The Doors were wonderfully resourceful musicians, and singer Jim Morrison was a one-of-a-kind entertainer: menacingly sexy, mellifluous on the vocals and, whatever you think of his poetic pretensions, gifted at pop songcraft.
That should be enough to seal any reputation. But it's not enough for Tom DiCillo, who wrote and directed the disappointing Doors documentary When You're Strange. He's making extravagant claims about the group's importance, not just to pop music but to an era. You see that right away as he cuts from Morrison footage to images of epochal 1960s triumph (the civil rights movement) and tragedy (John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War). As I see it, the Doors' triumph is that they made innovative, commercially successful rock music, and their tragedy is that their singer was a difficult drunk who, like too many difficult drunks, died young. That doesn't really compare to My Lai.
When You're Strange, which is a short 90 minutes, sketches the Doors' career from their days as the Whisky a Go Go house band to Morrison's death in Paris. Some footage was familiar to me, like a Doors appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, but I was glad to see other sequences for the first time, like the fascinating performance at the Isle of Wight Festival. There are also many gratuitous shots of naked hippie ladies, and laughably awful narration by Johnny Depp. "This much is true," he intones solemnly. "You can't burn out if you're not on fire." That much may indeed be true, but does it actually mean anything?