Category: biopics / In category: 7 of 10 / Overall: 88 of 100
This isn’t exactly breaking news, but I’ll say it anyway: Oliver Stone is not a subtle director.
Oliver Stone is cinema’s answer to a coke fiend, maniacally shooting from every possible angle, darting around, camera in hand, trying to capture a spirit dancing or the world on fire; a dreamer possessed by the Tasmanian Devil, powering chaotically through each film, madness exploding around him, his camera whirring away. Riding the high into the editing room, crazily sculpting masses of footage into epic and cathartic renderings, despatches from the path of excess.
Sometimes excess becomes self-indulgence and the experience is akin to turning up at a Rammstein concert fucked out of your brains on peyote and standing right in front of the lighting rig yelling “mein herz brennt” even though they finished playing that one half an hour ago and now they’re rumbling through that really scary one about the cannibal dude.
Other times – ‘Nixon’ springs to mind – you get the impression that Stone seems to be holding back and you can’t help wishing he’d throw in a scene where Tricky Dicky drops acid and fills the missing 18 minutes of tape with a expletive-laden stream of consciousness about flying armadillos on suicide missions against China while chugging from a bottle of Wild Turkey and watching go-go dancers gyrate around the Oval Office.
And then there are times when Stone’s full-throttle, bludgeoningly unsubtle style finds itself perfectly in tune with his subject matter. Which brings us to ‘The Doors’. I was 19 when ‘The Doors’ came out. I didn’t really know their music beyond “Light My Fire” and “Break on Through”. I went to see the film because I’d enjoyed ‘Born on the Fourth of July’. When it ended, I went straight to a record shop and bought the OST. In short order, I acquired all of The Doors’ albums (and, thanks the presence of ‘Heroin’ on the soundtrack, all of the Velvet Underground’s) as well as a couple of biographies of Jim Morrison, John Densmore’s autobiography ‘Riders on the Storm’ and a collection of Morrison’s poetry.
In the unlikely event of Oliver Stone ever stumbling across this review: gracias, amigo.
‘The Doors’ is exactly the kind of movie you should first encounter in your late teens. It’s got sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll (or in this case, acid rock). It’s loud and dazzling and it flips a big fat raised middle finger in the face of authority. It idolizes every example of its protagonist’s bad boy behaviour. It considers excessive drinking, abusive behaviour and the odd bit of dabbling in black magic a perfectly acceptable way to get your kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames (to quote one of Morrison’s more piquant rationalizations). It buys into every myth about Morrison’s life and revels in them. It tells you that the ’60s were better than today because the music was cooler, the chicks were hotter and the drugs got you higher.
And it doesn’t really matter if that was the case or not; you’re along for the ride and it’s quite possible you’ll be riding the snake, breaking on through and hearing the scream of the butterfly. I have no idea how accurate Stone’s portrayal of the ’60s is – I didn’t turn up until 1972 – but I strongly suspect it’s an impressionistic version of the time. No complaints: as a wise man once said, when the truth becomes the legend, print the legend.
Val Kilmer, as Morrison, gives a career best, nailing the man’s charisma, nonchalance and rebellious swagger; his vocals match the original recordings almost exactly. Kyle Maclachlan, Frank Whaley and Kevin Dillon – as Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger and John Densmore respectively – all do sterling work, and certainly look the part. Meg Ryan acts dopey and confused in the thankless and underwritten role of Morrison’s longtime girlfriend Pamela Courson. Elsewhere, Crispin Glover’s take on Andy Warhol borders on parody, Christina Fulton makes for an icily voluptuous Nico, and Kathleen Quinlan makes one hell of an impression as Patricia Kenneally. (Incidentally, Kenneally herself cameos in the film, as does Densmore.)
Stone shoots the whole thing with demonic energy, creating a restless symphony of continual sound, movement and sensory experience. Sometimes it’s like a bad trip and you wonder if a quick detour to the methadone clinic might be in order. Sometimes it’s a real blast and you kind of wish you were there, doing whatever hellish cocktail of liquor and proscribed substances that passed for the normal calorific intake of Morrison & co and maybe getting lucky with some hippie chick group with a commitment to free love and a disinclination to wearing a bra. In other words, ‘The Doors’ is your own personal time machine to a ’60s you never had.