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When You're Strange, written and directed by the award-winning Tom DiCillo, is the first feature documentary released on The Doors. Graced by the narration of Johnny Depp, it carries the audience through the journeys of vocalist Jim Morrison, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger, and drummer John Densmore. This 90-minute presentation features never-before-seen rare archival film, pulled from their inception in 1966 to Morrison's passing in 1971. These snapshot scenes of the band's history is as much an intimate experience, as it is revealing.
After being featured at the Sundance, Berlin, Deauville, and San Sebastian Film Festivals, music fans who didn't catch this in theaters can now relish in this extraordinary documentary. It celebrates the collaborative power of this illustrious rock quartet and their revolutionary fusion of creativity and thought-provoking rebellion.
Of course that's Johnny Depp narrating When You're Strange, the 2010 documentary about the Doors: who else but Hollywood's biggest fan of counterculture history? The film's other prominent attraction is the treasure trove of heretofore unscreened footage from the band's heyday, including backstage material, film-school stuff, and a curious project shot by (and starring) Jim Morrison after the group had broken through. That color footage, which When You're Strange returns to throughout its running time, has a bearded, zonked Morrison driving through the Southwest desert, on the road to who knows where. For fans, this footage is fascinating to watch, although the actual narrative of the band's rise and flameout will be very familiar if you already know the story. And even for newbies, the breathless, grandiloquent nature of writer-director Tom DiCillo's approach will likely be a bit off-putting. Made with the participation of band members Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger, and John Densmore, the movie adopts a general air of sadness about Morrison's substance abuse, noting that a band intervention led to but one week of sobriety for their lead singer/shaman. It's not all gloom: footage of Morrison wading through a pre-concert crowd catches some of the giddy promise of his unpredictability, which seems so in tune with the era. Those fresh glimpses of an icon make this film worth seeing, even if you've traveled down this road before. --Robert Horton