Film poster for The Doors
|Directed by||Oliver Stone|
|Produced by||Bill Graham
A. Kitman Ho
|Written by||J. Randall Johnson
|Editing by||David Brenner
|Distributed by||TriStar Pictures|
|Release date(s)||March 1, 1991|
|Running time||140 min.|
The Doors is a 1991 biopic about the 1960s-1970s rock band of the same name which emphasizes the life of its lead singer, Jim Morrison. It was directed by Oliver Stone, and stars Val Kilmer as Morrison, Meg Ryan as Pamela Courson (Morrison's companion), Kyle MacLachlan as Ray Manzarek, Frank Whaley as Robby Krieger, Kevin Dillon as John Densmore and Kathleen Quinlan as Patricia Kennealy.
The film portrays Morrison as the larger-than-life icon of 1960s rock and roll, counterculture, and the drug-using free love hippie lifestyle. But the depiction goes beyond the iconic: his alcoholism, interest in the spiritual plane and hallucinogenic drugs as entheogens, and, particularly, his growing obsession with death are threads which weave in and out of the film.
The film opens during the recording of Morrison's "An American Prayer" and quickly moves to a childhood memory of his family driving along a desert highway. Young Jim sees an elderly American Indian dying by the roadside. The film picks up with Morrison's arrival in California and his assimilation into the Venice Beach culture, followed by his film school days studying at UCLA; his introduction to his girlfriend Pamela Courson, his first encounters with Ray Manzarek, and the origin of The Doors: Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore.
Morrison convinces his bandmates to travel to Death Valley and experience the mind-expanding effects of psychedelic drugs. Returning to Los Angeles, they play several shows at the famous Whisky a Go Go club and develop a rabid fanbase. Morrison's onstage antics and occasionally improvised lyrics raise the ire of club owners; however, the band's popularity continues to expand.
As The Doors become hugely successful, Morrison becomes increasingly infatuated with his own image as "The Lizard King" and degenerates into alcoholism and drug addiction. As he sinks deeper into an alcoholic haze he begins having several affairs, particularly mystical sexual encounters with Patricia Kennealy, a rock journalist involved in witchcraft. The rest of the band grows weary of Morrison's missed recording sessions and absences at concerts. Morrison is depicted arriving late to a Miami, Florida concert, becoming increasingly confrontational towards the audience and exposing himself onstage. The incident is a low point for the band, resulting in resentment from the other band members and Morrison's trial for indecent exposure.
In 1971, Courson finds Jim Morrison dead in a bathtub in Paris, France, at the age of 27. Pamela Courson similarly dies three years later of a drug overdose, also at the age of 27. The final scenes of the film before the credits roll are of Morrison's gravesite in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris with a rock version of Remo Giazotto's Adagio in G minor playing in the background as well as a voice over by Morrison. Just before the credits, the screen whites out and text appears saying "Jim Morrison is said to have died of heart failure. He was 27. Pam joined him three years later."
During the credits, the band is shown recording the song L.A. Woman in the studio.
For nearly ten years before the film was made, the project went through development hell after being considered by many studios and directors. Several actors like Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, John Travolta and Jason Patric were each considered for the role of Morrison when the project was still in development in the 1980s. In 1986, Travolta, who lobbied hard for the part, met with the surviving members of The Doors and discussed a possible reunion tour with himself in Morrison's place on vocals, which would be an attempt to revive interest in the band's history and for the movie. The idea was nixed, because The Doors felt Travolta was "too nice" to fill in Morrison's shoes.
Kilmer got the part after making a video of himself performing Doors material and playing it for Stone. He told Stone that songs were mixed up between his own singing and Morrison's. He asked Stone to tell them apart; after he made his guesses as to who was singing what songs, Kilmer admitted that the entire video was him singing.
Kilmer was reportedly Stone's second choice for the role, the first being British rock singer Ian Astbury, who in fact went on to join the reformed Doors, but turned down the offer to play Morrison out of a reluctance to take up acting. Kyle MacLachlan, a longtime Doors fan, was quoted as saying that he had wanted to portray Morrison himself and firmly believed that he could play the part, but settled for the role of Manzarek after Kilmer was cast.
Doors drummer John Densmore has a cameo as the recording engineer for Morrison's spoken-word "American Prayer" sessions. Eric Burdon has a cameo as a backstage manager. In the credits, his name was spelled "Eric Burden". He also toured with Robby Krieger during the making of the film.
Patricia Kennealy appears briefly as a sword-wielding high priestess in the handfasting scene. Stone makes a cameo as the film professor during the UCLA scenes. Billy Idol appears as a roadie on crutches, he recently had been in an accident and was in a cast. Singer Bonnie Bramlett appears in the film as a bartender.
The film's soundtrack contains over two dozen of The Doors' songs; in the film, original recordings of the band are combined with vocal performances by Kilmer himself. In addition to the many themed Doors songs featured, two songs by The Velvet Underground are also heard throughout the film.
The film is based mostly on real people and actual events, but some parts are clearly Stone's vision and dramatization of those people and events. For example, when Morrison is asked to change the infamous lyric in "Light My Fire" for his appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, he is depicted as blatantly ignoring their request. The film suggests Morrison shouted the word "higher" into the TV camera, while, in fact, he highlighted "fire" during the performance. In one version, Morrison insisted that it was an accident, that he meant to change the lyric but was so nervous about performing on live television that he forgot to change it when he was singing. In another version, Ray Manzarek says that The Doors pretended to agree to the change of words, and deliberately played the song as they always had, without any added emphasis on the offending word.
The film portrays Morrison´s early period with The Doors with all the original band members included. Robby Krieger did not join the band until later the same year as this particular period takes place.
Morrison is also depicted locking Courson in a closet and setting it on fire, which is said to have never happened. None of the above mentioned books tell this story either. Rhino Records photographer Bobby Klein claims to have had Courson come over to his house when this incident occurred, and to have taken care of her during some weeks after. Manzarek is quoted as stating firmly that this incident never happened in the record of a question and answer session he did on Universal Chat Network in 1997. However, in his book Light My Fire, Manzarek is frank about Morrison's tendency to go into senseless rages. The book The Doors quotes Densmore as saying of the couple, "They were like Romeo and Juliet. They fought like hell, but they were meant to be together."
The band's first visit to New York is presented as a case of sudden superstardom, with their car being mobbed by fans in the street, but actually they were barely known at that point. During this episode, the band members (and Pamela Courson) are shown identifying themselves to a camera. This actually happened over a year later during their European tour, when they were true international stars.
Dialogue that took place between Kennealy and Morrison is reassigned to Courson, and Courson is depicted as saying hostile things to Kennealy, when by all reports their interactions were polite. Densmore is also portrayed as hating Morrison as Morrison's personal and drug problems begin to dominate his behavior. In truth, as Densmore writes in Riders on the Storm, he never directly confronted Morrison about his behavior.
Krieger, Densmore, and Kennealy are all credited as technical advisors for the film; however, they have all commented that although they may have given advice, Stone often chose to ignore it in favor of his own vision of the story. The settings for the film, particularly the concert sequences, are depicted in mostly chronological order, although the crowd scenes contain many blatant exaggerations, such as portrayals of nudity that did not occur.
The surviving Doors members were all to one degree or another unhappy with the final product, and were said to have heavily criticized Stone's portrayal of Morrison as an "out of control sociopath". In a 1991 interview with Gary James, Manzarek criticized Stone for exaggerating Morrison's alcohol consumption in the movie, saying, "Jim with a bottle all the time. It was ridiculous . . . It was not about Jim Morrison. It was about Jimbo Morrison, the drunk. God, where was the sensitive poet and the funny guy? The guy I knew was not on that screen." In the afterword of his book Riders on the Storm, Densmore says that the movie is based on "the myth of Jim Morrison". In the same place, he criticizes the film for portraying Morrison's ideas as "muddled through the haze of the drink [alcohol]". In a 1994 interview, Krieger said that the film doesn't give the viewer "any kind of understanding of what made Jim Morrison tick." Krieger also commented about the film in the same interview: "They left a lot of stuff out. Some of it was overblown, but a lot of the stuff was very well done, I thought."
In the book The Doors, Manzarek says, "That Oliver Stone thing did real damage to the guy I knew: Jim Morrison, the poet." In this book, Densmore says of the movie, "A third of it's fiction." In the same volume, Krieger joins Manzarek and Densmore in describing the movie as inaccurate, but also says, referring to the film's inaccuracy, "It could have been a lot worse."
As the credits point out and as Stone emphasizes on his DVD commentary, some characters, names, and incidents in the film are fictitious or amalgamations of real people. Stone states in particular in the 1997 documentary The Road of Excess that Quinlan's character, Patricia Kennealy, is a composite, and in retrospect should have been given a fictitious name. Kennealy in particular was hurt by her portrayal in the film. Ryan's character, Pam Courson, involves liberties of a different sort. The former Doors do not think the movie depiction of her is very accurate, as their book The Doors describes the version of Courson in the movie as "a cartoon of a girlfriend". Courson's parents had inherited Morrison's poems when their daughter died, and Stone had to agree to restrictions about his portrayal of her in exchange for the rights to use the poetry. In particular, Stone agreed to avoid any suggestion that Courson may have been responsible for Morrison's death. However, Alain Ronay and Courson herself had both said that she was partially responsible. In Riders on the Storm, Densmore says Courson said she felt terribly guilty because she had obtained drugs that she believed had either caused or contributed to Morrison's death.
However, Manzarek did not share the same enthusiasm of how Morrison was portrayed by Stone's interpretation. In Manzarek's biography of the Doors, Light My Fire he often criticizes Stone and also includes myriad details that discredit Stone's account of Morrison. For example, in Stone's "re-creation" of Morrison's student film at UCLA, he has Morrison watching a D-Day sequence on TV and shouting profanities in German, with a near-nude German exchange student dancing on top of the TV sporting a Swastika armband. According to Manzarek, the only similarity between Stone's version and Morrison's was that the girl in question was indeed German.
In May 2008, it was revealed that Manzarek was working on a new Doors documentary film that he described as "the anti-Oliver Stone. This will be the true story of The Doors".