The Doors, 1991

The ceremony is about to begin

Her cunt gripped him like a warm, friendly hand.
Silver stream, silvery scream
Oooooh, impossible concentration.”

– The Movie; An American Prayer
Tri-Star Pictures

After we have been schooled (in a good way) on the back-story of the formation of the band and Morrison’s starry-eyed obsession with death, by Oliver Stone himself we are suddenly shown a bare-chested, arms wide open – as if in martyrdom – Val Kilmer, with hair like that of a lion’s thick mane, which represents power, sexuality, the raw instinct to win a fight at all costs. 

Jim and Kilmer

At the initial viewing some two decades ago, The Young Lion photo session sequence was unnerving because of the twinlike resemblance between the thirty-one-year-old Kilmer and the twenty-one year old Morrison (In 1967, in his New York studio, Joel Brodsky ‘sYoung Lion” Jim Morrison photoshoot created what have become the most recognizable portraits of Morrison – capturing the self-styled Lizard King at the peak of his physical and artistic powers), who would go on to become one of the most mystical and wild and reckless lead singers of a band with a reputation for canceling more gigs than performing them. Also, a band with a reputation of having a human-lizard as their frontman. No wonder the reptilian antics and animal faith led Morrison to an early demise of a rocketing career that, by 1969 had taken a nose-dive – because Morrison was sick of it all by twenty-six and wanted to write poetry instead of writhing, slithering on the stage like a snake or picking fights with the police (New Haven, 1967) or simply collapsing under one of those ’64 series four by ten blackface Super Reverb Fender Amps because of acid, and what some call the Native Indian Shaman Spirit, which he was convinced of being possessed with since a little kid of eight, perhaps, after witnessing a car accident and Native Americans, scattered on the asphalt, dead, bleeding or both.

The souls of those dead Indians… were just running around freaking out, and just leapt into my soul. And they’re still in there.”

– Jim Morrison
L-R: Kyle MacLachlan as keyboardist Ray ManzarekFrank Whaley as guitarist Robby Krieger, Kevin Dillon as drummer John Densmore, Val Kilmer as Jimbo

Val Kilmer and Stone further immortalize the man – ‘Lonely and mad and blind as a bat’ – as Kilmer becomes Morrison, complete to the slow and sometimes slurred speech to the swagger of the leather-clad sex-god with a rebellion for everything from authority to his mother and sister. 

Kilmer had been preparing for the role of an unpredictable man, who no one really knew. He spent a year, researching with Paul Rothchilde to learn the colloquial of Morrison. He gained weight to depict the disenchanted Morrison of the later years, got vocal training to perform the fifteen songs out of the fifty he had mastered, to show and perform in the film. He refused to talk to anyone throughout and demanded everyone call him Jim until principal photography ended, along with Kilmer’s once-promising career.

Watch closely as Kilmer starts to sing The End with his back to the audience (he was shy), watch the women moan and try to touch the singer, in the insatiable, ravenous-sexual ways, at the Whisky a Go Go, a sweaty, smoky bar; a cinematographer’s worst nightmare. After twenty-four takes a drugged to oblivion scene was born that shows the initial transformation of a shy Jimbo into a full-blown tower of power, sex emporium. After that scene, there was no turning back for either, Kilmer or Stone. With the method taking down the former with all its weight and production difficulties; the Miami Concert, tightening the producers’ noose around the latter’s neck when the whole thing became a nightmare to shoot. 

Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek, and John Densmore, played by Frank Whaley, Kyle ‘Dune’ MacLachlan and Kevin Dillon respectively are right there, however, it is only when Kilmer’s Morrison is rambling on, or is picking fights or busy getting fellated back-stage or causing a riot, that those three come out as saviors. Just like in real life, where the word The Doors was synonymous with Jim Morrison and his rattlesnake antics rather than the band as one, even after Morrison’s decision to not give credit to any song on their first album and simply have the record leaf say by The Doors next to all the songs. 

Once the four year, super-nova, stint comes to a halt for The Doors, the film is also showing signs of exhaustion and bad hangover and gets silly as the protagonist is presented a golden telephone by Andy Warhol (Crispin Glover). The entire sequence is framed with inverted and convoluted shots, with the camera always moving slowly as if inebriated. The scene shows to us the kid in Morrison who never went away, as he is mesmerized by the enchanting and naughty Warhol, only to throw away the phone on his way out – as if to repress the kid inside, shouting for him to stop; but nothing could stop Jim Morrison, not in those four years where he upstaged most (Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, Janis Joplin) in their outlandish behavior, their zany antics and the drug-music scene of the Swinging Sixties

The most savage criticism comes for not having enough of the other band members as part of the film. Now tell me this; if in real life the other members were overshadowed by the larger than life image of the highly self-obsessed and conceited lead singer; what could the director do except focus on all four members almost equally (from the first frame when Densmore is slowly walking towards Jim at the beach) and get criticized for the viewer not having felt their presence? Not his fault; the sheer presence of even a portrayal of the man is overwhelming. And on top of that, we have Val Kilmer playing the rogue rock star, heck, the supporting cast would go unnoticed.  

All three actors do a great job of playing the semi-judicious side of the band with Morrison pissing on reason, consuming copious amounts of whatever opened ‘the doors of perception‘ (Morrison was highly inspired and influenced by William Blake & Aldous Huxley among others at a very early age) for him, carrying a lamb on-stage, practicing witchcraft with the lovely Kathleen Quinlan as Patricia Kennealy in one of the most raunchy and erotic scenes in a movie, ever.

The film took away too much from too many and it wasn’t even a contender at the Academy; having conveniently overlooked the transformation of the guy from Willow, 1998 into one of the biggest pop-icons of the twentieth century. Parallels can be drawn between Kilmer’s performance here and Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln

The supporting performances are literally those, holding the volcanic and volatile Jimbo from exploding every time he’s on stage or on-screen. The flower-child Pamela Susan Courson played flawlessly and all starry-eyed by Meg Ryan, the perpetually upset Kevin Dillon, the devil’s keep, Kathleen Quinlan; the frantic Michael Madsen, and Mimi Rogers keep the boat rocking, even if left to be burned alive in a closet. 

The director’s trademarks are all over the 140-minute feature, although amplified. The cinematography by Robert Richardson (Shutter Island, 2010) elevates the mood of the film to a full-blown LSD trip with its dense colors, unruly concerts (or none at all), and a shiny crotch unable to fulfill its secondary purpose by 1969 (Lament).

In the end, ‘The Doors’ is about a lost but a self-serving soul being consumed by all those around him. It is the story of one man whose obsession with death gave life to the juggernaut image of a once very shy person to the bearded poet who wrote beautiful, astral, genius prose. It is also the story of frustration in having to keep up with a reckless reputation for only so long while the benefactors (except Krieger) appear as enemies to him, inebriated or no… the fucker was always drunk.

“Ride the snake, to the lake, the ancient lake, baby”

However, during the credit roll, we can all witness Kilmer and The Doors casually recording L.A. Woman, as Jimbo flashes a genuine ‘just like old times’ smile to his band members (at once forming a solid bond) from the bathroom toilet seat, where he has taken the recording equipment. 

The end is an anti-thesis for the heavily mystical, ferociously sexual, uncontrollably cynical and disorderly tone of the film. The smile, the beer bottle and the band members relaxing and recording one of the biggest hits ever, brings a balance to the otherwise fierce and unforgiving and a superior film. 

“I pressed her thigh and death smiled”

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