By Jim Hagerty
When Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek mentioned a documentary about the band was in the works, there was a significant buzz among fans. Manzarek, and others, touted the project as a long-awaited juxtaposition of Oliver Stone’s The Doors.
Stone’s 1991 biopic borrowed heavily from the 1980 Jim Morrison biography, No One Here Gets Out Alive. Written by Jerry Hopkins, the epilogue was largely based on information supplied by former Doors manager Danny Sugerman, who was only 16 when Morrison died. Some believe Sugerman, who died in 2005, missed the accuracy mark when he co-wrote the book, and was equally misguided when he assisted Stone on the film.
Released in April, When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors, sheds an alternative light on Stone’s adaptation of Morrison’s life and the band’s 54-month run.
Although it fails to blatantly out Sugerman’s account as fantasy, the documentary is a vivid chronology with never-before-seen footage of the band. Director Tom DiCillo shows Morrison, Manzarek, drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger for what they were—an integral part of a radically-changing America.
Narrated by Johnny Depp, When You’re Strange captures the feeling of the late ’60s, when enlightenment and the youth movement was as palpable as a humid summer night. The Doors, with Jim Morrison front and center, suddenly became a new voice for a generation with seemingly nobody to turn to but itself. To some, the Doors were the new Beatles. To others, they were the American Rolling Stones.
The 96-minute documentary’s most distinguished flair is its depiction of Jim Morrison as an artist. While footage shows Morrison chronologically deteriorating, he does so as an introspective and calculated poet, who, despite having no musical training, was solely responsible for the popularity of the band’s place in history. Morrison’s charisma and literary command were the only ingredients able to turn the group’s ingenious blend of rock, blues and jazz into a concise, yet unduplicatable, recipe.
DiCillo leaves out details of Morrison’s reportedly volatile relationship with Pamela Courson, who found the singer dead in 1971. The director does capture the trendy and morbid attraction fans developed after the infamous Miami incident, where Morrison was arrested for allegedly exposing himself on stage.
By the end of 1969, concertgoers were more interested in Morrison, the seeming lunatic, than the music. Shows were often stopped after only a few songs, and a legitimate poet began to emerge. Sadly, as the film depicts, Morrison’s mark would forever be encased in mystery, and the thoroughgoing that was the 1960s.
When You’re Strange also includes an interview with Morrison’s father, Admiral George C. Morrison, USN (Ret.). Until the film, Adm. Morrison had never publicly discussed his son’s life.
From the Sept. 1-7, 2010 issue