Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Pose Reviews a Movie. #17: When You're Strange

Mostly, I'm just really, really glad that someone OTHER than Oliver Stone made a movie about The Doors.

Alright, alright, I know Oliver Stone's film starring the weirdly perfect, pre-Batmanian Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison was good. I just hate Oliver Stone so DAMN much it pains me to admit it.

But condemnations of Oliver Stone aside (although a healthy Stone-bashing at the beginning of a review never hurt anyone), Tom DiCillio's documentary about the psychedelic, four-piece tour-de-force is really quite good.

First of all, it's absolutely incredible that the filmmakers were able to unearth so much old footage of the band, and restore it to such good condition. Surely, someone had to wade through hours upon hours of backs-of-heads and poorly lit stage shots to get the concert footage used in the film, and although the interview scenes have probably been carefully preserved over the years, it was impressive to see them presented with such sharpness and clarity of both audio and video.

Johnny Depp also lent his voice for a solid narration of the film, having practised up on Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson (which is also a great documentary if you want to check it out). Depp didn't lend a lot of character to the narration--he was clearly reciting a script, verbatim--but it didn't really matter. The script was full of fascinating tidbits about the band, and, overlooking the occasional eye-rolling one-liner, it pretty much sold itself.

The other thing I liked about When You're Strange was that it focused on the band as a whole. The difficulty I have whenever anyone pays any attention to The Doors is that they tend to go straight for Jim Morrison. I suppose it's hard not to, since he's one of the most iconic frontmen of all time, but The Doors is comprised of some pretty fantastic musicians who never get much credit.

Ray Manzarek, the band's keyboardist, is a prime example--the guy is playing those CRAZY organ solos WHILE he's playing the bass line! I always knew The Doors didn't have a bass player, but seeing actual footage of Manzarek's hands in action gave me a whole new appreciation for how talented he is.

Overall, The Doors' status as a legendary cultural entity lends them well to documentary format--after all, any band that sells eighty million albums in a career spanning only 54 months is bound to have some interesting stories. But DiCillio does a good job of constructing a well-structured, good-looking and entertaining documentary stuffed with fun-facts to appeal to everyone from die-hard Doors fans to people who think Jim Morrison is "that guy from Menudo."

...just be wary of the weirdly interspersed scenes with the Jim Morrison look-alike driving through the desert. They're kind of lame, totally confusing, and don't add anything to the film, but they're good for an occasional eyebrow-furrowing, and I even chuckled at them occasionally. I have no idea what DiCillio was trying to get at with these bits, but luckily whatever it was didn't ruin the movie.

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