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117 of 132 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In the loose palace of exile
In the short 4 ˝ years that keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robbie Krieger, drummer John Densmore and lead vocalist Jim Morrison enjoyed an artistic collaboration, they produced six timelessly resonant studio albums and the classic Absolutely Live (which still holds up as one of the best live albums ever by a rock band). The Doors were also one of the first rock bands...
Published on May 8, 2010 by D. Hartley

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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sadly, "When You're Strange" turns out to be pretty conventional - a portrait of a stoner prophet, packaged for PBS
When I heard that Tom diCillo had a documentary on The Doors coming out, I was very excited. His 1995 film, Living in Oblivion is a bitterly funny take on the frustrations of independent filmmaking. More importantly, The Doors was my favorite band in High School - that I believed I'd discovered myself, a few decades after their heyday - and Jim Morrison became something...
Published on May 18, 2010 by Nathan Andersen


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117 of 132 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In the loose palace of exile, May 8, 2010
By 
D. Hartley (Seattle, WA USA) - See all my reviews
In the short 4 ˝ years that keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robbie Krieger, drummer John Densmore and lead vocalist Jim Morrison enjoyed an artistic collaboration, they produced six timelessly resonant studio albums and the classic Absolutely Live (which still holds up as one of the best live albums ever by a rock band). The Doors were also one of the first rock bands to successfully bridge deeply avant-garde sensibilities with popular commercial appeal. It was Blake and Rimbaud... that you could dance to.

Surprisingly, it has taken until 2010, 45 years (!) after UCLA film students Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek first starting kicking around the idea of forming a band, for a proper full-length documentary feature about The Doors to appear, Tom DiCillo's When You're Strange. You'll notice I said, "about The Doors". I felt that Oliver Stone's 1991 biopic ultimately lost its way as a true portrait of the band, because it was too myopically fixated on the Jim Morrison legend; Morrison the Lizard King, the Dionysian rock god, the drunken poet, the shaman. Yes, he was all of that (perhaps more of a showman than a shaman), but he was only 25% of the equation that made The Doors...well, The Doors. That's what I like about DiCillo's film; he doesn't gloss over the contributions of the other three musicians.

In fact, one of the things you learn in the film is that Morrison himself always insisted that all songwriting credits go to "The Doors" as an entity, regardless of which band member may have had the dominant hand in the composition of any particular song (when you consider that Morrison couldn't read a note, that's a pragmatic stance for him to take). The band's signature tune, the #1 hit "Light My Fire" was actually composed by Robbie Krieger-and was allegedly the first song he ever wrote (talk about beginner's luck). He's a great guitar player too (he was trained in flamenco, and had only been playing electric for 6 months at the band's inception). Manzarek and Densmore were no slouches either; they had a classical and jazz background, respectively. When you piece these snippets together along with Morrison's interests in poetry, literature, film and improvisational theatre (then sprinkle in a few tabs of acid) you finally begin to get a picture of why this band had such a unique vibe. They've been copied, but never equaled.

The film looks to have been a labor of love by the director. Johnny Depp provides the narration, and DiCillo has assembled some great footage; it's all well-chosen, sensibly sequenced and beautifully edited. Although there are a fair amount of clips and stories that will qualify as old hat to Doors aficionados (the "Light My Fire" performance on the Sullivan Show, the infamous Miami concert "riot", etc.), there is a treasure trove of rare footage. One fascinating (but all too brief) clip shows the band in the studio constructing the song "Wild Child" during the sessions for "The Soft Parade". The real revelation is the interwoven excerpts from Morrison's experimental 1969 film "HWY: An American Pastoral". Although it is basically a bearded Morrison driving around the desert (wearing his trademark leather pants), it's mesmerizing, surreal footage. DiCillo must have had access to a pristine master print, because it looks like it was shot last week. It wasn't until the credits rolled that I realized this wasn't one of those dreaded recreations, utilizing a lookalike. As a matter of fact, Morrison has never appeared so "alive" on film. It's eerie.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When The Music's Over, July 18, 2010
John, Jim, Ray, and Robbie - probably the closest an American band ever came to The Beatles. Obviously comparing any band to The Beatles will most likely result in some sort of unjust outcry from the masses, but the comparison is there: 4 guys that the stars aligned to get together for a short period of time to create original music that spoke to a generation and is still going strong after 40 years.

For me, I was born in 1964 so by the time I discovered The Doors, Jim had been dead 7 years. I was rummaging through a stack of old out-of-rotation LPs that a local radio DJ gave to my older sister. In the mix was The Soft Parade. Having heard of The Doors, I gave it a listen. I remember thinking to myself, is this really The Doors' music, but the names on the back of the album confirmed it. Anyway, I liked what I heard and wanted to hear more. At that time, my music collection was mainly British bands like The Who, The Kinks, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd. The Doors fit right in very nicely.

As to When You're Strange (I have the Blu-Ray version) I found it to be entertaining. I have seen some of the footage before, but not this clean or sounding as good. As to the story, well, most everyone probably knows it, so this documentary doesn't veer to far away from what most fans already know. However, it is edited very nicely and covers as much as an 85 minute documentary can reasonably cover. To truly tell the full story with in-depth album by album coverage would require a multi-disc anthology set.

I recommend When You're Strange to both the casual and avid fan of The Doors. I was very impressed with the clips from Jim's Highway movie as well as clips from his UCLA days and from when he was 16. The film is very fair and represents all band members. Certainly Morrison is the most notorious member and therefore, gets more focus. However, as time has proven, despite the vast musical talents of Ray, Robbie, and John, they really weren't anything without Jim as their catalyst.

What The Doors did in 54 months is incredible and this film reminds us of those accomplishments. It also clearly shows that Morrison knew, well before the other 3 realized it, when the music was over.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love The Doors but was a litte disappointed., June 27, 2010
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This review is from: When You're Strange: A Film About The Doors (DVD)
Big fan of The Doors and a big collector. I was hoping for more person depiction of Jim. Instead I found it more like the story line of Oliver Stone movie. I hate that the most attractive thing to portray about Jim was his antics, drinking and drugs. There has got to be more to the mans personality that's interesting than this. I did enjoy the cleaned up footage of HWY as the copy I have is not great. I would like them to release a full copy of HWY remastered. I saw this movie on the PBS airing as there was no local film release in my area to my disappointment. I will pre-order the blu-ray disc as I still want this movie for my collection. ( Watching the Critique footage right now as I type this and just love it. Sunday morning and The Doors, you can't beat it!)

Ro
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Blu-ray & Bonus Content, July 7, 2010
I just finished watching the blu-ray edition and wanted to write a few quick comments. First of all, the only "bonus feature" is a brief (about 9 minutes) interview with Jim's father and sister. Even though it's very short, I found it interesting to hear their comments, especially Jim's dad, as this was the first time he had commented on his famous son. Mr. Morrison had obviously not approved of Jim's chosen path, but had apparently come to terms with it and come to respect it. These all too brief interviews are both touching and sad, showing that Jim Morrison was an enigma to his family, but they still love and miss him. The picture quality is good, but I don't feel blu-ray does much to enhance things, as the original footage is so grainy. There is a stereo and 5.1 audio option, but honestly I found negligible difference between them. There are chapter marks, but no scene selection menu. A fine documentary, but I see no reason to purchase the blu-ray over the DVD.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Film About The Doors ...FINALLY, January 13, 2013
This review is from: When You're Strange: A Film About The Doors (DVD)
The summer of 1970 was certainly a strange one in, for, and around what we may now quaintly call the pop/rock scene: Paul had just left his Beatles, for starters, the Stones and Dylan were missing-without-much-action, kids were throwing various Jacksons, Osmonds, and even Bobby Sherman way up the charts whilst the older kids were pretending to get back to the garden via a newly-released big-Hollywood Woodstock movie.

Meanwhile, this Amazon Reviewer was busy buying up every single Creedence Clearwater record he could lay his young hands on, I'll have you all know.

Then again there was the, well, strange case of John Densmore, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison who, after having closed out those Sixties with a "flop" album ("The Soft Parade") and even floppier run-ins with the law (their singer having gotten busted acting naughty on stage in Miami, and again on a Phoenix-bound airliner) now found themselves in 1970 under immense pressure to resurrect their career and get back to where they once belonged. As in the basics, musically speaking that is.

These various struggles, conflicts, lewd behavior indictments and then some are all fully explored - along with, thankfully, lots of great music too - in this fascinating documentary entitled "When You're Strange: A Film About The Doors."

Now, unlike the band's own series of understandably self-serving concert films over the years or, on entirely the other hand, Oliver Stone's utterly cataclysmic 1991 biopic "The Doors," Tom DiCillo's "When You're Strange" perhaps comes closest to finally presenting, as no less an authority as Ray Manzarek has long promised, "the TRUE story of The Doors." It does so by wisely keeping 21st Century interference to a bare minimum, concentrating instead on a wealth of live and studio footage from throughout the band's surprisingly brief career intriguingly intercut with - and this is the film's real coup to my eyes - never before seen segments from Jim Morrison's barely-released 1969 short subject "HWY: An American Pastoral."

Without ever getting overtly ham-fisted a la the above-mentioned Mr. Stone, DiCillo (along with Johnny Depp's narration) weaves the HWY footage of Morrison speeding across the California desert to actually drive "When You're Strange" forward, onward and upward from the band's infant gigs on L.A.'s Sunset Strip through the recording of their landmark debut album in 1966 and subsequent stardom. It's interesting, not to mention important to realize and understand just how big a POP star Jim was at this time: He may have been playing it so cool by singing the dreaded "higher" word when The Doors performed "Light My Fire" on The Ed Sullivan Show, but at the same time this was a man only too happy to appear bare-chested and love-bead-adorned alongside Davy Jones and Mark Lindsay across the pages of "16" Magazine.

"When You're Strange" similarly pulls few punches in charting the band's just-as-speedy fall from those poppiest of heights, mainly but not fully on account of Jimbo's descent into the depths of alcoholic fear and self-loathing. It was indeed, and still remains, quite disheartening to watch The Doors' slinky frontman decline from the leather-clad Lizard King of every bad girl's Summer of Love dreams to the bearded, bloated ragamuffin who hauled sheep on stage in 1969, only to then berate his audience with cries of "You love it, don't ya? Maybe you love gettin' your face stuck in the [expletive deleted]. You're all a bunch of [ditto] idiots!" Oh, Morrison...

Such performance Art with a capital "F" notwithstanding, footage from the band's 1968 European tour, and then a remarkable sequence from the "Wild Child" recording session itself, show The Doors were without a single doubt a FOUR-piece band, oh so much greater than the sum of its equal parts, with each man contributing his own special brilliance to the creation. There wasn't ever a single weak musical link to this band, its writing, arranging, and (usually) its performing skills, and "When You're Strange" never once lets the viewer get distracted from this critically important fact ...despite the carnival atmosphere which never seemed to cease swirling around the entire proceedings.

Finally, we also see how, following that tricky Summer of 1970, the band fully rebounded with its final two albums, "Morrison Hotel" and "L.A. Woman" (again, "When You're Strange" presents fabulous footage from the latter's recording sessions ...apparently, the last existing footage of the band as a whole).

But then, most inconveniently, Jim moved to Paris and rumor has it actually died there very early on the morning of July 3, 1971.

Now he may indeed remain "hot, sexy, and dead" as Rolling Stone declared a decade later, kicking off the Doors Resurrection each surviving band member continues to propagate most efficiently to this day. Yet Tom DiCillo has bravely succeeded, where few have ever even attempted to before, in stripping away the excess, puncturing the mythology, and - What a concept! - letting The Doors' MUSIC do the talking.

Strange indeed.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sadly, "When You're Strange" turns out to be pretty conventional - a portrait of a stoner prophet, packaged for PBS, May 18, 2010
This review is from: When You're Strange: A Film About The Doors (DVD)
When I heard that Tom diCillo had a documentary on The Doors coming out, I was very excited. His 1995 film, Living in Oblivion is a bitterly funny take on the frustrations of independent filmmaking. More importantly, The Doors was my favorite band in High School - that I believed I'd discovered myself, a few decades after their heyday - and Jim Morrison became something of a personal hero. I had posters of him on my wall, I had all of the albums, I read No One Here Gets Out Alive and a volume of his poetry, and I even grew my hair out to look like his before he'd grown a serious paunch and facial hair. I've since outgrown this fad, having grown my own paunch and facial hair, and Ray Manzarek's organ just doesn't move me anymore, but who wouldn't want to go back and relive the exciting moments of teenaged discovery?

Unfortunately, "When You're Strange" is not quite the intoxicating blast from the past I'd hoped it would be. The story the film tells is familiar - in fact there was almost nothing in the film that was not told with much more detail and passion in "No One Here Gets Out Alive" (at least as I recall it more than twenty years later). There is some very intriguing footage, some of which I understand has been unpublished until now - and the subject matter held enough interest that I wasn't bored. The problem is with the basic structure of the film, organized around the very bland and utterly conventional history-lesson narrative of a fairly unenthusiastic narrator. I would love to see what Isaac Julien might have done with this material - his Derek not only gave insight into the life of Derek Jarman, but had its own distinctive and memorable artistic voice. This film is, for better or worse, Jim Morrison the stoner prophet, packaged for PBS.

The film starts out strong, with footage I'd never seen before that seems to have been created as a kind of visual accompaniment to one of the storylines from the Doors' song "Riders on the Storm": somewhere in the desert there is a car accident, and a bearded Morrison emerges unscathed from a shattered vehicle, hitches a ride, and is later seen driving away in the same vehicle, no longer as passenger. "If you give this man a ride sweet memory will die ...." Janis Joplin on the radio is interrupted then by a real radio broadcast that reports the famous singer Jim Morrison to have died in his bathtub under mysterious circumstances - and then we see an image of a candle going out and a montage of images of The Doors in reverse: what follows, clearly, will explore what happened and why this unique talent had died at such a young age.

The problem is that what follows is not so much an exploration of a mystery as an explanation of a history. A narrator tells the story of the life of young Jim Morrison, passing quickly through his childhood, as a voracious reader and Elvis Presley fan, to the point where he meets Ray Manzarek when they were both studying at the UCLA film school and they decided to form a band. The filmmakers clearly had access to a wealth of footage and images, both of The Doors and of culture and events in the 60's and 70's. What surprised me is that they didn't use these images to tell the story, but merely to illustrate the words, to the point that in many cases the words seemed redundant or simplistic. He describes the music as unique and strange and unfamiliar, rather than showing it to be. In a discussion of the infamous concert that led to Morrison's indictment for indecent exposure, the film shows footage of his walking through the crowd and chatting with the audience casually before going on stage, and the narrator explains (roughly): "Before the concert, he walks through the crowd, showing no fear ... it is difficult to tell if he is giving something to the crowds or if he needs them, drawing emotional strength from their adulation."

About halfway through the film I began to wonder who was its intended audience - given the ability of the narrator to sap the life out of the mystery of Jim Morrison and the band precisely by explaining that and how their music and message were strange and unique, I wondered if the aim might be simply to clarify to those who never "got it", that The Doors were an important band, and that their meteoric rise and downfall was something of a microcosm of the social changes around them. The film is not quite a puff piece, and I appreciated that it worked hard to show that Jim Morrison had flaws and that he owed a good deal of his success to the ability of the rest of the band to support him. One thing I did learn from the film was that the characteristic meandering style of some of the band's longer songs (like "LA Woman" and "The End") really developed from the band's need to fill the empty spaces when Morrison was too drunk to keep going, and to build up musical momentum in a way that would excite him and get him back on track.

In many ways this review may seem harsh - if the film had a different subject that could best be elaborated by a historical narration, then the approach of this film might be perfectly legitimate. But to explain (repeatedly) that the strange really was strange, to point out that the revolutionary really was revolutionary, is to presume that the material has lost its life, and can no longer convey its own power. The film ends on a joke, of sorts, with the narrator pointing out that (unlike many of their contemporary bands) none of The Doors' songs ever became a car commercial: unlike many of their contemporaries, I guess, The Doors never sold out... But when they've been packaged like this, with their allure and their ups and downs explained so neatly, does it really matter whether they sold themselves out?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Doors Docs & Depp, December 16, 2011
By 
J. Bynum (the southwest) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: When You're Strange: A Film About The Doors (DVD)
When You're Strange / A film about The Doors / A film by Tom Dicillo / Narrated by Johnny Depp: This is not a concert film. This is not a `rarities' junk drawer. This is a well made documentary about The Doors (Well, actually, it's about Jim being IN The Doors). As a documentary, it is very good. No, it doesn't break any new ground. There's not that much new ground left! It does its job of presenting the story and it does it VERY well. It is like listening to an old Doors album, you know the material, but it's still a treat to experience it again. Johnny Depp does the narration. He does it very well. Depp has done this kind of thing before, previously working on the film "The Source" about the Beat Generation poets, so he handles the job as expected. If you're a Doors fan, you'll get this film. If you're curious about The Doors, this is the film to see. If you don't like the Doors, you're not reading this review. As a documentary, I like it, so it gets four stars.
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29 of 41 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A truly unremarkable piece of work, May 30, 2010
By 
B. Gordon (San Francisco, CA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: When You're Strange: A Film About The Doors (DVD)
I'm the lone naysayer for this documentary (it appears so far). Let me first start off by stating that I've been a Doors fan for more than 30 years and I've seen more than 85% of the footage shown in this documentary. But having said that, the biggest disappointment with this so-called documentary is just how little new footage it actually contains given that the band supposedly "opened the vaults" to Dicillo. For anyone who has been a Doors fan and has seen much of the already commercially available Doors footage (released over the past 25 years) there is very little new in this film that would excite the viewer. If anything, the only thing worth getting excited about is the fact that Dicillo was able to get pristine quality footage and that alone may be the sole reason worth seeing this film.

Otherwise, you are left with a terrible narrative construction filled with cliches about the band, Jim Morrison and of course, the sixties. Johnny Depp does his ably best to surround this film with a certain "je ne sais quois" mystique but it doesn't hold water at all. For one thing, Dicillo wrote this narrative and he sheds absolutely NO LIGHT WHATSOEVER on the Doors or Jim Morrison. Matter of fact, there is NOTHING new in this film that hasn't already been mentioned in previous interviews and previously made available commercial footage. The only thing that some people might have never seen before is the footage taken from Jim's movie, HWY. But all you get are snippets which don't amount to very much. One has to seriously question Dicillo's direction when he put this film together because there is so little if anything that's new in it one wonders exactly what exactly was his goal and what was he expecting to accomplish? There are ZERO interviews with intimates of Jim Morrison such as Babe and Tony Funches, for example. These are people who are still alive and knew Jim fairly intimately. There are many other individuals who could have been interviewed. And what about Jim's poetry? We get so little in this documentary given that Jim recorded HOURS of his poetry in a professional studio. In the end, what makes the Doors and Jim Morrison worth considering all these years later? This film doesn't answer the question at all and instead gives us what we've been given already before which is previously released footage of both the band and Jim Morrison while shedding no new light or insight about the band, the music, or Jim Morrison. This was a serious misfire on the part of Dicillo and this film does not at all deserve the kudos these Amazon reviewers have been giving it. If you are a Doors neophyte and no next to NOTHING about the Doors or Jim Morrison then you might glean something of value from this film. But if you're a long time fan and collector of both Jim's poetry, the doors music and you already have seen most of what has already been commercially made available over the past 25 years, then you will find preciously little in this film of significance. The Doors obviously have very little in their vaults and all you get are 5 to 10 second snippets of the Doors performing in concert at various venues with no soundboard recordings from any of the concerts shown. It's a huge let down for long-time Doors fans who were expecting much more in terms of previously unseen footage both of the band and Jim Morrison.

I paid $12 to see this film at the Kabuki theater in San Francisco and the theater was 4/5th's empty. Everyone seemed bored who watched this film and after making it through 30 minutes of this film I found myself barely able to make it through the rest. It was unoriginal, with a badly written narrative. I don't recommend this film at all unless you've never seen any film footage of the Doors before. I'm very harsh in my review of this film because I was expecting something much different than what was delivered. I want my money back!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Insights Into the Doors, January 14, 2012
By 
Joel Parker (San Jose, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: When You're Strange: A Film About The Doors (DVD)
I thought I knew it all about the Doors & their masterpieces in song & Morrison's mystical verse, but I was amazed at all the Doors trivia that this documentary imparts. For example, when Morrison was at his flakiest it took 11 months to make The Soft Parade, but their last & arguably best masterwork LA Woman was essentially done in 2 weeks in the studio!

This is the best film made about the cultural phenomenon of the Doors, certainly the best I've ever seen.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Resurrecting Mr. Mojo Risin...and the Other Doors, January 10, 2012
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This review is from: When You're Strange: A Film About The Doors (DVD)
Being a longtime Doors fan this was a fantastic collection of footage I had never seen before. In addition, I also really liked Johnny Depp's understated narration. I would rate this video as a "must see" for any Doors fan!

This year will mark the 45th anniversary of the release of the original "The Doors" album. I remember reading a number of years ago that a panel of music critics and music industry heavyweights rated it as one of the top five rock albums of all time; couldn't agree more. I also remember very distinctly the first time that I heard the long version of "Light My Fire"....Blew me away! I had never heard anything like it before; totally mesmerizing and hypnotic. Then, once I heard the remainder of the album it forever changed the way I listened to music and The Doors became my favorite band (and they still are).

It was amazing what these very talented musicians were able to accomplish in such a short time. Their legacy lives on and Morrison's life is forever the epitome of the modern Greek tragedy. Sadly, a lot of "what ifs" had Jim lived.
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