When You're Strange

Director: Tom DiCillo
Screenwriters: Tom DiCillo

Institute History

  • 2009 Sundance Film Festival


The Doors are probably my favorite band. Maybe that’s because they emerged at such a troubled point in American history and so captured the zeitgeist of that era, the late 1960s and early '70s. And yet I don’t mythologize them. Tom DiCillo’s feature documentary is such an inspired portrait of not only the band and its iconic singer, Jim Morrison, but also that time period and its contradictions, its optimism and fury, its co-optation and transformation, that it instantly carried me back to those days.

When You're Strange is far from a nostalgic journey and much more than a biopic. Using only original footage shot between 1966 and 1971, DiCillo's film attempts to disentangle truth from myth, depict the artist and the alcoholic/addict that was Morrison, and showcase the other members of the band: Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore, who together channeled the group's magic. It manages to preserve the mystique but never ceases to unearth new revelations and augment our understanding of who The Doors were and what they became.

As well as an astute chronicle of the times, this is a deeply personal film for DiCillo. In the final analysis, When You're Strange is a rare tribute to music, individuality, and a generation and resonates with an authenticity that speaks to anyone who wants to understand that era and what it means today.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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