new fans.

The film's choppy structure probably had some symbolic significance. But the first five minutes seemed unnecessary. And I could have done without the scenes of Morrison driving a car through the desert, which seemed irrelevant and out of context.

As someone who has been mesmerized by The Doors for a long time, I don't think I learned anything new. Yet, the never-before-seen visuals, Morrison's on-stage performances and backstage personality, combined with all that strange music, at times carnivalesque and at other times bluesy, were enormously interesting. About midway through, Morrison comes across best, as he sings "Touch Me", accompanied by an orchestra.

What's disconcerting is the change in Morrison. He starts out innocent and shy, then quickly morphs into an outrageous showman. His indulgence in drugs and hard drinking did him no favors. However, that over-the-edge artistic style was common in the 1960s. And death arrived at the early age of 27 not only for Morrison, but also for Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, and Morrison's girlfriend, Pamela Courson.

Forty years after his death, Jim Morrison still fascinates people. Part of that derives from his untimely death. But I think he and The Doors resonate today because they were musical poets, social revolutionaries who saw the inhumanity and evil in the world, and tried to change it, through music. With maybe a couple of exceptions, we do not now have comparably influential poets. Jim Morrison and The Doors call to us from the past.
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Footage New, Commentary Not, and Waiting for Ray to...Come Along
Kakueke28 May 2010
As an avid Doors fan for more than 40 years, and with the vast growth of the DVD/Video market and the enormous reservoir for footage that the Internet and YouTube have, I have seen almost all there is to see of The Doors. That includes Jim Morrison's own films "A Feast of Friends" and "HWY," footage from which is contained in "When You're Strange." And most everyone has seen some things on "When You're Strange," such as the scene of The Doors descending from the stairs of an airplane on their European tour, and the bright-eyed look when Jim turns and identifies himself as "Jim."

But setting that aside, this documentary film contains considerable behind-the-scenes and archival footage that I have never seen. The tone is set early with scenes of Jim driving a car through a desert. His own home movie, Doors-like atmosphere, and dialogue. And yes, there are a lot of scenes with the group together, on the road, and interacting, as well as context shots, of locations and other things. The Miami Incident? I must confess, while some people writing about this movie say it gives you a definite answer of what happened, that is not true of this viewer; actually, I don't think anyone will ever know for sure. Still, it has a good presentation.

But the narrative, the commentary? Sorry, it leaves something to be desired. It was very superficial. To have something new and insightful for a hard core fan like myself would be challenging, but still viable. However, I believe it is accurate to say that even for casual fans who know just the basics, there are no revelations. There is certainly nothing on the songwriting process, which some of the more recently released DVDs have some discussion on. Narrator Johnny Depp's words are just the same old story.

It is time for Ray Manzarek to take it upon himself to conceptualize a film containing the very elements whose absence from the Oliver Stone film he used as a basis for criticizing it: namely, Jim's fascination with various French and other literary and theatrical figures. We know many of those names: Rimbaud, Nietzsche, Blake, Artaud, Baudelaire, beat writer Jack Kerouac, and of course Celine: "Take a Highway to the End of the Night." Fans of Jim know, from the many books about him and The Doors, that he memorized many passages of his favorite authors and would challenge visitors to his dorm room to read him the passages so he could cite the page numbers, which could make for a great scene. He was really absorbed. The film could convey how those influences shaped Jim and contributed to his writing of the great songs from The Doors powerful first two albums, The Doors and Strange Days; a few songs on later albums; and his poetry. This could be combined with other elements, including Jim's acid trips in the days when he was sleeping on the Venice rooftops and seeing "television skies." I am surprised that Director Tom DiCillo did not try to find a way to include some of this in his film, whose audience would be looking for something new.
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fantastic for newcomers, decent for the big fans,
Quinoa198428 April 2010
When You're Strange is made up of all archival footage, clips taken from some famous scenes (i.e. Ed Sullivan Show appearance, intro's at the airport, infamous concert) and not-so-famous ones (clips from the rarely seen films Highway and Feast of Friends are seen here), and it's done in what could be called objectively adulatory. That might not make sense, but what Tom DiCillo wants to show is what the Doors were like, the times they were in, and what was up with their frontman, Jim Morrison, who was with the band for five years before dying one night in a bathtub under mysterious circumstances. At the same time as he's giving us the facts via narration read by Johnny Depp, and with the footage, he wants the audience to see what was so unique about the Doors, their strange appeal as rock figures unlike anyone else at the time; there were other hippie-rock bands, and other poets, and other blues bands, but not quite in this combination.

For the newcomers, the documentary basically tells you everything you need to know, or would care to know, about Jim Morrison and the Doors. I mention his name first because, as a liability with the documentary for fans, it doesn't really go that much into the other members' lives at the time. Perhaps DiCillo saw that not a lot of interest was really there with Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore (comparatively to Jim, the documentary might tell us, they were very much normal, save for trading off from acid to meditation), or that Morrison is such a dynamic figure- an icon to some, just another wasted rocker to others- that he'd have to take up the screen time. A similar issue could be taken with Oliver Stone's bio-pic - on the other hand, as the film makes pretty clear, after Morrison died, the Doors were practically bust (the doc fails to mention that the band actually *did* go on to make a couple of albums in the 70's, both huge flops, and cynically tour a few years ago as "The 21st Century Doors", but I digress).

An issue can be taken with nothing too new being given to us historically about the band, and (more-so) that DiCillo frames it into the history we've seen so often: tumultuous times, upheaval of society, Johnson and Nixon's Vietnam and domestic policies, Kennedy and MLK assassinations and Charles Manson and Kent etc etc. But what works best is when we can focus on the band as a whole, what made them different, how they somehow gelled together as equal parts blues, poetry, psychedelia, jazz, rock, whatever, in how they approached the songs (no bass player for one thing) and how they recorded tracks. One of the more fascinating aspects is hearing how long the creative process took; their best albums took mere days to record (self-titled debut and LA Woman) while a mixed-bag of pop-tunes like The Soft Parade took nearly a year.

And in the middle, like a vortex of leather and hair and strikingly handsome (or as some might say "Hawt") lead figure, Jim Morrison takes up a lot of the airtime. He's an intriguing, baffling figure, how a man with such talent and natural charisma, as a singer and a writer, felt insecure about himself and also became "Jimbo" as Manzarek called him, a wild alter-ego on stage that made a split between those who wanted the Doors, and those that wanted to spectacle of "JIM". He doesn't come off too well as a person ultimately, as a philanderer and alcoholic and sometimes just cruel person... but at the end of it all, his creative output with the Doors in a few years amounted to more than some rock bands can get in decades of work. Again, this is nothing too new to realize, and some of the big facts are so well covered as to be like pop-legend. But DiCillo does a thorough job putting it altogether, and, substantively (if not as a visionary experience) it trumps Stone's film.
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An emotional rerun of teen years - for me at least.
testacorsa1 July 2010
"When You're Strange" is a music Documentary, which takes you through the short career of a world famous 1960's band, The Doors.

For this alone, the documentary is worth watching. That said, this is so interesting to watch, because it is a story with so many levels, mainly because it took place in a time, when things were changing.

It was the 1960s. A still growing group of people invented in the 50s, namely the young, could and would not be ignored any longer. As Morrison put it: 'we want the world, and we want it now' To them things were not black and white anymore. Men and women were not men and women, but human beings. The solution was definitely not war, but the absolute opposite. On the other hand the parents, and older generations, were stubbornly holding on to the old order and its values, and a larger and larger gap was growing between these two fronts.

The spotlight in this film is heavily focused on the Doors most famous member, Jim Morrison, and for a good reason. Jim Morrison became a clear symbol of the new, and the young, mainly because he wanted more out of life than the norms allowed, and simply went for it. On top of this, Jim had an interesting background, which is a prime example of the generation gap. Jim Morrisons father George Morrison was an admiral in the navy, and was involved in the Vietnam war. He was against Jim's involvement in rock music, wanted his hair cut, and to get an education. Jim ignored his parents to such an extend that he claimed his family dead, when asked by journalists.

If you know the story of The Doors and Jim Morrison already, this will be a stringent summary of the events with a well written and good narration by Johnny Depp. There is nothing new in the story itself and thankfully no conspiracy theories about Morrisons death. Where this documentary really shines and adds yet another level, is through the footage and the way this is put together. Some of this footage has never been shown before, and parts of it is still so crisp and clear that it's eerie. It is bound to send you on an emotional ride, if you were a fan when it mattered the most - when you were young.

So in conclusion this falls two stars shy of ten because of the only fall through i noticed. When a letter from Morrisons father is brought up, it mentions only one paragraph of this well meaning letter, and uses it out of context to create drama. This is a 2 star fail in an otherwise clear cut and to the bone fact telling documentary.
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Pretty good, pretty good, pretty neat, pretty neat, alright...
MarilynManson31 August 2010
Well, being a huge fan, knowing quite a lot of people in the Doors (full) circle and having been everywhere from Pere Lachaise to Rothdell Trail to Fairhaven Memorial... I have to say I did turn this on with a slight sense of anxiousness as to whether it would be another destruction of James Douglas Morrison's entire character as both the Oliver Stone horrorshow and the numerous vacuous "rockumentataries" have done.

However, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised in the main. If you're a hardcore Doors fan then despite the claims of previously unseen footage, you will have seen most of this, few people have been to Paris without bumping into the likes of Rainer Moddeman and other well connected superfans and blagging bootleg stuff and HWY and Feast of Friends have been pretty easy to secure for a long time now as have tapes of Critique etc. But, I was quite impressed with what Tom Dicillo did with the footage, not only was he sympathetic and judicious with it but he accented the narrative with it almost as good as Densmore accented anything Jim did. Clearly, for the eagle eyed, he used footage from other events to underscore a point on an entirely different event but that's just me being picky - ultimately, there is a finite amount of footage that could be trawled. He avoided a lot of the glaring pitfalls one could easily make in such a documentary - for example he didn't get too caught in the trap of juxtaposing events in the 60's with the events of the Doors (there was some of this but it was measured and relevant) and I thought Depp was okay with his voice-over although he was a little dour and the script was at times a little prescriptive and compartmentalised. I do however appreciate that the film has to be appeal to more than the hardcore afficianados and that a balance has to be struck so I think the film really does work well both for those who only have a loose interest in The Doors (or even those just interested in the era) and those more fanatical about The Doors.

I know that Ray (at least) backed this film vocally which gives it credibility from the get go and I you have to give the guy credit for using only original footage. That said, this probably reduces the "filmmaking" to that of an editor so I don't want to be too gushing but still, give the guy his due, the end product is enjoyable, reasonably balanced, it maintained interest and it definitely had some nice touches in it which as I said derived from clever use of the stock material. It wasn't just the choice of footage; it was the more the way it was deployed and paced.

Maybe if budget (or sensibilities) had allowed, the film could have encompassed some other original footage (or other stock footage even) for those Doors fans who want to learn more about the Doors landmarks - be it shots of Venice beach or Rue Beautreillis but what I am glad of is the fact that they stayed well away from including interviews with the usual crowd like Grace Slick etc. which I think would have corrupted the output.

I'll watch it (and review it) sober again and see whether I feel the same but all in all, to quote the Velvet Menace himself, "pretty good, pretty good, pretty neat, pretty neat".
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In The Immortal Words of Jim Morrison "Pretty Cool, Pretty Neat!'
jymwrite-121 April 2010
Man, there's been a lot said about this movie, then there's the word, and the word is, go see When You're Strange.

Not a true documentary in the sense of a Ken Burns style intensive, exhaustive look into a subject, When You're Strange starts with scenes of Jim Morrison's HWY and uses the fictional device of Morrison hearing of his own death in Paris, then we see The Doors story pretty much from the beginning, and moves chronologically through The Doors career. This is The Doors through The Doors' own lens. All the footage derives from HWY and the concert film, Feast of Friends, that The Doors filmed in 1968. Also, included is footage from Ray Manzarek's student films, 60's period footage for context, and there's a lot of previously unseen footage, except for maybe the hardcore collectors.

For years Doors fans have been asking when and where, and if Jim Morrison's HWY and Feast of Friends will be released. Although, this isn't the stand alone films and a lot of the footage has been used before, Ray Manzarek used Feast of Friends footage for MTV videos in the 80's, and the Soft Parade video in 91. HWY has been bootlegged for years and only the fortunate few have seen it (although You Tube expanded this base). This is the movie Doors fans have been asking for. Writer/Director Tom DiCillo (Johnny Suede, Delirious) intricately weaves together HWY and Feast of Friends and provides a narrative the footage has lacked before, and perhaps if Jim Morrison had lived combining the two might have been a solution he might have chosen. DiCillo also makes choices that are a little riskier in presentation. As an example, he doesn't use the songs and the footage as obviously as before, usually, Riders On The Storm is presented with images of thunderclouds and storms, DiCillo chooses images of Vietnamese jungles flowering in explosion.

And the movie looks great! The footage has been restored and it looks as good as it did, if not better than when it was shot 40 years ago. Not only has the film been restored, so has the sound. Things have been pulled from the background you hear things that before were only muttered or obscured by crowd noises. The complete effect of the film is a much more immediate, impressionistic, visceral view of The Doors than before.

Narration for When You're Strange is provided by Johnny Depp and although it is a little basic and simplistic and sometimes a little intrusive there isn't enough expository footage to move the narrative along without adding the intrusion of contemporary or even period interviews. Depp's narration is subtle and understated and his phrasing while not overly dramatic has the timing of the poetic.

A lot of fans and The Doors have been critical of Oliver Stones 1991 movie The Doors (although, I think Stone was using the band as an archetype for the times, in an unstated trilogy of the 60's). The Doors have said they like this movie and I think the fans are going to like it too, and may consider it the definitive version/vision of the band. A good 3.5 stars movie.

You're going to dig this movie.
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Great Footage, Poor Writing
Chainsaw Slasher12 April 2010
As a response to the Oliver Stone movie, I expected a lot from this, especially since they had nearly 20 years to put something clever together. What I got is a disappointment. I expected more for a definitive documentary on such a revolutionary band.

The writing of this movie was pretty poor. Of all the directors that would dive in to work on a project like this, they choose DiCillo, who is hardly qualified and it shows through the writing. The editing was only average, which is unfortunate since the film is entirely composed of archival footage, no "talking head" type stuff here.

The fact that they settled on Johnny Depp to narrate this film as a marketing gimmick is quite sad. The new poster clearly shows Depp's name the largest when in fact he contributes very little to the film. His monotone speech is an absolute bore and lacks personality. Completely useless.

The highlight of the film for Doors fans everywhere, has to be the new footage, especially the pristine and sharp footage from Jim's film, HWY. The footage is amazingly clear, easily the best film footage of Jim out there. For the new footage alone, this film is worth checking out, otherwise, don't expect anything creative here. It offers no new insight on the Doors' legacy.
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Not Bad, But It Could Have Been Much Better
crossbow010620 May 2010
This film is more a film for the converted rather than the uninitiated. The biggest failing is that there are no interviews. Interviews with Manzarek, Krieger and/or Densmore would have given this film the kind of perspective it needed, to set the course towards the argument that The Doors were essential. Jim Morrison is aptly portrayed as brilliant and troubled, but, again, contemporary interviews would have shed more light on his work. That being said, the footage is very good. Some of it has never been seen before, and thats always welcome. The footage alone rates this a 7, with the lack of interviews being a disappointment. The footage allegedly of Morrison after he was supposed to be dead is not welcome. So little is said about the notion, mostly at the time, that Morrison faked his death to be alone, that you're left to wonder the point of the "post-death" sequences. Good film, but not essential.
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Complete Dog's Breakfast!
doorsscorpywag27 October 2009
London Film Festival October 16th 2009

When You're Strange is a film made by Tom DiCillo with the full co-operation of The Doors and access to the bands archive. It should have had all the advantage that every previous attempt at telling this story did not have and should have been the definitive story. Instead it's just another retelling of the Oliver Stone movie without the swearing and nudity. The band/Morrison footage that is used as a backdrop to the story is pretty decent bordering on amazing sometimes and the visual side of the whole is done rather well and keeps the viewer interested. It falls down totally on the narrative side, which is an utter mess. Facts are thrown at the listener at an alarming rate but are never really explored or expanded in any interesting detail leaving Doors fan bemused let alone the casual fan. The period of 1965/1966 in which pretty much all the defining moments that made The Doors what they were occurred is pretty much encapsulated in Morrison off his tits on acid doing the Oedipal End and getting the band fired from the Whisky. No exploration of the song writing process nor feel at how utterly unique the band were in the 60s. The headlong rush to Miami continued with more random facts and at last we could gawk at Morrison the knob flashing maniac who nearly brought America to it's knees. Some mention of the albums and Morrison is off to die in Paris. Johnny Depp provides a rather stilted commentary which was a shame as I had high hopes for him but considering what he had to work with it's understandable. The feeling I got of this was that Jim Morrison was to blame for everything really and he left his band mates so traumatised that they have been unable to do any meaningful work for the last 30 years having to exist on the meagre pittance the royalties from his talents bring in each year. Bad Jim! Rather like a Doors Greatest Hits documentary never exploring beneath the thin veneer whilst touching all the bases required. An Idiots Guide To The Doors. Worth watching if you are a Doors fan but never likely to intellectually stimulate you which is something the band did in spades and still does to this day. Arguably the most intelligent band that has trod a board once again reduced to the level of MTV blandness. DiCillo you ought to be made to clean Oliver Stone's swimming pool for the next 6 months as a penance.
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The Doors: When You're Strange (2009)
anett_bornmann4 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this movie a couple of days ago in the movie theater in its original language ( I guess it is always shown in English).

The movie starts with Morrison's HWY. It follows the band in a chronological way: from Jim's childhood days, the first gigs in a L.A. club to the very first album, "The Doors", full halls in the USA and world fame, to Morrison's passing in Paris. Well it does not really end with Morrison's death, but with Morrison swimming in some river and having fun. So the ending is a more positive one.

The Doors: When you are strange is carried by the bands music. Almost every song is played, not full of course. Seeing this movie made me realise that the Doors are one of the best bands together with the Beatles and Queen. It was an unique combination of four young men and everyone did his part. Also the live performance of the four, especially Morrison's one made this band big. With the music and its pictures you melt in to the movie and it easy to breath the air of this time. Some historical background information is given. The Doors are band of its time, with a rebelling youth, a new culture and music and a changing country and world.

Johnny Deep does a good job, it is easy to understand him even when your first language is not English. But sometimes he lacks passion and someone who was in the late 60s early 70s in his twenties might have been a better narrator. But maybe it is because of the movie a documentary one and Deep has to tell or to read what happened. Also I wished there would be more focus on the three other band members: Robbie Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore. Another not so good point is that I missed interviews with the band, friends, school mates and/or family.

All in all this one is worth a watch either in cinema or on DVD. I recommend this film to all fans of the Doors and other good music, fans of the 60s/70s and fans of the youth culture.
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The greatest band of all time,finally get a film worthy of their legacy.
morrison-dylan-fan11 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
One of the strongest memories that,I genuinely think I will never forget is seven years ago,when I was sixteen years old and absolutely having no interest in music at all.Until...One night I felt like watching a film,so I picked up a video with the words Apocalypse Now written on the top of it.When the films excellent opening shot of a Vietnam jungle getting Carpet-bombed,I heard an almost indescribable amazing voice start singing,with some jaw-dropping musicianship matching the excellent vocals.

After having played the opening scene non-stop for a week!,I quietly asked my dads friend if he knew the name of the band that performed the song.When I got told that it was by a band called The Doors,I rushed out to buy their self-titled album,from the now shut-down Music Zone.Instantly,I went to the track from the film called The End,At the end of the epic 11 and a half minutes,I was completely speechless.Due to how well the whole album was able to hook me in,I played the album ever day for four whole years!!.And even now,I still have some of the stunning lyrics and beautiful music stuck in my head.

The outline of the film:

The film is a career over-view of the Los Angeles,California band The Doors.The film looks at the background and friendship of each band member.Whilst the band are very talented,the fame that they very quickly get,particularly for their singer Jim Morrison,is something that the group really struggle with.One of the main thing that the film shows,is how much Jim Morrison transforms as the front man of The Doors,going from the early footage showing Morrison being very shy and nervous,to the final concert footage where he is extremely depress, very angry and furious,with people only going to see the band,not to hear the music,but going to see a "Freak Show"

View on the film:

Over the years,it has seemed that when film makers have tried to make films or documentaries about The Doors,they have always ended up being disappointing,with,documentary makers always using the same concert footage of the band.Thankfully,director Tom Dicillo is able to erase most of those bad memories with this film.Dicillo wisely makes sure to not make the movie into Jim Morrison-The Movie.(something that Oliver Stones film sadly suffered from.)Instead,he makes sure to give a very good amount of the films running time to look at each band member,with lots of very rarely seen photos,and a huge amount of stunning newly- realised audio and video footage of the band in the studio and performing some of their most famous (and infamous) shows.Though,I do have to highlight,the shockingly pristine footage of an un-finished film that Jim Morrison made with a friend.

Final view on the film:

A brilliant film,with some astonishing new incites of an extraordinary band.
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Very strong documentary about The Doors
gerard-sparaco21 August 2010
Despite the brevity of their career, The Doors have a firm place in American culture with streams of books, documentaries, biopics and even a Hollywood film. When You're Strange is the latest documentary to be produced on the band. Written and directed by Tom DiCillo and narrated by Johnny Depp, it is one of the slickest and best constructed documentary of the band produced.

There are two pitfalls directors encounter when tackling the subject of The Doors, neither of which DiCillo is able to avoid. The first, and is quite unavoidable, is the blurring of the story of the band with the story of Jim Morrison. Granted Morrison was the focal point of the band, but all too often the other three musicians, and the music itself, are treated as sidebars to the story of Morrison.

To DiCillo's credit he does include interviews and snippets about the other members of the band. But insight into their music is very brief. John Densmore speaking about the Doors in terms of the evolution of jazz is the most interesting, and made me wish there were more such insights.

The other pitfall is entirely avoidable, which is to make vague generalizations and connections between Jim Morrison and the political climate and events of the sixties. While it is true that all bands, musicians and works of music are informed by their socio-political setting, there is also a quality in great music (and The Doors produced GREAT music) which transcends time and culture and address universal concerns.

A blatant example of this is footage of The Doors playing "The End" at the 1970 Isle Of Wight festival. The footage is stunning and the sound is great, but too often the screen shifts from the band to stock footage of Martin Luther King Jr., the assassination of Robert Kennedy, and news reel video of US troops dropping napalm on a village in Viet Nam.

This editing begs the question of the relevance between the two. What does a performance of "The End" in England in 1970 have to do with assassinations in the summer of 1968? "The End" began as a song about the ending of a personal relationship and was expanded to become a psycho-sexual drama bordering on myth, and it's relation to American politics and foreign policy isn't clear.

Despite those concerns, When You're Strange is one of the best documentaries of The Doors. It opens with footage from what looks like a pristine print of Morrison's 1969 film HWY: An American Pastoral. Clips from the film are used throughout the documentary to lend continuity to the narrative, and often used to comment upon the events discussed.

All of the facts seem correct, even mentioning commonly known details about the band such as Morrison wanting Robby Krieger to play bottle neck on every song.

DiCillo also continues the trend of contemporary documentary film-making in being more intentional in the footage used and images shown to make a point. For example, when the narrative reaches the Miami 1969 incident, Depp's voice-over states that the band were "surprised." While saying this, the footage shows Ray Manzarek looking surprised. The scene has nothing to do with the Miami indictment, but such editing is effective in making his point.

Overall this is a very strong documentary of the Doors. It was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2009 Sundance Festival, and it deserves such accolades.

The bonus material contains a fascinating interview with Jim Morrison's father, the late Admiral George S. Morrison. This is supposedly the only time he's been interviewed about his son before his death in 2008. Not much is mentioned of him in the older sources such as No One Here Gets Out Alive. The only pieces of information in that book were his displeasure at hearing "The End," the letter he wrote to his son telling him that he has no talent to be a singer, and that he contested his son's estate after the death of Pamela Courson.

The impression one gains from watching the interview is much different. He comes off as a proud and loving father who misses his son, whom he lost both to the demands of fame and his death in 1971. He reiterates his assessment that his son shouldn't have been a rock singer because he felt his talent lay more in film-making.

If for nothing else, watching the interview with the Admiral is the most interesting part of the disc. It is unique since no other documentary has ever interviewed him, and makes it worth the asking price.
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A little Disappointing
ArizWldcat15 February 2009
Tom DiCillo did an excellent job finding unseen footage of the doors. This film was "his baby", and it shows that he loved the subject matter. Clearly he is a big fan of the group and there's a religious respect that he feels for these people.

Unfortunately, there is really nothing new in this movie. Most of this stuff is well known. The group is iconic, after all, and there HAVE been other projects. What I was hoping for, since the remaining members of the group are still alive, is some "talking head" interview type things, or some interviews with other members of Jim Morrison's family, or of Pam Courson's family. Some new angle, perhaps, that was before unknown.

Not a total waste of time, but unfortunately, nothing new here, either.
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A Zeitgeist for Revolution
matt-mccabebrown2 September 2011
When describing Jim Morrison, Denis Leary famously said 'Do we need a two hour movie about The Doors? I don't think so. I can sum it up for you in five seconds. I'm drunk I'm nobody, I'm drunk I'm famous, I'm drunk I'm ###### dead' Now, I like Denis Leary and have always found him entertaining in both his acting roles and especially his stand up, but on his opinion on the late Jim Morrison I have to strongly disagree. Morrison was a fascinating man and this remarkable little documentary goes some way of capturing the essence of the man. Interlacing sequences for the film HWY: An American Pastoral, which itself is half dream half film, the documentary portrays The Doors in their rightful place as the zeitgeist for revolution. If there is one downside, it is that it concentrates too much time on Morrison, leaving little time for the remaining members of the band. It does however go without saying that without Morrison, The Doors wouldn't have been half the band they were, so maybe that's fair
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An underwhelming trip through the doors of perception.
Jonathon_Natsis20 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
When legendary frontman Jim Morrison joined The 27 Club in 1971, it is widely believed that he did so while reading one of the earliest unofficial scripts for what would become Platoon, sent to him by director Oliver Stone. Whether or not Jim would have been given the film's lead role is uncertain. Regardless, Stone paid tribute to the band with his average biopic The Doors in 1991; a film that, despite a career-best performance by Val Kilmer, eventually degraded into a sloppy and sluggish affair. I had hopes that the more factual documentary When You're Strange (narrated by Johnny Depp) would prove itself as the definitive piece of Doors cinema, but it ends up being no more (or less) engaging than Stone's effort.

Positively, director Tom DiCillo avoids most of the tired clichés used in contemporary documentaries to make them seem overly profound or insightful. Gone are the talking heads (supposed 'experts' who like to think they are offering key information when merely spitting throwaway one- liners) and lame re-enactments that would have otherwise dragged the film into farcical, unconvincing territory.

Instead, the film is filled with archive footage of the band, ranging from their most replayed moments (such as their performance on The Ed Sullivan Show) to their imminent implosion, when Jim had become the drawcard for all the wrong reasons. Such footage is a treat to watch, as it so clearly displays the raw energy of the band both on the stage and in the studio. Just as intriguing are excerpts from HWY, an experimental film starring and co-directed by Morrison in '69. Unfortunately, this is only sprinkled in as a kind of stinger between scenes, serving a purpose more visual than informative. Perhaps some input from remaining band members regarding their interpretation of HWY would have been the right move, because I was left craving more details about it as the credits rolled.

It is equally disheartening, though, that Jim's home movie provides the only genuinely interesting moments in When You're Strange. As a Doors enthusiast, but not an extreme, I-have-all-their-albums fan, I was still left unsatisfied by the lack of depth in storytelling. For the most part, it appears DiCillo simply glosses over the band's history, failing to tell me anything I didn't already know.

The film gives an inkling that it is heading in the right direction when it addresses Jim's ability to 'draw some sort of energy from the fans' when shown socialising before a performance. But again, Strange takes the first available opportunity to hop back onto the beaten path when, much like Stone's biopic, it shifts from The Doors to The Jim Morrison Experience. The film abruptly ends with the frontman's death, leaving the viewer in no doubt as to whom the star was.

This is a fascinating story to tell, when told right. Here is a band that came to be, either directly or indirectly, intertwined with almost every cultural phenomenon of the late sixties, including the Youth Movement, the Summer of Love and the Vietnam War, all in a very short lifetime. In doing so, they caught the attention of some of the world's most polarising figures, from the popular (Mick Jagger, arguably the most recognisable man on the planet at the time) to the underground (Andy Warhol, perennial contender for the title of 'weirdest guy ever'). The biggest shame of this film is its inability to detail any of these associations intimately, and so what could have been a Masters degree in Doorsology (patent pending) ends up looking like a hollow introductory course instead.

*There's nothing I love more than a bit of feedback, good or bad. So drop me a line on jnatsis@iprimus.com.au and let me know what you thought of my review.*
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Open doors?
stensson10 July 2010
Jim Morrison's magic is said to have been a question of what he would turn to. Heaven or hell? His magic was anyway more about making an extremely interesting fusion of poetry and music. Neither of them would have managed without the other.

This documentary shows many interesting clips, also from studios and backstage. The problem is that the analysis anyway is a little shallow. Both when it comes to The Doors as a phenomena and the times they were living in.

And most of all perhaps when it comes to the double or triple meanings of that poetry. Which really was something which was floating between heaven and hell.
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Worth Watching
goddesswave2 December 2017
After seeing Oliver Stone's version several times over the years, I was, at first, not sure this would interest me. It did very much interest me. I was born in 1960 and I grew up in this era. I had the doors albums, but did not ever see them live. I felt this doc had fresh information; especially rare footage and the bands musical background and how they improvised and contributed to the songs and concerts. If you do not know things about Jim, you do not understand his drives to the dessert and his witnessing things die, and what that death meant to him and how fascinated he was and he wrote about it. For those who say there was not music, you are all out of your minds. There was non-stop music. Really? Would be nice to hear an interview? Frankly, as a psychologist and documentarian, none of the interviews would be very valuable, as the press are morons and ask the most inane questions that infuriate me and the musicians. So instead maybe more of his poetry. But I believe they did the best they could with the footage they had, real footage; which I greatly appreciated. I think if you are curious or a fan, this is a must see.
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Well done...
pronins20 October 2018
I'm a big fan of The Doors and pretty much knew the story before watching this film. And yet I found Johnny Depp to be a very convincing narrator (usually I find narrators to be quite annoying in documentaries!), and the film was quite fluid and easy to watch. Some really cool footage as well! For anyone who's interested, Oliver Stone's 1992 film The Doors is a good and fairly accurate non-documentary worth watching, if you haven't seen it already.
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Lots of footage old and new
jellopuke13 November 2017
Interesting look at the band that eschews the talking heads to show lots of archival stuff and some weird home movies that make Morrison out to be less of an icon and more of just a dude who happened to be a rock star. I don't think this is definitive because it lacks the perspective that having people talk about their influence can bring, but it certainly gives you a good sense of the band, even with Depp's monotonous delivery and overly dramatic narration.
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Fantastic Documentary on My Favorite Band
brando64729 November 2010
I love the Doors. Considering that you're reading my comments here, you're probably considering watching the film and, therefore, must be a fan as well. I have been a major fan of the band since I was first exposed to them in Oliver Stone's 1991 film. I understand that Stone had taken some creative liberties in his portrayal of the band's life (particularly Jim Morrison, himself). Knowing that Stone's film was merely his own interpretation, I sought out to learn more through other sources. Since then, I have read Jim's poetry and a handful of biographies about Jim and the band, including John Densmore's autobiography. Morrison was a mysterious individual (probably why myself and so many others are so intrigued by him) and I believe the only person to know the absolute story behind him was Pam Courson. With Pam having died shortly after him, I'm all right with the fact that the utmost truth behind Jim's existence and experiences may never be revealed (including that of his death). My intent has always been to read as much as possible and draw my own conclusions, so movies such as Stone's THE DOORS would be seen more as entertainment than information.

In 2009, filmmaker Tom DiCillo completed his biographical film on Jim and the band, WHEN YOU'RE STRANGE. Based on the information I've gathered from reading about the band over recent years, I'd say his documentary is probably one of the best representations we're ever bound to get. My only regret is that, seeing as how the film must fit into a reasonable run-time, many moments are glossed over and some instances in which I wish it'd go into richer detail are breezed through. The film covers the band's life from it's origins in the mid-60s to Jim's unfortunate death in 1971. The events are depicted impartially and depicted Jim as a struggling artist as opposed to the crazed drunk Oliver Stone would have us believe. The film remembers that Jim was going through tough times over his years with the band and compensated through his drug/alcohol use, rather than stumbled around as a belligerent idiot, and gives us some insight when possible behind his troubles.

Johnny Depp narrates the film and his mellow delivery is perfect for the material. My primary complaint with the film is the lack of interviews. Despite the surviving members of the band supporting the film, we are never once treated to interviews with Densmore, Krieger, or Manzarek. In fact, the only interview included with the film is with Jim's father George and it comes in the form of a special feature on the DVD. Jim's relationship with his father (a Navy admiral) was always strained and his interview would've added some excellent insight to the film. Regardless, the film is loaded with information for the casual Doors fans and contains some fantastic footage of their concerts, TV appearances, and even behind-the-scenes footage of the band at home or in the studio recording.

DiCillo's film is an absolute must for the fans and provides some great information to those who might be interested in learning more. It's a reasonable 90 minutes and never once did it bore me. If anything, it's made me want to revisit the books and dive once again into the chaos and mystery that was Jim Morrison.
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Shadows of the Evening Crawl across the Years
JustApt17 September 2010
Lately I've begun to forget how crucial The Doors were for me once. Well didn't Jim Morrison himself preach: "learn to forget"? But When You're Strange is a perfect reminder. There is the news on the radio that Jim Morrison is dead but somewhere in the American desert his revenant gets out from the crashed car – Mr. Mojo Is Rising – time is reeled a way back and the story begins. There is a lot of rare original footage I haven't seen before and the tale is painstakingly told in all details – from the uprising: "into this world we're born, into this house we're thrown" to the downfall: "this is the end, my beautiful friend, the end". So when the music's over turn off the lights.
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