“The story of The Doors is one of the most compelling in the history of American rock music; three hugely talented musicians and a lead singer whose commitment to artistic freedom was so intense he rocketed them to a success that always hovered on the edge of chaos. As an independent filmmaker this sensibility affected me greatly.”
— Tom DiCillo, director and writer, When You’re Strange
The creative chemistry of four brilliant artists – drummer John Densmore, guitarist Robby Krieger, keyboardist Ray Manzarek and singer Jim Morrison – made The Doors one of America’s most iconic and influential, theatrical and mysterious, thrilling and sometime frightening rock bands. Narrated by Johnny Depp, American Masters: When You’re Strange is the first feature documentary about The Doors, premiering nationally Wednesday, May 12, 2010 at 9 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings). The film tells their story using only original footage – much of it previously unseen – shot between their formation in 1965 and Morrison’s death in 1971. “From the outset I decided to use only original footage of this astonishing band,” says Tom DiCillo, director and writer of When You’re Strange. “To me, there is nothing more powerful and riveting that seeing Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore and Jim Morrison leap into life on the screen.”
The program chronicles the creation of The Doors six landmark studio albums and follows the band from the corridors of UCLA’s film school, where Manzarek and Morrison originally met, onto the stages of their electrifying sold-out performances – giving time and attention to every one of their groundbreaking, chart topping songs.
Currently in its 24th season, American Masters is a production of THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG – one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers.
“We’re very excited to bring the story of The Doors to public television, says Susan Lacy, series creator and executive producer of American Masters, a seven-time winner of the Emmy Award for Outstanding Primetime Non-Fiction Series. “Like the times in which they performed, The Doors were unpredictable and emotionally charged. Their music, songs such as ‘Break on Through’ and ‘Light My Fire’ have stood the test of time, grabbing generation after generation of contemporary music lovers.”
“Tom DiCillo’s When You’re Strange is a meticulously crafted, exhilarating ode to one of music’s greatest ensembles, The Doors,” says Johnny Depp. “Watching the hypnotic, hitherto, unreleased footage of Jim, John, Ray and Robby, I felt like I experienced it all through their eyes. Here, Jim has been resurrected to remind us that he is to this very day, one of the most significant frontmen/poets/shaman to ever grace a stage while the band behind him kept the music alive, adding fuel to an already raging ride into history. As a rock n’ roll documentary, or any kind of documentary for that matter, it simply doesn’t get any better than this. What an honor to have been involved. I am as proud of this as anything I have ever done.”
The rare cinéma vérité of When You’re Strange allows an intimate view into The Doors musical collaboration and their offstage lives – lives that reflected and defined the psychedelic times in the exciting but turbulent, changing but conflict-ridden America of the Viet Nam War era. The Doors were fiercely anti-establishment, anti-convention and pushed the proverbial envelope whenever possible – with their language, with their blatant sexuality, with their impulsive displays and, of course, with their music.
Jim Morrison’s haunting poetry and Ray Manzarek’s remarkable flights on the keyboard, backed by Densmore’s jazz beats and Krieiger’s intense guitar, created something that had never been heard before. The Doors achieved meteoric status as they soared to stardom but the excesses of their lead singer, Jim Morrison, resulted in an equally deep and abrupt crash. Dead at age 27, every question about the truths and myths of the times, about art and addiction, about authority and defiance – about alienation – were embodied in his persona.
“They say if you remember the 60s you weren’t there,” says producer Dick Wolf. “I can state definitively that one of the things I do remember is buying The Doors first album the day it came out and then listening to it about ten or twelve times in a row. Both sides. Every song. I’ve been a fan ever since. This movie is the story of the band but it is also an insight into a moment in time that will never be repeated. Jim Morrison was the best and worst of all of us who ever felt we could change the world if only people over thirty would listen.”
American Masters: When You’re Strange is directed and written by Tom DiCillo and produced by John Beug, Jeff Jampol, Peter Jankowski and Dick Wolf. Johnny Depp narrates. Susan Lacy is the series creator and executive producer of American Masters.
American Masters is made possible by the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding for American Masters is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Jack Rudin, Elizabeth Rosenthal in memory of Rolf W. Rosenthal, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, and public television viewers.