as a general editorial policy, i don't spend a lot of time here on vitagraph, american talking about films that i don't think are very good. since it's not a review site, exactly, i have that luxury. i would much rather spend the finite amount of time i have telling you about things i think are exciting, worthwhile and that you may not have come across. that being said, sometimes a film is so bad i just can't let it slide. i'd feel negligent if i didn't say something - oh, say, something like "when you're strange (2009), tom dicillo's new film about the doors, is the worst documentary i have seen in a long time" and i have seen some bad ones.
it fails on almost every level, mishandled across the board. as a documentary it is a love letter to the band. there is no investigative work, nothing revelatory, nothing even exclamatory. the promise of unearthed footage will be enough to lure in the serious fans but whatever impact it might have had is severely lessened when it essentially becomes nothing but a backdrop to the breathless, sycophantic narration. instead of matching these previously unavailable glimpses of the band with new insights from the surviving members or outlining the more interesting aspects of their rise and fall what you get is johnny depp reading a doors press release for an hour and a half. die-hards will be especially disappointed. i am certainly not what you would call a devotee and there was practically nothing in it i didn't already know. did you know jim morrison was reading rimbaud at age sixteen? amazing! or so the film would like you to think.
when it attempts to provide you with cultural context it's even worse. let's see. what says "sixties"? i know! let's trot out the same tired footage of the kennedy brothers, martin luther king, woodstock and vietnam. ham-fisted, stock image after stock image. a golden opportunity was missed here to focus on los angeles and where the doors fit in the context of the city and its music scene. they were unique among their brethren at the whisky a go go. why not capitalize on/explore that? nope. we'll make do with the time/life version of "that tumultuous decade" one. more. time.
ok, so it's not hard hitting journalism. it doesn't have much of a point to make beyond the fact that tom dicillo really loves the doors. ironically, though, the longer it goes on the more it backfires as a love letter as well. the longer you look at morrison the more he loses his luster. every time he opens his mouth in this thing he comes off as moronic. he doesn't fare much better when he keeps it shut. he's either tear-assing around the desert in a muscle car attempting to look enigmatic/dangerous/mystical, staring blankly into the camera alternately pouting or smiling in a way that he thinks looks enigmatic/dangerous/mystical or rolling around onstage attempting to look enigmatic/dangerous/mystical. it's utter bullshit and, in giving us an extended opportunity to look at it, dicillo himself is the one who unintentionally exposes it as such. if i read/hear one more reference to morrison as "dionysian" i think i am going to vomit. as it turns out he was a drunken, mediocre attention whore, not so much godlike as just middle-class reality show fodder. a shaman doesn't believe his own press, but then you wouldn't have to tell a shaman that. after ninety minutes of this i am amazed anyone over the age of sixteen ever fell for this act at all. maybe it was all just an elaborate joke, a kaufmanesque put-on. oh, you crazy lizard king. you can do anything.
ultimately, it all made me feel terribly sorry for the rest of the band. it might have helped to include current interviews, maybe offer some new perspective with the benefit of hindsight and all, but no go. there may have been legal issues preventing it since the survivors have a bit of a contentious relationship. i have no idea. whatever the reason, the approach scuttles the film before it even gets underway. everyone involved said they wanted this to be the antidote to oliver stone's earlier biopic of the band. well, strike two. total waste of time. i think someone needs to take the whole thing in a wacky new direction, a doors reboot! get will ferrell on the phone!
as always, don't just take my word for it. see it for yourself and decide. myself, i'll just wait for the ferrell/adam mckay take on it. it certainly couldn't be any worse.