I Saw A Film!
This is just a 90 minute reminiscence, full of old footage collected from living band members (Densmore (drums) and Krieger (guitars)) and narrated by Johnny Depp, of the old rock band The Doors. A group I was fascinated by as a teenager. Mostly, of course, because of the emotive power of Morrison’s poetry, and his willingness to explore lewd topics coupled with his literary bent.
Sometimes, especially for events that seem to be ancient history now (despite the fact that I was actually alive, but a toddler), certain outcomes seem inevitable. As we learn about the history of this band, their origins in film school, their first shaky attempts as a traditional blues (replete with slide guitar) combo, Light My Fire emerges from Krieger basically like a lightening strike. This song becomes a full-blown icon of the times. Like many of the more socially alert lyrical creations of the post psychedelic rock period–Sympathy For the Devil comes to mind– The Doors touched on some realities disturbing to the squarer among their generation (though nowhere near as much as The Velvet Underground, but of course, The Velvets had nowhere near the notoriety). Mainly, with this colossal hit, hinted at getting stoned a lot. It would be enough. The Doors would forever be a band on the verge of struggling out of a veil of weaponized perceptions about them.
It’s difficult to not be amazed at what kids they were, at the beginning of the film as the cameras catch them, giving their names and ages (21,22) their trajectory wholly unknown, but soon wrapped up with Morrison’s devotion to his demons and his nascent, soon to be deeply invested, alcoholism. This film unfortunately leaves a bit to be desired in the creativity department. While trouble overshadowed Morrison and the band, they did manage to pump out a series of fine records, glowing with original songs, tremendous guitar hooks, rich organ and of course, impressive lyrical depth. Sadly, the film is overwhelmed with drunkenness, assault, and the immediate law and order response to Morrison’s lewdness, which must have been very trying for the rest of the band. The most famous case in Florida had Morrison “exposing himself on stage” and performing “oral copulation” on Krieger. Neither event happened, but Morrison was not above teasing the authorities with the idea of it. Somewhat like Lenny Bruce did as well, ruining for his cause his career, both with endless law suit and self-medication. The argument is a salient one, and indignation becomes the career pretty rapidly, without artists pushing the authoritarian boundaries could anything change? It’s easy to look back and laugh when Elvis was only shown from the waist up, but the period would be just as devastatingly difficult for Morrison, or indeed for rap stars a few years later.
Pressures from authorities, divergent band-mate desires, artistic choices and the ever present access to drug and drink supply (does the party really ever end if you’re a star?) dragged Morrison steadily, obviously and at times gleefully into unhealth. Was he aware of the parallels with some of his favorite classic writers? Very likely. Soon enough the band mates were struggling with their superstar lead singer. Morrison was more interested in inciting trouble than performing the music. And soon enough, after learning of the devastating loses of Hendrix and Joplin, suggested he would be next. Self-fulfilling that prophecy he died in a bathtub, reportedly of a heart attack, in Paris at 27 (joining that club as an establishing member).
Much of the hyperbole I bought, as a teen (nearly a decade post events), and the lyricism filled me with youthful excitement and possibilities (especially live performance). Looking back on it, much of it seems utterly immature now. But, it has to be taken with its period. It was ground-breaking as song lyric at the time. Manzarek was on Letterman decades ago joking that the surviving Doors thought about continuing and wanted to ask Mick Jagger, but he was busy. This is a silly joke, but the point is well made. Morrison was, for good or for worse, the star of their support band. Always a rough pill to swallow for a band. They were too young and too inexperienced and likely ill-advised to control the monster that erupted from that combination of events. In the same manner it had to be have been a horror for the Stones to have fired Jones and then find out a short time later that he was dead (in a still maddeningly unsatisfying sequence of events). The mess of Canned Heat, The Grateful Dead’s loss of Pigpen, and others who hadn’t the understanding as young endless partiers allowed their excesses. The solid dangers we were still fairly ignorant of.
The film includes some fun conservative movement worries about the decay of society. These folks never go away, never have a lack for targets, and tend to cause more heartless unrest. Something like the QAnon crazies who imagine they are somehow saving children from liberal, literal vampires! While at the same time opposing any actual child help (especially extremes of poverty which leave kids vulnerable on the streets where they are most abused).
In the end, enjoy the music, shake your head at that concerns of the authorities, and wish some of these youngsters had had a chance to grow up. Morrison’s father was a high level military officer who begged him not to go into music, told him he was talentless. I can’t even imagine the stubborn indignation that had to come to a head there.
Running Free on Prime (USA).