The documentary “When You’re Strange”, which featured outtakes from the Jim Morrison-produced film “HWY” and The Doors’ documentary “Feast of Friends” (which was produced contemporaneously of The Doors’ career in 1968), saw its theatrical release on April 9, 2010.
“When You’re Strange” was produced by “Law and Order” creator Dick Wolf. Wolf is a Doors fan, and when he was a student at Boston University he booked The Doors before “Light My Fire” made them the biggest band in America, and he was impressed The Doors honored the contract. The film was written and directed by “Law and Order” alum Tom DiCillo who directed episodes of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit”, “Law and Order: Criminal Intent”, and “Law and Order: LA”, and whose big break was 1991’s “Johnny Suede” about a young man (Brad Pitt) who idolizes Ricky Nelson and wants to become a rock star.
“When You’re Strange” isn’t a documentary in the true sense, an exhaustive examination of its subject, but rather The Doors through the lens of The Doors themselves. It shows them from the stark theater of the stage. As noted most of the footage was taken from “Feast of Friends” which hadn’t been officially released yet, but had life as a bootleg and during the ’80s The Doors used a lot of the footage to make videos for MTV. Morrison’s own “HWY”, small pieces of Ray Manzarek’s UCLA student film, as well as period and historical footage appear throughout. The film is narrated by Johnny Depp, himself a Doors fan who originally came to L.A. to become a rock star and at first took acting jobs as a day job to support himself. More recently Depp joined up with Alice Cooper and Joe Perry to form the Hollywood Vampires, a band that covers songs created by drinking buddies of Cooper’s. The Vampires released a self-titled album that includes Doors guitarist Robby Krieger on three tracks (see our review here). Depp’s narration, written by DiCillo, at times seems a little basic or intrusive but the film doesn’t have enough expository footage to move the narrative along without it. Depp keeps the narration subtle and understated and has the timing of the poetic.
In re-watching “When You’re Strange” for this article it still struck me as being relevant. DiCillo intricately weaved together the footage to give it a dynamic edge that is compelling.
Originally published March 11, 2016.