Sound: The Doors' history has certainly been studied and scrutinized by Lizard King fanatics thanks to the release of books like No One Here Gets Out Alive or movies like Oliver Stone's trippy biopic. But the soon-to-be released DVD/Blu-ray When You're Strange provides a new (and dramatic way) twist on The Doors' legacy, with freshly uncovered footage and interviews as an added bonus. With a household name like Johnny Depp narrating the piece, the 2009 documentary already is injected with an extra dose of street cred. But truth be told, When You're Strange doesn't even need to rely on celeb appeal after a new, even more enigmatic picture of Morrison is painted by the film's end.
Award-winning director Tom DiCillo takes a more cinematic stance with When You're Strange than a typical documentary. In the opening moments you see Morrison roaming the desert and eventually finding an abandoned car, all scenes from the singer's experimental film short HWY: An American Pastoral. What makes these clips all the more intense is the fact that DiCillo has overdubbed DJ's Jim Ladd's voice stating that Morrison has just died from a heart attack in Paris, all while The Doors' frontman listens calmly to the radio announcement. The shroud of mystery surrounding Morrison's death is touched on primarily during that opening scene and the movie never becomes a big conspiracy theory, but DiCillo's film device is certainly an alluring one.
When You're Strange quickly transitions into a fairly standard documentary following that cryptic introduction, taking the viewer through the rise of The Doors all the way to Morrison's downward spiral at the age of 27. There is an assortment of live concert clips included in the film, with the earliest performances projected through photographs and audio. One of the biggest selling points of When You're Strange is the ceremonial aspect that is conveyed as some of these old concerts are revisited. DiCillo often goes montage crazy with a photo after photo of Morrison's onstage antics, but it completely works as the accompanying song usually comes to a crescendo at that point. It does feel very much like a fictional film in many ways, but for the larger-than-life Morrison, that method is quite fitting. // 10
Content: The 90-minute documentary is a captivating one that gives the storytelling duties primarily to Depp along with photos, selections of Morrison's poetry, archived video, and music. If you're a Doors fan, then the history may be second nature to you at this point. Rest assured, there's plenty that should still keep you intrigued. DiCillo has included rare footage like Jim recording vocal tracks or talking backstage with a girl recently hit by a chair in a rowdy crowd, making you almost do a double-take at times. The bonus features emphasize quality and not quantity. The biggie of the bunch is the only recorded video interview with Jim's father, whose commentary is astounding for the fact that he had little to no knowledge of his son's music. // 9
Production Quality: Much like the recently released Stones In Exile DVD, When You're Strange hits a homerun in terms of the newly added footage. The quality is phenomenal thanks to DiCillo's cinematic flair and the wide variety of videos, photos, and music included. You may be skeptical at first if you already consider yourself a Doors' history buff, but When You're Strange has a surprisingly good deal more to offer. // 10
Overall Impression: Although it's up for debate whether the opening moments that allude to Jim faking his own death were needed (particularly because it's not really touched upon again), When You're Strange is a phenomenal documentary that sheds plenty of new light on The Doors. It certainly could be deemed more of a Jim Morrison documentary in many moments, but given the fact that he did cause most of the ups and downs of the band, it's completely understandable. While the bonuses (interviews with Jim's father and sister, as well as the movie trailer) could have been expanded upon, When You're Strange should still be given top-priority to those who have proclaimed themselves devotees of Mr. Mojo Risin.' // 10