Saturday, 12 February 2011


It should be a doddle making a film about The Doors: a charismatic and provocative singer; controversy; riots; arrests; drink; drugs; sex; success; death; and – lest we forget – a catalogue of era defining music. What is proving difficult is making a film that does them justice. No doubt about it, they have an image problem - their hipness stolen by shoddy artists painting Jim Morrison’s portrait on coffee shop walls and the sartorially challenged wearing tie-dyed t-shirts when their dope smoking pope one gets an annual wash.

Oliver Stone’s hammy and discredited dramatization in 1991 did them no favours, so the only actor Tom DiCillo employs is Johnny Depp, who stays off screen and provides the commentary. Depp is a man of wealth and taste but did he not baulk at the script? He reads out the band’s potted history as if addressing a class of school children. Jim the “rock and roll poet” did this, Ray did that, John left then came back the next day. “Jim takes control of his own image – he picks out all his own clothes”. It offers nothing – other than a patronizing tone – that a quick skim of Wikipedia doesn’t provide.

With the voiceover removed DiCillo would have a far better film. All the footage is taken from 1966-1971 so even when impersonating David Bellamy they cut a dash (with a special mention to John Densmore for sporting the best L-shaped sideburns of his generation). But the music takes centre stage, especially their captivating live shows with Morrison’s unpredictable behaviour inciting crowds and mini-riots one night and hardly able to stand another. “Sometimes the drinking helps Morrison, sometimes it doesn’t, the band become adept at keeping him alive on stage”. They sure do and their brilliant improvisational chops and also the way they locked into a hypnotic groove could turn “Light My Fire” or “The End” into sensational twenty minute rollercoaster rides.

Huge success from the very start had them touted as America’s answer to the Rolling Stones and the parallels are clear; the authorities felt sufficiently threatened to publically clip their wings but the on-stage arrests and the infamous trumped-up allegation of Jimbo whipping out his lizard king only served to increase their teenage appeal and accelerate Morrison’s drink and drug intake, which had obvious repercussions within the group.

The Doors had their own sound, wrote much of the rock ‘n’ roll manual, and had integrity and intellect. Yeah they could be pompous and slightly pretentious but the brooding menace of their debut LP or the bluesy brawn of Morrison Hotel or LA Woman over ride that any day. The music wins out but with The Doors it always has to wrestle guff like: “To some, Jim was a poet, his soul trapped between heaven and hell. To others, he was just another rock star who crashed and burned. But this much is true; you can’t burn out if you’re not on fire”. Cue the corniest shot you can image: a candle being blown out.

A film that manages to get inside the workings of the band, to explore the four personalities within it, is still to be made but When You’re Strange undoes much of the cartoonish aspect of Stone’s film and - although with some unwanted distractions - directs the viewer back to the records.

When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors is available now on DVD by Universal.

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