When You’re Strange (Wolf Films/Strange Pictures)

The latest release of a new Doors documentary on DVD makes us yearn for fiction over fact

Given the subject matter – gargantuan drug consumption, public willy waggling, etc – it’s surprising that there’s never really been a good film made about [a]The Doors[/a]. Sure, Oliver Stone’s 1991 biopic was a hoot. Yet if you believe what anyone who was there at the time has to say, the Natural Born Killers man’s revisionist creation has as much to do with the LA band’s story as …Killers had to do with hang gliding.

It’s widely accepted that Stone’s movie was less a film about The Doors than a love letter to rock’n’roll excess; the band themselves certainly agree. Upon the movie’s release, Ray Manzarek raged: “The guy I knew was not on that screen. Where’s the poet?” Now, almost 20 years later, the keyboard player describes this new facts-first documentary as “the true story of The Doors, the anti-Oliver Stone”.

Directed by Tom DiCillo and driven by archive footage, the release of this documentary on DVD this week hasn’t been without its problems. First screened at 2009’s Sundance Film Festival, many people walked out of the theatre bored of the director’s own monotone narrative. Uberfan Johnny Depp was swiftly brought on board for a redub, and his charisma and enthusiasm for the source material is obvious. Which is surprising, given I’ve watched movies about Russian gulags more entertaining than When You’re Strange.

The problem is the dry reverence shown to a band who were more fun viewed through the lens of a fantasist. It’s the reason why teenagers love The Doors so much. When you’re young, Morrison’s tortured poet schlock is romantic. When you grow up, he sounds like a drunk shouting at bins.

Stone’s move excelled in ramping the band’s preposterousness up to 11; with their story told straight, they come across as hollow. The surviving Doors shouldn’t hate Oliver Stone so much – his movie portrays them as a better band than this does. He made a better movie too.

James McMahon

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