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
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