The time you ran was too insane
It played the festival circuit and PBS-TV’s American Masters before debuting on DVD and Blu-ray, which offer supplemental interviews with Morrison’s sister and father. As the documentary avoids the cliché talking head cross talk with those who were there — given their absence in the credits, existing Doors band members Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore may have had no involvement with the production outside of providing memorabilia — the brief home video bonus features shine the brightest. Especially the father, a retired military officer who belatedly accepted Jim Morrison’s art, albeit through clenched teeth. No one bothers asking him for his bead on Morrison’s “The End,” which includes the line, “Father? Yes, son? I want to kill you. Mother? Yes son? I want to fuck you.”
Johnny Depp narrates, charting The Doors’ meteoric rise from Whiskey A Go Go bar band to chart-topping stardom, but his script, credited to director Tom DiCillo, doesn’t bother to probe their creative process or talent as musicians and songwriters. It feels safe and conventional, tailored to fit a predetermined running time. Which is, in its way, the antithesis of The Doors as both a rock act and, for lack of a better term, performance artists. Morrison’s alcoholism and drug addiction destroyed him, but before his death at the age of twenty-seven, his demons surfaced onstage to bewilder, anger and fascinate all who were present, including the cops working security. Likewise, the intricacies and qualities of his and Krieger’s songwriting are barely addressed at all. (It was Krieger who wrote their biggest hit, “Light My Fire.”)
Which isn’t to say When You’re Strange is a total loss. Indeed, far from it. There’s a jubilant enthusiasm in the profiling of an era, chockablock with eye-popping footage of a time and place seemingly beyond anything that could ever happen again. The ‘60s youth movement threatened to be this country’s biggest upheaval since the Civil War, cut short by violent police action and rampant drug use. Director DiCillo tries to pack way too much of it into 86 minutes, but what he’s put on the screen makes one wish it were three times longer.