“Film spectators are quiet vampires” - Jim Morrison. So fellow vampires we have the opportunity to enjoy again The Doors now being released on BluRay. Jim Morrison was an exuberant character, demanding excess and imagination from both himself and all around him. He lived his life as he constructed and sang his songs; with little regard for authority and his own well being. Ultimately this was to be his downfall and like too many before and after him ( Janice Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Ian Curtis and Sid Vicious to name but a few ) his time was cut far too short. As we have learned perhaps “the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long” and Jim Morrison certainly burned his candle at both ends.
In 1991 Oliver Stone took a troubled Doors production finally to the big screen. He assembled a fine cast of characters who were eventually, in my opinion, to outdo what they had previously achieved on screen.
It's 1967 and a young Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) lands on the West Coast of the USA; he's a natural poet studying film at UCLA and he wants to use his time here to say something to the world; to leave his mark. On his way he meets the love of his life, Pamela Courson (Meg Ryan) as well as Ray Manzarek (Kyle MacLachlan), John Densmore (Kevin Dillon) and Robby Krieger (Frank Whaley). Pamela would be with him through his good and bad times right up until his death; the others... with Jim they would go onto take the world by storm as The Doors.
Soon The Doors are playing a local club, London Fog, gain the attention of record producer and from there are propelled into the summer of love with a multitude of fans eager to indulge in Morrison's lyrics, message and style. Time in the limelight is all too brief though as we see Morrison not only indulge in his desire of artistic exploration but also substance exploration with weed, cocaine and his ultimate destructor alcohol.
Although The Doors is an examination of the band in the 1960s this film really is an exploration of Jim Morrison himself. Some will say he was the driving force behind the band, so The Doors and Morrison are one and the same thing; but The Doors were so much more than just Morrison with all members of the band contributing to the whole. Also it has been said that the viewer shouldn't really take this as a gospel documentary of the band per se; true it captures the flavour of the moment of the success and rise of the band and also the atmosphere of the late 60s and it also depicts the slow then accelerating destructive influence that Morrison had over his own being. Ultimately though the pundits are more or less correct, there is some artistic license taken with this film. To a degree I never found this a bad thing, it suited the nature of the scene or scenes in question at the time. It has since been disowned by both Ray Manzarek and Pamela Keenealy, who at one point does in fact star in the film. From Manzarek's point of view Stone took too many liberties with Jim's character and his addiction to alcohol. From Keenealy's viewpoint she took great exception to a particular scene in the film where she and Jim discuss a potential abortion of their unborn child.
Yes these liberties are taken but I still enjoy this film and still have a feeling that this film captures the essential essence of Morrison himself, his wild indulgences, his dislike of authority, the brilliance in his performances and his ultimate demise into oblivion as though he was self destined to burn out at a very early age as though he almost wanted death to creep up on him and take him onwards. These moments all come across well in Stone's biopic.
Longer term Stone collaborator Robert Richardson is responsible for the cinematography and his images are exemplary from the brushed desert hallucinatory scenes to the shadowy concerts or the eclectic groupings contained within Andy Warhol's apartment and this adds to the atmosphere of the energy charged concerts and the period of the time. Interestingly Scorsese has since used him for a number of projects including the concert driven Shine a Light. Earlier though Stone employed Richardson to great effect on his Platoon, Salvador, Wall Street and would team up with him again in his next feature J.F.K. The score is of course dominated by the music of The Doors with a short interlude in Warhol's apartment when the dulcet tones of Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground can be heard in the distance. Paul Rothchild, The Doors producer whilst at Elektra records, was employed as music producer and vocal consultant so there's a sense of continuity and quality control over the songs which we see and more importantly hear. If you like the music of The Doors then you'll love this, if not then it's debatable if you'll be watching this film anyway.
Direction from Stone is as authoritarian as usual, demanding and ultimately getting the most from his players here. And it is the cast really which do have to take centre stage for all of them revel in their roles and provide 3-dimensionality to the people on screen. Up front of course is Val Kilmer and as you may have noticed from my earlier review of Felon then I really don't have a lot of time for him; that is unless it's this film or Tombstone. Kilmer is Jim Morrison in this feature there's no other way of saying it. He was dedicated before the role, researching Morrison, discussing his attitude with Morrison's friends, learning the songs of The Doors and Morrison's performances on stage. During certain scenes Kilmer and Morrison are almost indistinguishable, Morrison's on stage performance, his vocals and his demeanour are nailed by Kilmer and you have to ask that if he's capable of these types of performances then why did he take up so much rubbish for the rest of his career?
Performances by MacLachlan, Dillon and Whaley as the remaining members of the band are equally noteworthy with all resembling their real life counterparts both facially and in mannerisms. MacLachlan coming straight from the set of Blue Velvet took this role in his stride as perhaps the member of the band most routed in reality, always reasoning, always seeing the bigger picture past the most recent concert or Morrison's drop out. But it is Meg Ryan as Pamela Courson who needs applause here as well. Offset from her usual run of the mill girl next door types here Ryan is forced to portray a character I feel she would have little in common with. Due to the fact that Courson's parents have the rights to some of the Morrison's poems which Stone wanted to use they requested Pamela's role was watered down somewhat from the rebel which she was. To this degree then Ryan fits in well, she has to push her own envelope to fit into the role yet the role is perhaps not as demanding for her as it could have been.
The Doors is another fine piece of work in Stone's collection, and whilst not being up there with Platoon, JFK and Salvador I still enjoy going back to it and seeing this brief glimpse on a part of history I would have loved to have lived through. The performances and the cinematography are excellent and it is ultimately to Stone's credit that he managed to get this multi-produced venture to the screen in the first place. To these ends I would always recommend The Doors, it's a good enough insight into Morrison's character and all too brief life but if you want the real deal then read a good biography or look out for the DVD documentary “No One Gets Out Here Alive”. Until then though enjoy The Doors for what it is, a brief glimpse on a period in history which gave rise to one of the most innovative bands and poets to have graced our senses.
Our Review Ethos