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The Doors (1991)

The Doors

The Doors is one of those movies critics love to hate. They probably expected and/or wanted too much because of Oliver Stone’s previous heavy-hitters (Salvador, Platoon, and Wall Street). What they got was the ultimate rock fan film. Stone loves the band and it shows; his admiration for their artistry is articulated with scenes of poetry, performances of “feeling” the music, and of mystical entities attracted to the enigmatic front man. It is by no means a perfect film, but it has everything you could possibly want from a biopic about the 60s music legends: lots of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) is portrayed as a beautiful, haunted, and self-destructive addict, and the music is perfectly timed throughout the picture, with each song accentuating a scene perfectly.

Even though the focus is largely on Morrison (not much information is given about the lives of the other band members), only a couple of sequences are dedicated to his childhood and pre-Doors existence. After a brief scene of a young Jim witnessing a Native American dying on the side of the road (insinuating a kind of possession), Stone jumps right into Morrison meeting the love of his life, Pam (Meg Ryan), and keyboardist Ray Manzarek (Kyle Mcglockin). Ray assembles the rest of the band and the remaining two hours of screen time is spent chronicling the group’s tumultuous rise to stardom and Jim’s descent into addiction.

Kilmer is the perfect Jim Morrison. Not only does he look uncannily like him, but his renditions of the songs are great, and he truly embodies this version of the iconic singer. His talent truly shines; it is by far one of the actor’s best performances. This is an instance where method acting makes all the difference. Sure, it might be a little crazy that Kilmer supposedly sent out a memo outlining how people should address him, but all that matters is that at certain points in the film you forget you are watching an actor, the profession’s greatest achievement. Exaggerations dominate, both within his performance and the film itself, but it is still an immersive experience, and you can get lost in the self-loathing, decadence, and despair.

The late great Ray Manzarek had a few complaints about Stone’s interpretation of the band and Pam (check out his book, Light My Fire). Primarily the presentation of Jim’s student film (it has some anti-Semitic overtones not there originally), and that Stone based the movie off of John Densmore’s autobiography; the drummer only knew Jim through the band, and didn’t really like him very much. However, this is a movie and no one really expects complete accuracy. What Stone does capture perfectly is the essence of the fans’ perspective of The Doors, their mystique, and mythology. The movie itself is laden with excess, mirroring excesses of the characters onscreen. It is really the beginning of what Stone was doing with Natural Born Killers (1994). This one is not quite as disruptive and more accessible to a wide audience because it lacks the infamous ultraviolence. Stone’s movement away from a classical Hollywood style works perfectly for telling the story of a band who was too weird for the 60s counterculture.

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