How Oliver Stone Destroyed The Doors
Of all the qualities a performer needs to be a star, one of the most important is mystique.
When I was a teenager, there was a host of relatively silent icons to admire and dream about. One of the most popular posters was a black and white image of a shirtless Jim Morrison with arms outstretched, staring with almost cross-eyed intensity. A transgressive depiction of a defiant young man in Jesus pose, it also appeared on the sleeve of The Doors’ Greatest Hits album.
It was Morrison who drew a lot of people to The Doors. When you listened to their songs, you were always aware of the singer’s rebel image and that’s what made tolerable the often sluggish or camp blues rock they produced. For a teenager, Morrison’s lyrics, with their lizard kings, crystal ships and funeral pyres seemed powerful and eerie.
I got into The Doors later than my peers and listened to little else throughout 1990, the year Oliver Stone announced he would be directing a biopic of Morrison. This was exciting news: I had seen and admired Born on the Fourth of July and the idea of a heavyweight director taking on the life of a seemingly heavyweight pop star was intriguing.
But the film effectively ended my interest in the band. The figure whose voice I’d only heard in the songs or in his posthumous poetry album ‘An American Prayer’, whose leather-clad image had adorned several walls in my boarding school, and who died at the glamorously young age of 27, was suddenly speaking on the screen and doing things off-stage. And what a dick he was. A selfish drunken goon, the kind of person I’d have crossed the street to avoid. I don’t think it was Stone’s intention to do a hatchet job on Morrison but that is what The Doors essentially is. In every scene, he seems irredeemably stupid: here he is throwing a strop in film school because other students think his art film is daft, here he is leading a chant in the desert. And he is surrounded by fawning eejits who think he is a genius. Meg Ryan is smitten when he talks bullocks to her; Kyle MacLachlan is thunderstruck when Jim sings him a song at the beach and two seconds later they are in the studio recording Light my Fire. By the time the film was released, I had been losing interest in The Doors but the film made me resistant to them.
Thirty years later, I had another listen to them via Spotify. Some of the songs have worn well and Morrison remains a terrific performer with an attractive baritone voice and an ability to vocally explode. But the film effectively destroyed the mystery of Jim Morrison by showing what a relentless gobshite he was and how somehow lots and lots of people were impressed by that.
There are plenty of biopics that show their famous subjects behaving horribly but most viewers will be willing to accept that if the quality of their work is superb. But The Doors were only so good and a lot of Morrison’s lyrics now sound pretty silly. I suppose the longest lasting legacy of The Doors will be the model Morrison left behind as the frontman of a rock band. All that brooding, dark sexiness and self-absorption has been mopped up by hundreds of singers who came after him, and several of them, most notably Iggy Pop and Ian Curtis, turned out to be superior artists to Jim himself.