When You're Strange - DVD Review

'When You're Stange resemebles an amazing phantom of the now presumably long dead genre of Rock 'n' Roll'

Tom DiCillo's documentary about The Doors, When You're Strange, begins with the kind of positioning montage that makes you afraid that you're about to watch a wishy-washy, mock-cultural effort that's more concerned with its own place in history than of its subject's importance. DiCillo is keen to establish When You're Strange as being a reflection of the counter-culture movement that sprung up in the sixties and he does this by forming together newsreel footage to 'put us in the moment', a film making trick that can be used to make any given period seem more dramatic than it actually was. What this doesn't do though, is say anything about The Doors.

Happily, the rest of the film does and DiCillo is favourably quick to move away from the above, cultural iconicity now apparently well and truly established. The bare script, read by Johnny Depp and penned by DiCillo himself, is effective in linking together the sometimes loose and somewhat aesthetic imagery and music which float around the screen like some amazing phantom of the now presumably long dead genre of Rock 'n' Roll.

That frontman Jim Morrison is the type of frontman that died out with the genre - all drugs, sex and magic - is DiCillo's greatest asset and one he uses extensively to examine The Doors meteoric rise to fame and calamitous collapse, coming to a head with Morrison's untimely death in July 1971. It's a story we've seen repeated too many times but its grim nature is never less than compelling, particularly here as DiCillo paints a heady picture of a true artist who perhaps never really found his place, a conclusion that the filmmaker perhaps shys away from making for his audience, many of whom will have written their own summary to Morrison's tale long ago.

Perhaps the main criticism of DiCillo is that he is as enamoured with Morrison and the band as many of their most rabid fans, one of whom (Depp) claims that When You're Strange is 'amongst the best things I have ever done'. Granted, it's better than Alice In Wonderland but it lacks the bite of something like Blow which didn't shy away from the harsh realities of a destructive personality as much as DiCillo does here. Not that, to his great credit, he ever completely sidesteps them either, producing a documentary that, whilst not the defining moment it wants to be, is at least a brave attempt at artistry which so often, the genre lacks.

When You're Strange is available to buy on DVD in the UK from Monday 30th August.

Look further...

'for anyone whose knowledge of the band is limited to Val Kilmer’s gurning, you won’t learn that much more' - For Your Consideration, 3/5

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