The Doors – [DVD]

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

It should be said that the idea of a biographical feature film on a band is not new. The idea of a documentary film about a band is nothing new either – and The Doors have been the subject for hordes of both. In fact, it could be argued that The Doors have enjoyed more in-depth coverage of their work and of their story since disbanding than they ever did while they were in regular operation. Now, The Doors are a brand and it is everywhere; perfectly and seamlessly woven into the fabric of pop culture. Everyone knows the stories of singer Jim Morrison living on someone's rooftop in California and writing songs for a band that had yet to form when fellow film school graduate and keyboard player Ray Manzarek suggested they start a band.

None of it is new to fans, but that is where When You're Strange begins; with a monologue supplied by Johnny Depp telling the story that every writer and director to ever tackle the subject has told before.

So what's the difference?

The difference here is that When You're Strange focuses both on the dark psychological need for attention expressed by Jim Morrison as well as the shady dealings done by Elektra Records to keep an ongoing stream of new records on the racks when The Doors were really hot. Did you know, for example, that much of Strange Days was collected from the set of unused tracks that The Doors recorded for their debut? I didn't, and I've been a fan for a very long time.

Other minor epiphanies similar to that (like the division of writing credit on The Soft Parade) creep subtly into the film, and don't go out of their way to surprise or enlighten viewers so much as bolster the story. The effect of them is a bit of both though; viewers learn that Morrison was quickly becoming an attention-addicted megalomaniac while the band rushed to do damage control even as early as the Strange Days period. That has been implied before, but it is made perfectly explicit here. Likewise, the tension developing by the time The Doors were hip-deep into the sessions for The Soft Parade (those sessions lasted eleven months – which was virtually unheard of in the Sixties) as well as the toll it took on the band is laid perfectly bare here, and it is tremendously affecting. The shocks keep coming when it's announced that Morrison actually quit The Doors in 1968 – backed up by audio proof illustrating as much. Morrison's drinking and the psychological damage it did is reported to be the single greatest stumbling block in The Doors here and, conspicuously, about an hour into the film (around 1968 in the band's chronology) the footage becomes increasingly less about the music. As if to prove a point, Miami hits the screen then, and the whole thing begins to fall apart.

Because of the dwindling amount of time remaining in the film, Morrison Hotel gets glossed over in favor of jumping headlong into L.A. Woman. The coverage of that album proves to be interesting from a business standpoint (Krieger fought against his own song, “Love Her Madly,” being the first single in favor of “Riders On The Storm”) but, outside of that, a bunch of stock Vietnam footage gluts the late-running of the film before it sputters to a close in Paris. In that end, there are no surprises – no grains of wisdom that have been left previously un-discussed before now – and the story ends as everyone knows it does.

As unoriginal as the film might be (how could it not be?), there is an air to it that is intoxicating and viewers will find themselves in for a pound if they're in for a penny; they'll want to see it through even if they already know how it ends, because there are small moments of interest laced throughout the run-time. In that way, When You're Strange would be an excellent companion piece for any fan's Doors collection – it doesn't tell the whole story, but there are things worth seeing in it.



The Doors When You're Strange trailer.


When You're Strange
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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