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When You're strange slam-bang DOORS docu in Berlin

The halfway mark of the festival peaked for me last night with Tom DiCillo's slam-bang DOORS documentary "When You're strange", by far the best rocku-docu this writer has ever seen, but more on that in a moment. The day's opener was the morning press screening of Swedish director Lukas Moodyson's competition entry, "Mammoth", top lining hot Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal (of Almodobar's "Mala Educacion"), American actress Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain) and featuring three terrific kids of various nationalities. Lukas first hit the big-time on the international festival and art house circuit at age 29 with "Fucking Amal" (1998) a study of middle-class teenagers in a small Swedish town that spoke to audiences everywhere. He struck pay-dirt again in 2002 with "Lilja-4ever", a strong story of a young Ukrainian girl forced into white slavery in Sweden -- which apparently gave him the clout to apply for Hollywood credentials.
"Mammoth", his first English language film, centers on the shaky marriage of a successful yuppie couple, she (Williams) an emergency room surgeon, he a global businessman (Garcia), their Filipina live-in nanny, and their precocious eight year old daughter. As the film meanders to and through tourist Thailand and the underdeveloped Philippines an attempt is made to address the evils of globalization and related issues, but like the source of the title –("Mammoth" refers vaguely to giant corporations but specifically in the film, to a fountain pen made with Mammoth ivory inlay that sells for 3,000 bucks a shot, "the most expensive pen in the world") -- the film is on shaky ground from start to finish and lumbers along to a mawkishly sentimental non-conclusion. For openers, bad casting. It's just too hard to accept Bernal's accented English as the lingo of an all-American Yuppie daddy, unless this is to be taken as a prima facia example of the evils of globalization in the casting of big budget films. One saving grace -- the kids, all under ten and all quite professional performers. Shockingly sophisticated for her age is Sophie Nyweide, 8 1/2, who in the film explains Big Bang Cosmology to her homesick Filipina nanny, and avowed at the press conference that "It was a very good experiense to work with an important director like Moodyson". When asked if this was her very first film, the petite actress calmly replied, "Nope, this was my fifth film". This is undoubtedly a chick we are going to hear more from in the future!

Another competition film, "In the Electric Mist" was highly respected French director Bertrand Tavernier's Gallic take on the American serial killer genre, with racial overtones and ghostly civil war hallucinations (lysurgic in origin) thrown in. It's set deep in the Louisiana Bayou country, Iberia Parish to be exact, and the time is post Katrina. Some negro fellah was murdered by racist cops in the swamp some 43 years ago and his skeleton bound in chains has been found by an alcoholic movie actor on a shoot in the swamp. Moreover somebody is running around killing nice Cajun prostitutes like Cheri Lablanc, and all this seems to be connected with Julie 'Baby Feet' Balboni, a very heavy-set big time mobster, and old friend of investigating no-nonsense ex-alcoholic detective Dave Robicheaux. One is reminded here of the famous Howard hawks movie "The Big Sleep" (1946), which had a plot so complicated with so many loose ends, that the director himself admitted he didn't really know what the hell was going on in his own picture, but ...whatthehell --look at the cast! -- Tommy Lee, as tougher'n nails Sheriff Dave Robicheaux, not only keeps rollin' along like Ole Man River, but seems to get better and better all the time, like vintage wine. His dialogue also gets skimpier from picture to picture because by now, his screen persona is so well established that all he has to do is grunt to make point. When he picks up that shotgun and goes gunning for the guy holding his daughter hostage -- well, just watch out bad guys!
Portly (to put it mildly) John Goodman plays gangster Balboni and when Tommy Lee beats the shit out of him with a baseball bat, well, you almost gotta feel sorry for this big fat louse. Mary Steenburgen -- hard to believe she's now 55 -- plays Tommy's wife and is still cute as ever, and horny too! Bit parts by power forward sized actor-director John Sayles and pudgy Ned Beatty of Deliverance days round out what can really be called a "star-studded" cast. I suppose I should be more critical, but I have to admit that the obvious pot holes in the plot didn't bother me because I was having too much fun watching the actors playing around with their parts. And then again, Tavernier, like most French intellectuals, knows more about American film History than most Americans do, so maybe this electrically mystifying plot was meant as an indirect homage to the unsolved convolutions of Hawk's Big Sleep. Director Tavernier and Good Ole Boy Goodman represented the film to the press corps here. Too bad Tommy Lee couldn't come along for the ride. He was probably riding shotgun somewhere else.

And finally, the Doors. It's hard to believe that this iconic acid rock group which has left such a permanent legacy, both musical and historical, was only around for some 54 months, until lead singer Jimmy Morrison died of an overdose in Paris at age twenty-seven, essentially putting an end to the dazzling Light of their short-lived Fire. Oliver Stone's 1991 feature "The Doors" starred Val Kilmer as Morrison and Meg Ryan as his devoted and long suffering girlfriend Pamela Courson, whereas Tom DiCillo's new DOORS documentary stars Jim Morrison as Jim Morrison, Pamela Couson as Pamela, Ray Manzarek as Ray, Robbie Krieger as Robbie, and John Densmore as Densmore ... in other words, it's real -- one hundred percent real, and For Real. Just to make sure that nobody tries to accuse DiCillo of faking any of the footage or situations seen in the film a lead-in title advises viewers that NO ACTORS WERE USED IN THIS FILM -- (Tom can’t stomach the Oliver Stoned version in which only actors were used ... Asked about Oliver Stone's fictionalized Doors film of 1991, DiCillo said that he just couldn't watch it.)

Very important in the DiCillo version is the fact that while Morrison is, for obvious reasons, the main character of this historical drama, this is not just a film about Jim Morrison -- it's the story of the Doors as a group and the socio-setting of their comet-like rise and demise. Most interesting is the way Morrison's relations with the other group members are shown and, in fact, the way they themselves are shown. Robbie was trained as a classical Flamenco guitarist and never used a pick! He had almost no electric guitar experience before becoming a Door and, overnight, one of the most respected lead guitarists in the business. I was particularly impressed by the creativity of John Densmore's groundwork drumming -- shown in many shots from many different angles as never seen before. This was truly a group with every member making a key contribution. Many of the best known songs were written by Robbie, but unlike the Beatles who credited compositions to individual group members, all Doors songs were credited to the Doors as a whole. I have always been a great fan of Doors music, but this film aroused in me something like deep respect for them as a creative group of extremely young me with principles.

One of the selling points of this freshly minted film revealed just last month at Sundance, is that it uses all new DOORS footage recovered from various sources, (including key footage shot by Morrison himself as a small fiction film, out in the desert --which bookends the DiCillo doc), but the more important point is the way Mr. DiCillo has put this footage together to recreate the truth behind the myths and legends. As far as Morrison is concerned it is greatly to Dicillo's credit that his film is neither a hagiography --trying to depict Jimmy as a saint --nor is it a demonography --as there are undoubtedly people out there who would prefer to think of him as a devil possessed twistö-freako psychopath. As the director himself puts it, Jim Morrison was a highly talented but also a highly troubled human human being, and this is what I wanted to show – the person behind the myth. The alienated relationship with his father is particularly important and is conveyed in the film with a few deft strokes. While Jimmy was raising hell on stage his father, a high ranking naval officer, was commanding a warship in the Viet Nam war. The music is not "the only thing", but it's all there. Having myself directly experienced the age of the Doors in L.A., and having even had a certain personal contact with Morrison at UCLA back then, all I can say is that I am amazed at how DiCillo has gotten it all down and gotten it all RIGHT in an immensely rich, round, firm, and fully packed ninety minutes. I will probably have more to say about this picture when I see it again, but for the moment all I can say is that I am in awe --it was AWE-some, and then some!

Oh yes, some people have complained about the voice over narration supplied by director DiCillo himself. I for one, was not the least bit distracted, but then I was so deep into the picture’s content, blood and guts, that the narration could have been in Chinese. At any rate, says, DiCillo, his own narration was a desperation last-minute measure and he is hoping to have a professional actor such as Johnny Depp do the voice-over in the near future. Personally, I couldn't care less --in fact, I would love to hear the voice-over in Chinese ... a Chinese translation of Morrison's poetry --What have they done to the Earth ..??? --Daddy, I wanna Kill You --Mama, I wanna ... FOOCHOWYOU!
Alex DoorsLeon

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