“People are Strange” / “Strange Days” – The Doors

To say that these are my two favorite Doors songs seems obvious given the name of this here blog/website.  But these short, sweet, and infinitely weird / complex Doors songs sum up what’s best about Jim Morrison’s legendary band without the girth that makes many mortals fall asleep.

Both are from the Doors’ 2nd album “Strange Days” released in 1967.  “Strange Days” was also the title of my favorite Kathryn Bigelow film, which I discussed earlier on Dave’s Strange World.

People Are Strange:

Strange Days:

“Strange Days” (1995) dir. Kathryn Bigelow

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Kathryn Bigelow has always been one of the most exciting directors around. It’s nice she’s getting some acclaim, box-office love, and Oscar nominations/wins to boot (“The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty”). However, one of her most underrated films is 1995’s thriller “Strange Days.”

Produced by Bigelow’s ex-husband James Cameron, “Strange Days” is one of those films that makes you think, “Man, that was soooo 1990s.” Not only for the flashy visuals and maximum volume / intensity action and violence, but also because the film takes place in the days right before Y2K. And as such (given millennial fears), the film shows America on the verge of a social, economic, and racial apocalypse (not entirely inaccurate).

The film features Ralph Fiennes in the lead as a sort of virtual reality drug dealer, selling lifelike virtual reality experiences of illicit and sensual pleasures. However, like any drug, the virtual reality experiences can sometimes be addictive and people find themselves slavishly addicted to “playback.” As the film unfolds, there’s elements involving “snuff” clips (people being killed for the purpose of making a virtual reality user experience murder), assassinations, and political/legal corruption.

A lot of this is very melodramatic and sometimes laughable (it’s always interesting to see how older filmmakers and storytellers envision a future we’ve already lived through). But what’s most amazing is in how much it predicted: the deaths of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls (and ensuing conspiracy theories involving the LAPD, record label moguls, and rival gangs), the addictive nature of an internet life (as seen with people – mainly in Eastern countries – who have literally died playing multiple hours of video games at a clip without rest), the addictive need to watch more and more disturbing imagery (because it’s only a click away, remember), and how we all are just a significant event away from mass chaos and confusion (i.e. Katrina).

“Strange Days” may be flawed, but even nearly 20 years later, it’s still an undeniably exciting film. The acting, from Fiennes to Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore, Vincent D’onofrio and Michael Wincott, is excellent. I had the privilege of seeing “Strange Days” the day it opened in October 1995 on a huge screen with a very loud (and then novel) digital soundtrack … and tellingly, only 2 other people in the audience.  This is a film that seriously needs reevaluation, along with a deluxe Blu Ray edition that takes full advantage of the medium.

“Salvador” (1986) dir. Oliver Stone

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Made in the same year as Oliver Stone’s breakthrough “Platoon,” “Salvador” is arguably Stone’s best film. The late, great critic Pauline Kael described the directorial style of this film as someone putting a gun to the back of Stone’s neck and shouting “GO!!” That’s pretty much the long and short of it. The most exciting political thriller since Costa-Gavras’s “Z,” “Salvador” is like a Hunter S. Thompson story in hell.

James Woods gives his all-time best performance as sleazebag photographer Richard Boyle.  Apologies to Paul Newman, but he should have gotten the Best Actor Oscar for “Hud,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “The Verdict,” or “Nobody’s Fool.”  Sorry, Woods deserved the Oscar in 1987.  If there was any role Woods was born to play, it’s Boyle.  And the supporting performances, from James Belushi to Elpidia Carillo to Micheal Murphy to John Savage to Tony Plana are all magnificent.

This is political cinema as an action film.  You can really see Kathryn Bigelow taking notes (Stone produced her 1989 thriller “Blue Steel”) for her later work on “Strange Days” and “The Hurt Locker.”