When You’re Strange (review)

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Apparently filmmaker Tom DiCillo (Living in Oblivion) has nothing to say in his wonderfully surrealistic look at the Doors that hasn’t been said before about the band and their difficult and bemused lead singer, Jim Morrison. Apparently, well-informed fans are being left cold by the film, even if they are momentarily intrigued by the never-before-seen footage DiCillo dug up to illustrate the unlikely ups and downs of the musicians and the music that came “out of the crack” of the metaphorical splitting the world in the late 1960s. But I knew next to nothing about the Doors or Morrison — Morrison named the band for a line in William Blake? cool! — and I found myself mesmerized. Gee, Morrison was “like an ancient shaman,” as Johnny Depp (Alice in Wonderland) relates a contemporary description of the singer in his narration. Or maybe more like a messed-up little boy who simply didn’t know what the hell he wanted out of life. But that’s less romantic, more sad. DiCillo captures that dichotomy beautifully through trancelike footage of concerts that are more like riots interspersed with other moments of, say, Morrison mingling with fans like a priest as anonymous girls’ fingers reach out to stroke his hair reverently. Filtered through the political and social upheaval of the time, which seems almost alien to today’s world, the film is like a dispatch from another planet, or at least from a time so distant it feels like a dream.

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