I Saw A Film!
I don’t know sometimes what to do with those child-beloved things that turn out to be rather disappointing in retrospect. Not this film, of course, but my youthful fascination with Jim Morrison and the excellent musicians who together with him were the Doors. As a teenager, the dark death of this seemingly passionate artist, was deeply imbued with inspired genius. Ten years later, I was laughing about the weakness of the poetry (I am the lizard king, I can do anything). Where I had imagined power and richness in pieces like The End, or 5 to 1, I now only heard an overgrown, self-indulgence. Forty years later it’s much easier to forgive innocent affection for the drug and booze addled “seekers” of “higher knowledge” or “expanded experience”. After all, this was the sixties, and the psychedelic rock boom, basically the earliest punk rock, DIY movement, generated millions of similar guitar strumming bards. What set the Doors apart? I suppose it was a unique combination of the fellow’s skills, their varied musical interests, from Coltrane to Delta Blues, and, certainly, the youthful exuberance of a certain self-destructive front man (a G.G. Allin of the age?). And so we get Val Kilmer hamming up the role, and looking remarkably a fit. We get all the fun details of his brief stint in film classes, and singing a tune he wrote to Manzarak (played by a barely recognizable Kyle Maclachlan). Within a few flickers of the screen they’re playing together and assembling a few of their noteworthy tunes.
Are biopics anyone’s favorite movies? Are Oliver Stone’s films anyone’s favorites? Are we fans of such immature, self indulgent twee emotionalism (Shirley Maclaine takes out a broken compact and hands to Lemmon who informs her the mirror is cracked and her response is that it shows her how she feels (The Apartment 1960)). Did our grandparents get to be “deep”? Was there room for their emotional satisfaction? Did the radio hits of their day fill their needs? Who passed as their Dionysian entertainment god? Did the advent of the medium necessitate the creation of the stars? Was there serious art or was it all just marketing? Morrison got offers to ditch the band. The marketers saw the potential. They had all seen the blueprint in the form of the Beatles and Stones. All they were doing was looking for their version. Once the artist knows the score, however, there’s a lot of inclination to push the boundaries. This must be ever more apparent when the audience the artist is directed at is prepubescent. How serious an artist can you claim to be if your audience is primarily twelve.
Morrison hoped to do some blues records. The blues was seen as the more serious form, not the pop rock that had made the band its money. Many rock stars were primarily jazz and blues fans. They longed to be respected by their idols. To add to a canon of work that would last beyond the market’s greed for a face they could plaster on their products. Famously the Doors had a live album with a current shot of the band onstage from behind. A full gatefold shot that covered front and back. The capitalists couldn’t live with the furry faced, now overweight Jim Morrison, and plastered a huge face shot of the money-making Morrison face from years before. Such blatant marketing tactics were undoubtedly de rigueur but also frustrated the artists who would be thought of as nothing more than stubborn unruly products. Today, of course, there isn’t even the argument about what an artist is. The products are as cynical as the marketers. They’re all as in the know as pro-wrestlers, and the game is as thinly veiled.
It’s sad to watch a 27 year old kill themselves with foolish indulgence. There was a load of naivete surrounding the self abuse these young people were undertaking in the name of exploration and inspiration. The sequence when the band meets Warhol and we’re treated to some Velvet Underground music (possibly one of the hardest things to get hands on in the day) should have connected directly to another longtime drug addict musician who despite the activity managed to live a long life.
The film at least doesn’t do the silly song development moments the Queen movie did. Hard to imagine people still look for those sorts of movie cliches. And after watching the Get Back documentary and seeing the Beatles work their magic together (2 parts goofing around, 1 part playing and 1 part inviting in a talented keyboardist) we shouldn’t still be trading such stories. The film does use a few moments of musical pleasure to warm up some other-worldliness. I suppose it’s difficult to honor the music when you’ve got a doomed clown-prince the size of Morrison to put to bed.
Running free on Prime (USA) right now. I don’ know the answer to our childish loves becoming unbearable embarrassments. Maybe just stick to the beauty and uniqueness of the fellows in the band.