When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors – Does Jim Morrison light your fire?

When You’re Strange - Tom DiCillo’s documentary film features rare  footage of Jim Morrison & The Doors

“There are no rules at a rock concert,” declared Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, 60s counter culture icon and the subject of Tom DiCillo’s admiring film documentary When You’re Strange.

Unfortunately, the US authorities didn’t agree with Morrison. In 1969, the same year as his cocky pronouncement, the Dade County Sheriff’s Office charged him with “lewd and lascivious conduct” for reportedly exposing himself on stage in Miami.

There’s footage from the concert in DiCillo’s fascinating film. The clip doesn’t reveal whether or not Morrison actually flashed his fans but it does show that the singer was so drunk that he probably wouldn’t have known what he was doing.

By then, Morrison’s decline from charismatic rock god to bloated drunk was well under way. A little more than two years later he’d be found dead in his bathtub in Paris, aged 27 – the age reached by fellow rock casualties Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, who both predeceased him by less than a year.

When You’re Strange - Tom DiCillo’s documentary film features rare  footage of Jim Morrison & The Doors

Morrison succumbed, you could say, to the dangerous Romantic myth of the self-destructive artist. It’s a myth that remains potent (just ask Pete Doherty) and sustains the pilgrimage of mourning fans to Morrison’s grave in Père Lachaise cemetery.

DiCillo, maker of the indie comedies Living in Oblivion and The Real Blonde, is clearly something of a Morrison pilgrim himself and his film, narrated reverentially by Johnny Depp, at times veers perilously close to hagiography.

To those not under the singer’s spell, however, the leather-trouser wearing frontman always tottered precariously between the charismatic and the ludicrous. Can you keep a straight face before his strutting poses: Mescaline Messiah, Byronic rebel with a cause, Dionysian master of the revels, Lizard King, Mr Mojo Risin’?

When You’re Strange - Tom DiCillo’s documentary film about The    Doors features rare footage from Jim Morrison’s experimental 1969 film    HWY

At its best, though, The Doors’ music made up for the pretension. With
bandmates Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger and John Densmore behind him, fusing rock, blues, jazz and even Spanish guitar, Morrison’s dark baritone still mesmerises.

Listening to The Doors today, it is impossible to disentangle their cultural references from our own. Film school drop-outs Manzarek and Morrison unwittingly wrote the soundtrack to an era. Take ‘The End’. As soon as the song begins, with Krieger’s guitar veering between sitar and bluegrass, East and West, you can’t help adding Apocalypse Now’s images of helicopter gunships and napalm sunsets.

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As for The Doors’ own story, if you’ve seen Oliver Stone’s 1991 biopic then you’ll probably get a feeling of déjà vu watching When You’re Strange.

There is, though, lots of archive footage to admire in DiCillo’s film, some of it previously unseen. Most striking of all are scenes from HWY: An American Pastoral, the experimental film Morrison made in 1969, which show him driving through the desert and – thanks to some crafty aural editing by DiCillo – hearing the news of his own death on the radio.

Off now to lay a wreath at Père Lachaise.

When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors is on general release.

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