Rock biopics are a mixed bag. Isn’t that how reviews of all of these movies start? And then something about them being dramatizations that all of the real people complain about, or how it’s “just like a documentary” or “so-and-so ‘BECOMES’ Rock God X” or how it encapsulates the “spirit” of the band, or even is factually accurate but FAILS to capture said spirit?
Well, there’s not really much other approach to it, is there? I guess you could completely ignore the history it’s based on, but I think that frame of reference, at least a rough one, is necessary to get movies like this to congeal correctly. It doesn’t work nearly as well if you don’t know any Doors songs, or anything about the band, or especially about Jim Morrison. Maybe it would, but in the household I grew up in–filled to the brim with music, especially ‘classic rock’ from the 60s and 70s–that’s not something I can readily contemplate, as this music has been in my ears for more years than I could reasonably count and feel comfortable about my accuracy. It’s worth noting, though, that I’ve often found the Doors in particular to suffer from musical boredom much of the time. I have a great love for a few songs (“People Are Strange,” “Riders on the Storm,” and “Touch Me” I suppose most especially) but the rest are just sort of in my head forever. “Light My Fire” goes on and on and on and on and I never found even the hook parts that interesting. I love “The End” but I feel that Jim’s silly rambling kind of ruins it and makes it more than a little absurd. I’d be far more interested in just listening to Ray, John and Robbie drone and roll on with their pseudo-eastern groove, and maybe some less specific and more montone rumbling like Jim starts with, and perhaps the chorus.
So, in light of that, there’s an odd disconnect from this film for me. I know the music, I at least like most of it (I don’t really actively DISlike “Light My Fire,” to be clear, and am not annoyed when it slides into my brain once in a while) and maybe even catch myself singing along to parts of it. But, I’m not a huge fan, and found Jim to be a pretentious jerk, never being enamoured of his lyrical bent. I’ve never been big on the “I’m on so many drugs that I’m more spiritual than you and the words that roll out of my pen and off my tongue are pure gold because they are pure emotion,” feeling there is to people like Morrison, so I’m not enraptured by his character, charismatic though it may have been. I’m instantly put off by his constant drug-induced haze or alcoholic stupor. I’m not impressed or amused by it, but I’m not condemning it either. It simply doesn’t show something I find admirable or appreciable, really.
Despite that, Val Kilmer works toward making him interesting even in that, engaging and magnetic despite his wobbly, floating, occasionally aggressive manner. The movie is centered almost exclusively on Jim, of course, because I don’t think most people on average know–due to lack of interest, that is–the names Robbie Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore (in truth, *I* didn’t even know Densmore), and that’s because the attention was always on Jim. It’s interesting to see him go from shy and introspective almost, carrying around a notebook and quietly hiding himself in a film class (headed by Ollie Stone himself with a big beard playing some unknown professor) under a jacket and on into the wild and contorting stageman that everyone knows him as. It’s interesting to me, I guess, that this seems to have happened to many figures like this, including one for whom I’d probably be met with derision for naming my appreciation (except to those who know me)–that being Michael Hutchence of INXS. Yes, I just mentioned INXS in a review of a movie about the Doors and tying all of this together implied that I like them a lot more. Deal with it.
But, what else is there? There’s nothing else; it’s all Jim. Except that’s what it should be. It’s very odd; the same way I’m slightly disconnected by my lack of fandom, I think there’s also a disconnect between the idea of what the film is and what it should be, despite the fact that they are one and the same. Perhaps they simply engender this feeling by virtue of the fact that it is all centered around an enigmatic and impenetrable figure, and we would be frustrated by this, except we can’t, because we know it’s exactly as it should be. It’s strange, and feels–as someone I read said it–it’s like the movie comes out hazy, as if we, too, as viewers were stoned, yet we have no complaints about this fuzziness because it’s what we were expecting.
As other performances in the movie go, well, again, it’s all about Jim. The roles themselves are perfunctory, though Meg Ryan, it seemed to me, was not quite up to the pathos of girlfriend Pamela Courson, but not painfully so. Kyle MacLachlan played Ray as much as there was a Ray to be played. Kevin Dillon was a nicely antagonistic, though reasonably three-dimensional (for the amount of screentime) Densmore, and Frank Whaley was a Robbie who was “there.” More interesting to point out, for me, are the tons of cameos and bit roles by fun people: Crispin Glover as a simpering Andy Warhol (in that way Glover does simpering), Paul Williams as a disciple-like assistant to Warhol, Billy Idol as ‘entourage member’ or roadie (or something) “Cat,” Wes Studi (one of the stock film Native Americans) in a brief role as a hallucination, and Floyd ‘Red Crow’ Westerman (who fills the same role, including that of Albert Hosteen on The X-Files) in a recurring role as a hallucinated shaman, and the always fun Michael Wincott as producer Paul Rothchild.