Kyle Smith of the New York Post takes one for the team, and reviews a new documentary, narrated by — of course — Johnny Depp, about Jim Morrison and the Doors, that sounds like it could double as an unintended entry into Orrin Judd’s “All comedy is conservative” files:
Tom DiCillo’s doc “When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors” is a sometimes insightful, sometimes absurdly devotional but steadily engaging film. It relies entirely on period footage to lock us into the Doors’ era, using concert scenes, recording sessions and a freaky David Lynchian art film made by the band.
All of this is framed by a narration (read, without distinction, by Johnny Depp) that artfully presents the tale of Mr. Mojo Fallin’.
Like all rock movies, the film would have worked better as a comedy that fully exploited the hilarity of, say, Morrison flopping on stage like a breathless carp, his madcap scrabbling for profundity in his verse (endlessly screaming the anagram of his name, Mr. Mojo Risin’) or his alarmed sighting, at a Hollywood Bowl gig, of Mick Jagger in the front row — with Morrison’s girlfriend on his lap.
That image, like many others referred to here, including the notorious instance of dropping trou onstage in Miami, isn’t caught on film. So did it, like, happen? Who knows? It was the ’60s, man.
Such ellipses, and especially a road-trip home movie in which Morrison wanders the desert, help build a thick fog of the surreal. Morrison wasn’t just strange, he was weird, in a weird time, and in the words of Depp’s idol Hunter S. Thompson, when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
Depp notes, “The band hires a series of professional drinkers to keep tabs on Morrison. They can’t keep up with him.” Morrison worried that Frank Sinatra might be a better singer. And, before his death, Morrison visited, or window-shopped at, the Pére Lachaise in Paris.
Ignore the revolutionary drivel that is the film’s attempted message. “The flash of protest, however brief, was real,” says Depp, mournfully. What protest? Morrison wasn’t chaining himself to the White House fence. How political is it to get wasted and unfurl your junk in the Miami night? The movie that really owes a debt to Morrison isn’t “Apocalypse Now.” It’s “Animal House.”
No wonder the best cinematic take on the Doors is the one that blends the personas of Morrison and a political contemporary of Sen. Blutarski: