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June 25, 2009


Film Review by Don Rose

Yes, the new Doors doc rocked.
The pains and strains of "When You're Strange"
ranged from the Doors' early days to druggie haze to final daze.
If you are into music and/or the 60s, go see it. If you love the Doors, run to see it.
It will Light Your Fire, you will Love It Madly, and you'll Break On Through to new appreciation of this seminal rock-n-roll-with-a-touch-of-jazz band and its legendary lead singer/poet/icon.

The 2pm LAFF screening June 24 at the Regent Theatre was packed; I had to hustle to get a third row side seat. It was worth the effort. The Doors, that eloquent energetic ever-eclectic electric Elektra ensemble, has been captured by director Tom DiCillo as never before. This is an energetic biopic that doesn't quite feel like one, which is a good thing. No newly shot interviews with friends and bandmembers sprinkled with minimal archival footage, no oversaturation with sycophantic praise. This film feels so alive because it is young, composed entirely of footage and recordings from the Doors glory days, clips from when the Doors were new, alive, pumping out sounds never experienced by everyday ears -- a kind of rock-jazz blend, as John Densmore explained in the film.

Even I, an avowed devoted Doors fan, learned some new things in this doc. A partial list:

* The first song Robby Krieger ever wrote was "Light My Fire" (and it went to number one in the summer of 1967)

* Light My Fire was almost used in a car commercial, but while the other 3 Doors approved the deal, Morrison nixed it (and, as narrator Johnny Depp informs us at film's end, no Doors songs ever went on to be used in any car commercials)

* Morrison apparently had no publicist, picked out his own clothes, and arrived at shows without entourage or bodyguards in many cases

* Ray Manzarek dropped acid (dropped as in gave it up) in favor of meditation

* At the height of Jim's fame and status as counter-culture anti-establishment icon, his dad was as establishment as you can get: an Admiral leading the fight in Vietnam. (Can you have a greater irony? A greater generational gulf within one family? Perhaps that is why a data-sheet filled out by Jim used one word to describe his family: Dead.)

Bottom line, at the risk of being overly abundantly blunt, is that I loved this film. As I left the theatre, I felt alive; the colors all around on the busy bustling Broxton boulevard were vivid and vibrant and packed with potential. A good film has the power to do that, to liberate you and open your senses. The doors of perception, for me, were opened a bit wider, and what more can you ask from a film?

Yet there was more, much more. Reel upon reel of rare footage (much of it never-before-seen by the public) and plenty of great Doors music. I felt I was experiencing the band's entire evolution from an insider's POV, from beginning to end, and some clever editing even raised the always-arisin question of whether Mr Mojo Risin was still alive. In the end, beautiful friend, that question seemed the wrong one to ask. The right one: are we still alive? Thanks to this motion picture, I know the answer is a glorious Yes.

Of course, I was not the only one moved by this movie. Spontaneous applause erupted as the film ended. And then came a nice surprise, as I was informed that half the Doors (Ray and Robbie) had been in attendance today. In recent years I've seen both Ray and Robbie (at different times) walking about Westwood, so perhaps this little Village, just south of UCLA where Ray and Jim went to film school, has once again become the spiritual hub of Doorsian energy. Or maybe they just live nearby and like the Farmers Market (which now takes place on Wednesday afternoons, by the way).

Okay, I admit, this aside of mine was a little strange; for more relevant thoughts, facts and insights about "When You're Strange" see the Tom DiCillo blog as well as the Tom DiCillo interview on Doors.com.