Entertainment behind the scenes
The haunting message that keeps returning throughout Tom DiCillo’s documentary about Jim Morrison and The Doors — “When You’re Strange” — is that the other three band members were growing fed up with their leader’s erratic behaviour and losing battle with drugs and alcohol. But they never brought up the issue that so much exasperated them even though Morrison’s alcohol and drug-induced demise was causing them all sorts of problems.
DiCillo’s otherwise favourable portrayal of the band, a film shown internationally for the first time at the Berlin Film Festival, is critical of drummer John Densmore, guitarist Robbie Krieger and keyboard player Ray Manzarek for failing Morrison by avoiding the issue that was tearing the singer, and their band, apart rather than talking to him about it.
So — and this is the best part of a big film festival like Berlin — when the now grey-haired Densmore popped up on stage after the screening to talk about the documentary and take a few questions, I was able to ask: “The film keeps asking the question: Why didn’t any of you talk to him about his problems or do anything about it? Why didn’t you?”
“Way back then,” Densmore said, looking down at the floor as the theatre went quiet, “there wasn’t any such thing as a substance-abuse clinic. We didn’t really know he was an alcoholic. We knew he had problems. It drove me nuts. That’s why I quit one day and came back the next day. I knew it was an ‘elephant in the room’. We all saw it: Our singer’s going down — what are we gonna do? But at the same time we were making good music. I was crucified between those two feelings. I didn’t know what to do.”