The Doors (1991)

My experience of the films of Oliver Stone isn’t all that big (I think I’ve only properly seen JFK), however there’s no denying that he’s a director who comes with a reputation (good and bad) and his 1991 movie The Doors is accompanied by similar, but given that I’ve always found a lot to like in the band I was more than intrigued to see what the film had to offer.

Opening with a later Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer), shown only in extreme close up, in a recording studio things soon flash back to 1949 and a young Morrison witnessing a car crash and seeing a dead Native American at the roadside before we jump forward to the mid-60s and Venice Beach.

Kilmer

This rather sets up the tone of the film as, to a degree, the story of The Doors through the filter of Jim Morrison – so historical accuracy and naturalism is able to be easily dispensed with when needed as we are seeing the (at least partially) unrecorded memories of a dead man.

While this might be fine, in the hands of Stone, it very soon becomes obvious that calling the film The Doors is rather generous and really what this is should be called ‘Morrison’ as he is the focal point.

With this in mind it quickly becomes more an exercise in hero worship than anything else as, even at his most deplorable moments, Stone presents Morrison as a kind of mystic representing America in that troubled time of the late 60s that gave us the likes of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas amongst other works that explored the death of the American Dream.

MacLachlan

Along with this the story of the film feels rather too like a series of episodes of Morrison and the band’s most famous key moments from Morrison and Ray Manzarek (Kyle MacLachlan in a series of increasingly unlikely hair pieces) meeting on Venice Beach to the apparently spontaneous creation of their breakout hits and onto trouble with the law in New Haven and then ultimately Miami.

While all of these scenes are well recreated they come without any real insight being shed on the events.

The Doors, (l-r) MacLachlan, Frank Whaley, Kevin Dillon, Kilmer

That all said there are things to enjoy in the film, not least the soundtrack of The Doors classic songs which sound as good now as they ever have.

Along with that Kilmer is largely terrific as this version of Morrison, not just as he appears in pretty much every scene, and it feels like almost every shot, but at his best points he is mesmerising with a mysterious swagger and presence on screen that is undeniable (even if there are a few moments where he looks a bit too ‘movie star’ for Morrison) and the music performance sequences are particularly impressive.

Unfortunately, because of this, pretty much every other character is rendered rather two dimensional, even the other members of the titular band.

Kilmer and Stone on set

Stone also creates a fantastic atmosphere that ties the episodic sequences together with an almost hypnotic and hallucinogenic feeling that draws you along as viewer, even if it didn’t quite draw me in like I suspect was the intent.

The Doors then is far from a perfect film, and I suspect another film actually telling the story of the band could still be made, but does contain a lot to like and I think if this was my introduction to the band, and/or I had seen it when younger, I’d have enjoyed it a lot more as it has a feeling that it’s philosophical side and many of the tricks it uses would be more effective if I hadn’t seen and heard them many times before.

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