When You're Strange Reviews
The film hits occasions of such bits of ultrastylizing as bizarre imagery or superfluous, surrealistically stylized and intermittent dramatisations of, well, I don't know, some guy driving around, ever so occasionally listening about Jim Morrison's death on the radio, and when it does, more often than not, it dives too deeply into that style to the point of being overbearing. These moments of overstylizing don't just hurt the momentum and resonance of the film, but also stand as inconsistent with the general tone and themes of the documentary, momentarily throwing you off and slightly convoluting the documentary, even though the documentary feels a tad lacking in material to convolute. Not even breaking the 90 minute mark, this effort seems to be relatively short among other documentary features on the complex lives and careers of classic musicians, and it's not about to let you forget that, rushing through many of its points and glossing over details, taking little time to meditate upon the material it discusses, much of which is somewhat been-there-done-that. This, combined with limited critical insight, and by extension, much of the human element, leaves the film to ring emotionally hollow and all too brief. To put it simply, the documentary makes quite a few amateur errors and ultimately stands feeling as though it were a TV documentary, complete with limited insight and mostly basic facts, only with a bit more vulgarities and overstylizing. It is an extremely conventional, overly brief and generally hardly memorable documentary. However, what aspects it does succeed at, it strikes with such professional force to keep you invested and actually fascinated, for the most part, or, if nothing else, simply entertained, primarily by the style.
As stated earlier, when the film's style turns into ultrastyle, it's often problematic and overbearing, yet that's to be expected when your film is almost entirely style, even when it's good style, like it very much is in here. The plays with lighting and color in the film are often unique and nifty, with an engaging surrealism that mostly fits the themes and adds character to the film. This can also be said about such other stylized aspects as the editing, which is very cinematic in its snappy livliness that ranges in freneticism to reflect the tones of the film, yet never get overbearing, thus giving the film more intrigue, which goes further intensified by, well, believe it or not, the narration. This documentary's narration has come quite a ways from director and writer Tom DiCillo's reportedly dull voice, because with all of my joking about Johnny Depp's also being monotone and perhaps too fitting for a documentary on The Doors, there's no mistaking Depp's presence, not just because of his familiar smooth and cool voice, but because he incorporates his usual charisma of somewhat dark charm and livliness, fitting this documentary like a glove and coating it in appealing texture. Wow, Johnny Depp can't even narrate a documentary without being winningly charming, and thank goodness for that, as it really ups the intrigue of an already entertaining film that also, for all of its underwhelming faults in storytelling, stands as pretty informative. Call Oliver Stone's "The Doors" dubious as much as you want, because even I will, yet there were still plenty of aspects in it that were right on the money, so if you've seen that film, then you've basically seen almost all of the points that this documentary hits, yet that doesn't land much of a blow to this film's engagement and informative value. Sure, the film isn't extensive or comfortable enough in its studies, with only so much of the human touch for it to transcend general underwhelmingness, yet with all of its faults, it's a fine documentary to touch upon, with consistent entertainment value to compliment its ultimately fascinating structure and leave it an ultimately worthy watch.
Getting to "the end, my friend" (Get it? Look it up), the film's occasions of overstylizing somewhat throws off its momentum, as well as its consistency, yet what stands as most problematic is the limiting of the human touch and extensive insight and meditation amidst its much too brief length, thus leaving it underwhelming to the point of being somewhat forgettable, yet with a razor-sharp and fitting style and editing, as well as Johnny Depp's thoroughly charismatic narration that livens up generally fascinating material, "When You're Strange" ultimately stands as a consistently entertaining and mostly engaging study on the rise and fall of the classic surreal rock band, particularly its notoriously rocky frontman.
2.5/5 - Fair
a rarity, an art
The best reason to see "When You're Strange" is the footage from Morrison's obscure "HWY" film. These clips serve the new documentary so well that I hear some suspicious fans accused the director of using a stand-in actor. Nope, it's really the bearded Morrison wandering around those desert highways. I would have been quite excited to see this material, except that I coincidentally saw the entire "HWY" on YouTube quite recently (it's about 50 minutes long).
Otherwise, "When You're Strange" is a mixed success. The narration is poorly written, and loaded with banalities. I felt embarrassed for Johnny Depp. I was also leery of all the "creative" syncs of *this* video with *that* audio from somewhere else...particularly the indulgent insertion of professional Doors fawner Jim Ladd in the beginning. The hoary documentary cliche of running casual footage in slow motion for artificial "portent" is also used to excess.
There was some good material I hadn't seen before, though. Highlights included shots of the Soft Parade recording sessions, a scene with Morrison comforting a bloodied concert fan and a fine 1969 version of "The End." Otherwise, it's mostly flashes of informal, handheld clips which will provoke a smile here and there.
Biographically speaking, I was surprised there was no mention of the controversy surrounding the string arrangements added to the Soft Parade album. There was also no time spent on what may be the greatest of all unanswered Doors mysteries: Why did Morrison's eyebrows turn so blonde near the end of his life?