When You're Strange
Time Out New York Project: Issue #758, April 8–14, 2010
Dir. Tom DiCillo. 2009. R. 90mins. Documentary.
The doors of perception are further cleansed in Tom DiCillo’s tribute to the emblematic ’60s rock band the Doors, fronted by the late Jim Morrison. Yet nothing appears particularly infinite: DiCillo adeptly skewered Indiewood in the moviemaking satire Living in Oblivion (1995), but his documentary skills are rudimentary and crude, shaped mostly by his shallow fandom for the group. Worst dialogue of the year so far comes from Johnny Depp’s smarmy narration track: “But you can’t burn out,” he says of Morrison, “if you were never on fire.” Stop the presses, Bill Blake!
Of course, such pseudo-profundity becomes the Doors. Taken out of context, those lines about lizard kings and monks buying lunch seem even more like masturbatory grabs at enlightenment; the band’s genius came from the ways Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore enveloped the words within their own inimitable sound. They reflected the zeitgeist even as they reached beyond it.
The doc is good for illuminating certain of the group’s methods (the lack of a bass player was a liberating bit of happenstance), as well as for showcasing a wide swath of previously unseen footage from concerts and recording sessions. Morrison inevitably takes center stage, since his drug-addled persona — half shaman, half sex-addict — is the easiest to view with uncritical awe. Like so many Doors chroniclers, DiCillo can’t help but fall under the singer’s spell; it’s understandable, but frustrating.—Keith Uhlich