Watch When You're Strange
When You're Strange is a documentary film from 2009 that explores the life and career of one of the most influential and controversial bands in the history of rock music - The Doors. Directed by Tom DiCillo, the film features a rich archive of vintage footage, interviews, and commentary from surviving members of the band and those who were closest to them during their heyday.
At the center of the film is the enigmatic figure of Jim Morrison, the lead singer and lyricist of The Doors, who died in 1971 at the age of 27. Through his poetry, his stage presence, and his magnetism, Morrison became a symbol of the counterculture movement of the late 1960s, a voice of rebellion and liberation that challenged the mainstream culture of the time.
The film opens with a sequence of shots that set the tone for what is to come: black and white footage of helicopters flying over Vietnam, soldiers on patrol, bombs exploding, intercut with images of Morrison reciting his poetry and The Doors performing their music. The contrast between the violence and the beauty, the darkness and the light, is a recurring theme in the film, reflecting the contradictions and complexities of Morrison's persona and the era he lived in.
From there, the film delves into the history of the band, starting with the formation of The Doors in 1965, when Morrison met keyboardist Ray Manzarek in a beach in California. Together with guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore, they formed a unique sound that blended rock, blues, jazz, and poetry, creating hits such as "Light My Fire", "Break on Through", and "The End".
The film follows the trajectory of the band, from their early gigs in Los Angeles to their rise to fame and controversy, to their decline and eventual dissolution. Along the way, we get a glimpse into the personal lives of the members, their relationships, their struggles with drugs and alcohol, and their creative process.
Throughout the film, we hear from people who knew Morrison and The Doors, such as record producer Paul Rothchild, former girlfriend Pamela Courson, and journalist Ben Fong-Torres. But the most insightful commentary comes from the surviving members of the band, especially Densmore and Krieger, who provide candid and often emotional accounts of their experiences.
Johnny Depp narrates the film, in a voice that is solemn and evocative, conveying the mood of the era and the spirit of Morrison's poetry. His narration is complemented by a soundtrack that features the band's music, as well as songs by other artists that capture the flavor of the times, such as The Velvet Underground, The Who, and Jefferson Airplane.
One of the strengths of the film is the way it uses archival footage to recreate the atmosphere of the 1960s, a time of political upheaval, social change, and artistic experimentation. The film shows us footage of protests, riots, police brutality, and the Vietnam War, as well as moments of joy, beauty, and creativity. We see The Doors performing at the Whisky a Go Go, the Hollywood Bowl, and on the Ed Sullivan Show, and we witness Morrison's transformation from a shy poet into a charismatic rock star.
Another strength of the film is the way it humanizes Morrison, showing him not just as the mythic figure he became, but as a complex and flawed human being. We see him struggling with alcoholism, depression, and the pressures of fame, as well as moments of tenderness, vulnerability, and humor. We also get a sense of the toll that his behavior took on his bandmates, who had to deal with his unpredictability and excesses.
In conclusion, When You're Strange is a must-see for fans of The Doors, as well as for those who are interested in the history of rock music and the culture of the 1960s. It presents a nuanced and compelling portrait of a band that changed the course of music and a singer who became an icon of his generation. The film is a fitting tribute to their legacy, one that captures the spirit of a time and a place that will always be remembered.
When You're Strange is a 2009 documentary. It has received moderate reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 7.6 and a MetaScore of 55.