On June 24, 2009, the Doors' documentary, When You're Strange, was screened for the first time in Los Angeles, at the Los Angeles Film Festival in Westwood. It had already shown at Sundance in January. Because of the inclusion of footage from Jim's 1969 experimental film, HWY, which featured Jim as a performer as well as writer/producer, etc., the director of When You're Strange, respected writer/director Tom DiCillo (Johnny Suede, Living In Oblivion, Delirious, Box of Moonlight, as well as many episodes of Law and Order) was unjustly accused of hiring an actor to portray Morrison, albeit it by a fringe group. Not true of course, but rankling nonetheless.
I count myself among the group who found Oliver Stone's "The Doors" as irritating as cheap underwear. This was probably a function of having known most of the principals on varying levels, which Stone did not, but it didn't sit well with me, and the exaltation of Jim Morrison as a mostly insenstive boor was particularly irksome. We know he had his problems, but he lived his life the way he wanted to, achieved so much more than most 27 year olds ever do, and left this earth in a way that continues to provoke discussion and speculation. He would have liked that. An endless mystery.
However, from my observation, and as his father notes, Jim was a basically decent human being, a person you'd want to know. I wish Oliver Stone had known him. I did, albeit briefly.
I reviewed the documentary right after I saw it, and thought I might post it here for those who haven't seen it yet. It's available on DVD, with additional features, including a rare interview with Jim's father, Rear-Admiral George S. Morrison, who died in 2008, and Jim's sister Anne Chewning, who now controls the Morrison Estate. When I first talked to Jim, it was apparent that he and I had the same father. Wonderful men, no clue about what we were doing though and. in those days, vice versa.
The day after the screening, June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson died, also under clouded circumstances, still to be resolved. You couldn't get into Westwood that day. It was all cordoned off. Lucky for Jim and the movie that they beat that deadline.
So, the review - amended.
"Just got back from the screening, so here's my first impressions.
Westwood was a zoo, but I found parking very quickly, right across the street from the Regent, and although the show was sold out, I got a good seat off to the right of the main block of seats, just me and two women who likely had seen the Doors back in their early days. We got a bit of a late start, because of the huge amount of people.
Ray and Robby made a quick entrance through a side door, but were spotted by the crowd and got applause. Robby quickly waved and sat down, Ray played to the crowd a little more, of course. I'd say the crowd was largely film types, Doors fans from back when, a smattering of young men. I was the only one with an empty seat beside me.
The producer of the LA Film Festival got up and read a short note from director Tom DiCillo, who was unable to attend, and then off we went.
Is it a great film? Yes, for 'casual' Doors fans and definitely for those wanting to know more about the band and the times. Ferrara's footage was very well utilized, and the editing was seamless.
It opens with a segment using HWY footage, while Jim Ladd is heard on the car radio, announcing Jim's death from the original broadcast, as Jim, at the wheel of his Shelby, gets the news. This idea to use outtakes from Jim's film was DiCillo's, who wrote the whole radio scene with Jim hearing his death on the car radio, reported by Jim Ladd. It's worth noting that this sequence doesn't exist in HWY, where there's no sound or dialogue at all. It was created from series of unconnected outtakes, pieced together to make it look like Jim was hearing something on the radio.
From there, the exploration of the Doors begins, looking at their early days, how the band was put together, a recounting of how they were signed to Elektra by Jac Holzman, the first two albums, the clubs, lots of footage from concerts, funny interviews with fans - one got a big laugh, where a girl asks them if they were like the Monkees!
I'd say the written material lacks in detail, but for those who don't spend their lives diarying every move the Doors and Jim made, it's basically unimportant. Depp's narration is very low-key and unobtrusive, almost subliminal.
Miami is well explored, but so is New Haven, which seems to be where Jim's challenges to the establishment really began. As Jim continues to burn out, you can see how the other Doors became more and more terrified of what might happen, as he continues his reckless progress, further hampered by the emergence of his alter-ego, Jimbo.
It's sadly apparent that Miami broke Jim's spirit. He has suddenly realized that he is not invincible, and the look in his eyes says everything.
There is no footage of the performance at Miami, so DiCillo and the team created the entire eight minute sequence using scraps of footage from an unknown concert. The movie only shows Jim from behind because he had a beard at Miami. In the available footage he was beardless.
Obviously, most of Jim's problems stemmed from a sense of alienation and the overuse of drugs and alcohol to cope. Pam Courson-Morrison apparently got him to a psychiatrist, but he didn't go back. Michael McClure steered him towards poetry, which appeared to refocus him and he was able to find inspiration enough to get to New Orleans, and present some the LA Woman material, but that was all he had left. Ray Manazarek notes that he literally saw the psychic energy leave Jim, when, after pounding the stage to splinters with his mic stand, he sat down on the stage and then couldn't get up again.
And so, Jim flies into the sunset.
From there, the filmmakers simply note that, once in Paris, Jim developed a bad cough and Pam had him see French doctors, who strongly urged him to give up drinking and put him on steroids for his respiratory problems, which he probably disregarded. His death is explained simply as a heart attack after a night of heavy drinking.
There was sturdy and deserved applause at the conclusion.
Kudos to the editors, who did a magnificent job, Mr. DiCillo for an inspired vision, Johnny Depp for skilful narration, to the entire team, and to Jim, John, Ray and Robby for being The Doors. Without whom, this movie would not burn as brightly as it does.
And, if Jim had gone to any screening, this would have been the one. UCLA, Westwood, Los Angeles Film Festival. He'd have really liked it, I believe.
The empty seat was for him."
The movie won a Grammy this year for Long-Form Music Video. I continue to recommend it.
Footage from HWY (unique - worth watching)