This is the third installment in an eight-part series by Alex Young – Graduate of the University of Guelph-Humber
By Alex Young
The film The Doors was released by Maple Pictures on March 1st 1991, twenty years after Morrison’s death, it was directed by Oliver Stone, the screenplay was written by Stone along with J. Randal Johnson and features Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison.
Oliver Stone is well known for writing the screenplay for the 1983 film Scarface starring Al Pacino, and the 1994 cult hit Natural Born Killers starring Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis. Stone has won three Academy Awards to date, one in 1979 for writing the script for Midnight Express, one in 1987 for directing Platoon, and in 1990 for directing Born on the Fourth of July. Stone bought the publishing rights to the music from all the living members of the band including Robbie Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore. Stone portrays Morrison as an insightful young man with an unparalleled lust for life who embraces his own demise through his reckless behavior, alcoholism, drug use, promiscuous sexual activity, and a fascination with death. The film gives off an image of Morrison as a rebellious young man that is constantly challenging authority and resisting pressure from the media and law enforcement to be more politically correct. This image of Morrison is something that will rub off on viewers and fans for generations to come that will base their perception of who Jim Morrison was by misrepresenting him in a fictional context.
There is a scene with a bloodletting ceremony with Jim Morrison and reporter Patricia Kennealy where they are high on cocaine and another scene where Kennealy marries Moriison through a priestess that practices witchcraft. Kathleen Quinlan who plays Patricia Kennealy, one of Morrison’s main lovers in the film, clearly states in her interview on the documentary The Road of Excess, which profiles how the film was made, that Stone’s portrayal of Morrison is not meant to be “biographical”. When Stone is interviewed he mentions that he made the character of Patricia Kennealy embody a “variety of women in Morrison’s life”. When the actual Patricia Kennealy is interviewed in The Road of Excess documentary, she speaks about how she believes the character of Jim Morrison in The Doors misrepresented who Morrison was as a person and felt this view of him was inaccurate. Considering The Doors is a major motion picture made by a high profile director that has earned massive critical acclaim from his peers in the film industry, it seems the movie is based more on fiction than fact. Hollywood films have always been traditionally praised for their entertainment value and not their historical accuracy, but in this case Morrison is being represented to an entirely new audience through mainstream media under a fictitious pretense that is meant to appear “real”.
Since the film was made twenty years after Morrison’s death, obviously he has no say in how he was represented in the film and guitarist Robby Krieger was present on set while the film was being made. Krieger aided by providing insight into technical aspects in the scenes featuring live performances by the actors portraying the band while playing the songs live in concert without any sound overdubs. The cast and filmmakers admit to the film’s inaccuracy and do not seem concerned about the fact they are putting Morrison’s legacy as a musical icon of American popular culture in a fictional context and in jeopardy. Keyboardist Ray Manzarek openly said he did not think the movie accurately represented the band. There are scenes within the film that speak of what Morrison aims to achieve with his art and why he believes the band’s audience is misrepresented and they want something “sacred” from his music. The movie uses Morrison as a marketing tool to boost revenue for the film while misrepresenting him to the viewers. The film misrepresents Morrison to audiences that do not know who he is and could create stereotypes about hippie culture or his fans based on his character’s behavior. Stone fails to treat Morrison as a symbol to preserve the spiritual and political motifs in his lyrics by admitting to not portraying him realistically in the eyes of those who knew him personally, let alone in the eyes of audiences for generations to come. This film is majorly relevant to this thesis because it is a piece of mainstream media that depicts Jim Morrison to a large audience and how h is represented to viewers that are not necessarily fans of the band. Whoever sees the film could get a tainted view of Morrison as well as his spiritual and political views that gained him a following in the first place because is portrayed so inaccurately in the film. Ultimately the film does not delve into any of the real events hippie culture was responding to such as the Vietnam War, women’s liberation or the civil rights culture and focused on drug culture with so many scenes with characters just getting stoned with discovering the meaning behind why hippie culture was using drugs like LSD to expand their minds. The film will influence many future audience members in a negative light considering the gross misrepresentation of both the Doors and hippie culture within the film.
On the other hand, the film “When You’re Strange” directed by Tom DiCillo was released in theatres in 2009 and is an in-depth documentary on the Doors starring the band themselves. The film primarily showcases unreleased rehearsal and concert footage as well as in-depth interviews with the band and more specifically Jim Morrison. When asked what it was like to be famous in an interview filmed in 1968, Morrison replies that “To be a real super star in this world, you either need to be a politician or an assassin.”, and described the band as “erotic politicians”.