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‘The Doors’ (R)

By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 01, 1991

Maybe they should invent a new rating letter for Oliver Stone's crowded, sprawling new movie "The Doors." How about D -- "No one admitted without previous drug experience."

With its reeling, rocking and rolling camera, surging and throbbing score, "The Doors" recreates the dizzying highs and shaky, blurry downs. It's what they used to call a "head" movie -- you get a buzz, all right, but you're left woozy and hung over, and probably won't remember much of what you've seen.

Continuing his reputation, cemented with "Platoon" and "Fourth of July" (both of which prominently featured Doors music), as the celebrator of '60s sensations and cinematic sensory overload, Stone sets out to mythologize the seminal late-'60s rock band and its charismatic, self-destructive lead singer Jim Morrison, in whose arc the director sees the essence of that decade.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and intellectual dilettante Morrison was the first dangerous teen idol, appealing to Stone's own adolescent sensibilities. Stone means to say Morrison was many things: Rock godling, artist by accident, anarchist, modern shaman and stand-in for Dionysus, love-starved son, victim. Though staying just this side of hagiography -- Stone shows us the not pretty side of Morrison's drugging and boozing comet trail -- there's no mistaking that the director views Morrison as a full-fledged Christ figure, and "The Doors" is graced by Last Suppers with bandmates-and-groupies disciples, crucifixions on the arms of crowds and cops, and sorrowful pietas.

The color-saturated collage of impressions begins with a sepia-toned memory of Morrison as a pudgy kid witnessing a highway accident from a station wagon window, presaging his (short) lifelong fascination with death. In alternatingly soaring, staggering and sluggish manner, it moves through the offhand formation of the Doors (and the even more offhand creation of "Light My Fire"); the heyday, the decay and the end at age 27 for Morrison in a hotel bathtub; and (unironically?) leaves us at the graffiti-encrusted Parisian grave where he rests among such neighbors as Wilde, Bernhardt, Moliere and Bizet.

The movie's saving grace is Val Kilmer's transformational performance, which takes Morrison from 19-year-old poet wannabe, to the bewildered star who believes his own haphazardly assembled myth, to bloated bearded burnout. Morrison in "The Doors" is tormented and torn between the light and the dark, but the movie is sabotaged by Stone's overly simplistic hack-Hollywood way of showing it: The singer is tugged back and forth by the Nice Blond (Morrison's common-law wife Pamela Courson, played by Meg Ryan, still stuck in ditsy "Sally" mode) and the Nasty Brunette (a witchy rock journalist, played by Kathleen Quinlan, whose performance unintentionally calls Joan Collins to mind).

As always, Stone leaves us with a headful of sights and sounds. The entire film has been lit as if by moon or flame, and Stone uses every trick in the cinematographer's book in the extended concert scenes. Particularly memorable is a performance of the 11-minute "The End," which dissolves from a peyote-fueled desert freakout to the band's breakthrough concert at the Whiskey A Go Go. Stone's fantasies of these unbridled concerts, with corps of bare-breasted fans, battalions of cops, toppling speakers, may have little connection to reality, but they succeed in getting closer than any previous film to suggesting the potential rock once had to incite ecstacy and mass catharsis. When the music's over, though, the movie founders -- it's a slick, smarter than average biopic.

Stone himself appears in an early scene, as a film school professor screening an overwrought Morrison opus that combines dancing bears, masturbation and Nazism. "Pretty pretentious, Jim," Stone smirks, undoubtedly anticipating the critics on his own labor of love.

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