When I was a kid, I hated music. I thought there was something wrong with me. Everyone else was enjoying it. I despised it. Then one day, my brother brought home a mix cassette tape of The Doors, and I heard ‘Break on Through’ and thought “HOLY MOTHER OF GOD! I’M CURED!” I have yet to look back. The Doors saved me. Then I saw the Oliver Stone film, and it was full of sex and drugs and the best soundtrack ever, and to my 13-year-old mind, it was the best film ever. And now, watching the 4K restoration Final Cut all I can think is “13-year old I was an idiot.”
About the 1991 film. Not the Doors themselves.
Despite being called The Doors, the film is just a study of Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer). Opening with young Jim witnessing the death of an elderly Native American in a car crash before jumping to Bohemian Venice Beach during a proto-Summer of Love. While at UCLA Morrison dabbles with poetry, filmmaking, psychedelics, and meets Ray Manzarek (Kyle MacLachlan) who’ll he’ll found The Doors with, and Pamela Courson (Meg Ryan), his long-time girlfriend. Starting with a collective sense of music, poetry, and drugs, The Doors first gigs are part rock show, part theatre. The film captures the highlights of Morrison’s and the band’s career, the infamous Ed Sullivan show and Miami concert, and the breakdown in Morrison’s relationships with the group and Courson before joining the 27 club.
In 1991 Manzarek gave an interview to Gary James where he talked about this film. “Too sensationalistic. Too jivey. Jim with a bottle all the time….It was like a movie about an alcoholic… The Doors movie is a pack of lies.” Morrison was larger than life, and here he’s presented as being larger than Jim Morrison. We don’t get Jim Morrison the poet; we don’t even get Morrison the rock star. We get a caricature of what someone thinks the Lizard King persona was. Charismatic, self-destructive and absorbed, and pretentious, this is Charles Manson’s Jim Morrison. Even the documentaries included with the film, Jim Morrison: Poet in Paris and The Doors in LA paint a different picture of Morrison. A somewhat shy guy who was able to open up with music, trapped between real life and onstage persona, struggling with addiction issues and assorted demons while self-medicating. It’s more of the Eighties excess than the Sixties freedom. Everyone is in extremes, and even Andy Warhol transforms into a lecherous distortion of himself. Courson is transformed into a two-dimensional “rock stars” girlfriend, despite being on screen throughout most of the film, only there to react to Morrison’s next action.
Maybe biopic is the wrong way to describe this film. Perhaps psychedelic musical inspired by The Doors is a better description. Each scene is scored to a different song and modelled around it. “The End” segment is more a music video. The iconic imagery captures the songs acid-based poetry and Oedipus themes as it moves from desert vision quest to a performance at the Whiskey A-Go-Go. In production terms the film is excellent. It sits neatly between JFK (1991) and Natural Born Killers (1994). The peyote and acid trips are shot with time-lapse and long exposures in long open shots of the band, capturing the communal experiences and altered senses. With more self-destructive drugs the scenes become closer, more chaotic, with Morrison famed alone in the centre of the screen.
The disks come with two versions of the film, the original cut and the Final Cut which removes 3 minutes of unneeded footage. Included also is a deleted scene roll as well as a Making Of and the two above mentioned documentaries. Jim Morrison: Poet in Paris, a French-language documentary on Morrison’s final months and his poetry, and The Doors in LA showcasing the bands rise to the backdrop of the Sixties counterculture and Vietnam War. The 4K Ultra also comes with a copy of the documentary When You’re Strange, a feature-length documentary narrated by Johnny Depp. These documentaries alone are reason enough to by the final cut as they give a more in-depth look at one of the most influential bands ever.
Technically, it is a good film with a brilliant soundtrack. But the hatchet job it does on Morrison and those around him turns it into little more than a ‘rise and fall’ warning about the music industry.
Dir: Oliver Stone
Scr: J. Randal Johnson, Oliver Stone
Cast: Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan, Kyle MacLachlan
Prd: Bill Graham, Sasha Harari, A. Kitman Ho
DOP: Robert Richardson
Runtime: 140/138 Minutes
The Doors: The Final Cut is available on UHD and Blu-ray now.
 Gray James, Gary James’ Interview With Ray Manzarek Of The Doors (1991) <http://www.classicbands.com/RayManzarekInterview.html>