film reel image

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Friday, September 27, 2013

The Doors 1991 * * * Stars

Director: Oliver Stone
Year: 1991
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan, Frank Whaley, Kevin Dillon

After winning two best director Oscars (Born on the Fourth of July, Platoon respectively) at the Academy Awards, Oliver Stone could pretty much do whatever he wanted. So given his affection for 60's nostalgia, he decided to helm this 1991 biopic based on one of rock and roll's all time greatest bands (one of my favorite rock groups as well). The Doors is a prime example of what a filmmaker can do if the vision of what's on screen is entirely his (not necessarily what the remaining members of The Doors themselves had intended). With as much clout as any major voice in Hollywood, Stone made an exercise that veers almost completely away from the storytelling of the band, and instead concentrates on the madness and mystery of lead singer Jim Morrison. The result is a fiery yet saturated, powerful yet overwhelming, and sad yet involving portrait of a musical icon who passed over much too early. Now I gotta warn ya, this thing is over 2 hours long and is exhausting. It's also an ambitious mess (don't worry, this is a compliment) that's filled with every Stone nuance in the book (you almost have to wear dark sunglasses to tackle the look of it). But it's saddled with a brilliant performance by Val Kilmer as the lead. And he anchors this kaleidoscope of late 60's culture bent on entertaining you if you let it. So to make things clear, I am to this day, a huge fan of Oliver Stone's 90's endeavors. He has calmed down a bit as a director these days. And don't get me wrong, I still think he knows what he's doing behind the camera. But I kinda wish the maverick in him would come back (a la The Doors). There is just too much control with his technique in present day. I kinda hate it to be honest.

Anyway, this movie tells the story of the band going from heralded beginnings (guitarist Robbie Kreiger and Jim Morrison were students who met at UCLA film school) to virtual stardom, and then to an eventual break up with the lead vocalist (the drummer, keyboard player, and lead guitarist continued on but the film ends with Jim's death). The Doors chronicles the years 1965 to 1971. Two to three aspects are driven home by Stone to get his point across. One is Morrison's alienation from the other band members (Kevin Dillon as John Densmore, Kyle MacLachlan as Ray Manzarek, Frank Whaley as Robbie Krieger) through his relentless drug/alcohol abuse during their tenure. Second, we get a sort of unclear spiritual journey that Kilmer (Morrison) goes through in the form of flashbacks caused by a drug fueled haze-type behavior. Lastly, Stone puts emphasis on Morrison's relationship with his hippie girlfriend Pamela (Meg Ryan). Their love affair is volatile and dangerous. Just watching them together makes you think that they would not, and could not live very much longer. Finally, there is the music. The concert and studio recording scenes are so well filmed and seem so real (that's because the actors actually learned to play the instruments from what I understand), you get the sense that Mr. Stone really took his time to get the right attention to detail. Oh, and I almost forgot, look for Crispin Glover doing an Andy Warhol impersonation (In the film, Jim meets him at a party). With Velvet Underground's music in the background, it's a wallop of a scene in terms of sensory overload.

To put it all into perspective, if you are a fan of the music via The Doors and don't mind a film that's rough around the edges, this is something worth checking out. The performances are adequate and Kilmer's turn as rock and roll's misunderstood poet is downright Oscar worthy (the reason he got snubbed could have been the film's early release in March). Yes, the overall structure of what's on screen is choppy and somewhat of a downer, but there is a storytelling light at the end of the tunnel. And as usual, Stone likes to wrap things up rather quickly. Is it justifiable after two hours and twenty minutes? Yeah, why not. By then, the audience has embraced the bruised heart of a fallen legend. Morrison is dead but the music of The Doors lives on forever. This film is a raw, battering interpretation of a band who's sound could never be copied. At close to the two hour mark, Frank Whaley (Robbie Krieger) says to Jim, "you said you like pain. Well you run from it every chance you get." Well, I plan on viewing The Doors again and again and believe me, no matter how intense Stone's vision gets, I certainly won't run from it. That's a guarantee.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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