The Doors – [DVD]

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Tell the same story often enough, and eventually one of two things will happen: either it'll start to sound new and fresh again or it's going to be a complete bore. It might present itself as boring for the obvious reason that you've heard the chronicle of events so often you could recite it by rote; the song and story remain the same, and the enjoyment you may get from it comes from the comfort of hearing a familiar and personally gratifying account. By the same token, it may be interesting because said story has been told so often and has had so many different authoritative voices overlaid on it that it sounds different because the new composite version includes elements of all the previous versions, but doesn't work out the same; it straddles the line between fact and fiction only because so many cooks have put in their ingredients and altered the taste. Opinions will vary on the results either way – some people will be disgusted and call the new account an ambitious fabrication which clearly panders to the mode of the moment. Such distaste is a very real possibility particularly when viewing any film focused on The Doors; because the personalities are so large and the number of personal interests that people want to have served is so great, it's near impossible to glean the simple truth from any one account – what has often been presented (by Oliver Stone, by keyboardist Ray Manzarek, by drummer John Densmore, by manager Bill Siddons and a directory of others) has been a series of “truths as they were made apparent to the tellers of the story,” but that doesn't mean it can be construed as a credible recollection. The exact same concern lies at the heart of the Mr. Mojo Risin' documentary; with converging interests and a cast of characters (the surviving members of The Doors all weigh in here, as do producer Bruce Botnick, Elektra Records president Jac Holzman and a couple of token journalists) who have repeatedly proven that they all have differing recollections of events from the rest, the film promises to be little more than a well-meaning but totally self-serving mess. That's exactly how the film presents itself initially too; for twenty agonizing minutes, The Doors and their associates set the same stage they always have for L.A. Woman (getting banned, getting busted, getting knocked down and dragged out by the establishment – you know the story), and given viewers the time they need to settle in for a presentation of the story they know with the ending that is bittersweet.

Then, at the twenty-minute mark, the film's editors pick up on the rhythm and begin to assemble a different take on the story for Mr. Mojo Risin'! All of a sudden, a monologue of “Why did The Doors record L.A. Woman at their rehearsal space?” “Because producer Paul Rothchild quit and the band was tired of making music in the same stifling studio anyway, so they went home to work on their own” begins to manifest.

That is an essential (and often downplayed, if not unknown) portion of the L.A. Woman story which is seldom explained, and viewers will have their interest piqued because of its early appearance in this documentary.

From there, those genius editors in charge of this production assemble a fantastic telling of where L.A. Woman came from and how it came to be, but without any one dominant interest other than the album itself at the forefront. From a choice snippet of what was certainly a lengthy, Manzarek-ian dissertation on the background of the city, viewers get the importance and weight of L.A. on “L.A. Woman,”which bleeds into an explanation of the importance of the anagram from whch the film takes its name. Somehow the snippets taken from Manzarek – and then eventually Densmore, and then eventually Botnick – not only explain the imagery of the song and its construct, but also why its appeal endures: the song is a love poem to a romantic idea and a city that can (and has) capture popular imaginations easily. That's intoxicating both on the record and in the DVD's run-time. From there, the intoxication bleeds over into a discussion about “The Wasp” (“I'll tell you about Texas radio and the Big Beat”)and works to hypnotize viewers. There's such promise in that blocking sequence – but then continuity takes over and the rhythm is broken because conversation turns to Jim Morrison's departure for Paris before the L.A. Woman sessions wrapped. That sudden break is jarring and really leaves the footage and discussion of “Riders On The Storm” (which, connecting the dots between “Riders On The Storm” and “Riders In The Sky” as the film does, should be more engaging) in the really forgettable position of seeming tacked on – ten minutes before the film's close.

…And that the film's close is formulaic is to be expected; it could only end with the death of Jim Morrison, which is where it goes shortly after its discussion of “Riders,” and the mutual admiration society starts – but it isn't as smooth as usual. Here, discussion of “Hyacinth House” gets grafted awkwardly into discussions on the death of Jim Morrison, which sort of implies that the song was designed to be the singer's final farewell – which every fan knows is nonsense. It's contrived, but there aren't many ways to easily finish an unfinished story – so the film just does the best it can and heads for the credits.

So what's the final analysis on Mr. Mojo Risin'? Surprisingly positive really; with so many other writers and filmmakers already sunk in many of the pitfalls that this film could have fallen into, at least a portion of this film (the middle) is reasonably smooth in its presentation, and that makes it enjoyable. Could it be called a definitive break-down of one of the best albums in The Doors' catalogue? There's no way to answer that with any certainty, but at least it's entertaining and not pitifully mawkish.


Further Reading:

The Doors – L.A. Woman (40th Anniversary reissue) – [Album review]


Mr. Mojo Risin': The Story Of L.A. Woman
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .


The Doors – [DVD]

Friday, 30 May 2008

The list of bands that could never hope to have their story told accurately is a short one, but there’s no doubt that The Doors is at the top of it. The characters are just too larger-than-life; Oliver Stone based his movie on drummer John Densmore’s account and it wound up being the same fantastical work of fiction that Densmore’s “tell-all," Riders On The Storm, was; everything keyboardist Ray Manzarek has written about the band has been hopelessly romantic, theatrical and flaky, and the novel by Danny Sugarman was generally worthless too—we’re not talking about a wealth of reliable sources here. Theoretically, the most grounded member’s account (that of guitarist Robbie Kreiger) would be a valuable asset in that regard but, he’s not really talking.

So why rehash the same stories and songs with the same notoriously unreliable cast?

The Classic Albums account starts with the same old song and dance—with a couple of music industry people and producers discussing something they couldn’t possibly know anything about, Henry Rollins and Perry Farrell chiming in with a little hero worship and Manzarek expanding upon the “magic” of it all—before the brass tacks get busted out and we finally get some stories we haven’t heard before. For example, The Doors weren’t any kind of overnight success; they pulled out of a deal with Sony early on and they got turned down a lot in the early going on the grounds that they were basically too un-hip. The revelations continue as its explained that singer Jim Morrison was a big fan of the classic crooners and the guitar riff in “Break On Through” was actually lifted by Robbie Kreiger from a Paul Butterfield Band song.

This is not the same Doors story we’ve been fed for decades, it’s different; it’s better because it’s more honest.

As the surviving members of The Doors along with producer Bruce Botnick lay out the nuts and bolts of making all the songs on their first album (that, yes, had a bass player on each song), the magic—not so mystical, but magic just the same—of the band in their early days comes into focus. They were good—there’s no debating that—but they worked hard and practiced relentlessly before they walked into the studio; it wasn’t a matter of divine intervention or a magical finger that reached out and touched the group’s members.

From there, the DVD dives back into the stories that everyone knows; having to cut down “Light My Fire” for radio, the Ed Sullivan debacle and on into Morrison’s own personal troubles. Not shocking to fans, those personal troubles are shown to be the inspiration for a lot of Doors songs and ultimately led to his destruction. Were these things on the band members’ minds when they were making their first record? Probably not, but they manifest in this documentary as sure as Densmore’s narcissism (comparing both himself and Morrison to Picasso) does in the later-running of the program. “The End” is, of course, the end of the line for the run-time. Classic Albums ends on the perfect note as the DVD goes through the development and creation of the song as we know it. As with the album it exposes, this installment of Classic Albums is a charmed moment because it gets through all of the obvious personal obstacles to the heart of a personally convoluted record.

The most insightful (from a previously unrealized standpoint) and funny moments ended up apparently first on the cutting room floor and then in the extras appended to this DVD. Included is a sequence wherein its discovered that there were a few songs not used for The Doors’ self-titled debut including two different versions of “Moonlight Drive” (they eventually appeared on box sets and compilations and a completely different version appeared on Strange Days a year later) that fans will absolutely eat up here. There are some incomprehensible moments too, like a flamenco lesson from Kreiger using “Spanish Caravan” (which didn’t appear on the first Doors album) as a text and Jac Holzman (president of Electra Records) doing a very Charlton Heston-inspired reading of “Break On Through” as well as Manzarek rambling about Morrison’s rabble-rousing that are all indeed a little reaching for purpose in this context (presumably why they were cut) but they’ll captivate Doors fans because they’re moments that fans can’t recite by rote. Those are the things that make this edition of Classic Albums special and, in addition to making it of interest to long-time supporters of The Doors, it’s accessible enough to win new ones as well.

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