The Doors (1991) dir. Oliver Stone
Starring: Val Kilmer, Kyle Maclachlan, Meg Ryan, Kevin Dillon, Frank Whaley
For ten years between 1985 and 1995 Oliver Stone produced a remarkable amount of culturally significant and highly creative cinema endeavours. During this time he set standards, broke rules and established new ones as his storytelling skills evolved. Smack dab in the middle is “The Doors” his dreamlike rollercoaster ride through the late 60’s of Jim Morrison and his L.A.-based psychedelic superstars.
The film opens in the mid-60’s during Morrison’s time at UCLA film school. Even there he was a rebel poet misunderstood by his fellow students and teachers. We see him connect with one though, Ray Manzarek (Kyle Maclachlan). While walking on a beach philosophizing about art and politics they come up with the idea of a band called The Doors. Stone then fast-forwards through an influential six-month period where the band is formed, songs are written and their first gigs are played.
When they become famous we see a number of their benchmark career moments – the famous Ed Sullivan show where Morrison was asked to sing ‘girl you couldn’t get much better’, instead of higher; Morrison’s arrest at the New Haven show; and his experiences with the New York Andy Worhol scene. Morrison is torn between two women in his life, Pam (Meg Ryan), whom he falls instantly in love with on sight, and Patricia (Kathleen Quinlan) a journalist who introduces Morrison to sadomasochism and witchcraft. But it’s the boozing and excessive behaviour which causes the most conflict in his life, something which would eventually cause his self-destruction and untimely death in 1971.
Part and parcel with Stone’s successful films is his key collaborators. Namely, his trusted director of photography Robert Richardson. Stone’s style evolved alongside Richardson’s skills with lights and the camera. The psychedelic subject matter allowed Richardson to experiment with colours, exposures and film stock and push all kinds of cinema-boundaries. Watch for his trademark hot overhead highlights, rimmers and hotspots around the frame and watch his colours dissolve in and out of his frames. On Blu-Ray Richardson’s detailed brushstrokes are glorious to behold.
Stone worked with a number of editors many of who started off as assistants and got promoted over the course of these ten years. They include David Brenner, Joe Husting, Pietro Scalia who all worked on “The Doors.” With this film, watch for the seeds of their innovative montage style of editing which Husting and Scalia would win an Oscar for later that year for “JFK.
At 135mins it’s a lengthy journey. But we are always kept interested and stimulated with either the kaleidoscope of lights or the hypnotic trance of the Doors’ music. What starts to go limp is Stone’s characterization of Morrison. We don’t really get a chance to know or love the man while outside of his stage personality. In fact, Stone portrays his on stage and off stage personas as one in the same. It’s Stone’s interpretation, but it results in a monotony of dazed behaviour and flakiness.
But “The Doors” succeeds over its faults, because as a music biopic it successfully visualizes the power and influence of the music against the time, period and location. And few have done that better than Oliver Stone. Enjoy.