March 1, 1991: “The Doors” Movie Released

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The Doors Movie Poster

March 1st may be more famous as the date of the Miami incident, but March 1, 1991 saw the release of Oliver Stone’s movie “The Doors”. Fans either love or hate the movie, so here’s some background on “The Doors”.

Rumors of a Doors movie had been circulating around Hollywood since the late ’70s with interest from ’70s wunderkinds such as Brian DePalma, Martin Scorsese and William Friedkin (“The Exorcist”) as directors for the movie. Early contenders for the part of Jim Morrison were John Travolta and Richard Gere, and as the project moved into the ’80s names such as Tom Cruise, Michael Hutchence, and even Bono from U2 were mentioned for the role. But the project never seemed to get off the ground until a young UCLA film school graduate, Randall Jahnson, came aboard. Columbia studios and Sasha Harari at the time owned the rights to a Doors movie and hired Jahnson to write the script. Jahnson talked with all the surviving members of The Doors, Morrison and Ray Manzarek’s film school friends, and Morrison’s parents. The screenplay also emphasized the shaman element (you can read my interview with Jahnson starting at “Randall Jahnson Interview Part I” and it provides interesting detail into “The Doors” script and how it was later changed). The script he wrote was never produced, but Ray Manzarek remembered Jahnson and his screenplay.

In the late ’80s Oliver Stone became involved with the project, and at a party met Manzarek who mentioned Jahnson’s script. Stone got ahold of it and liked it enough that it became the starting point for his movie, and in the final version Jahnson’s screen credit is as J. Randal Johnson. Stone originally wanted to use a lot more of Jim Morrison’s poetry than what was in the final version but due to a falling out with Pam Courson’s parents he couldn’t get the rights.

With script in hand Stone started his Doors movie, and he hired Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Robby Krieger, Paul Rothchild, and Bruce Botnick on as consultants. At first Manzarek and Stone seemed to be getting along fine, and Stone even recreated a couple of shots from Manzarek’s “L.A. Woman” music video to use in the film.

After an initial period Stone had a falling out with Manzarek. Stone accused Manzarek of wanting to be the “co-director” of the film, and Manzarek for his part in an interview did say he had a lot suggestions for Stone, and when they fell out Manzarek commented that he thought they were both artists and he thought he’d have more input into the film than Stone wanted. Stone banned Manzarek from the set. Thereafter Manzarek did interviews saying that the Jim Morrison portrayed in the movie wasn’t the Jim Morrison he knew and that the Stone film was a “white powder” project, inferring cocaine usage influenced the making of the movie. Densmore, Krieger, Rothchild, and Botnick all stayed on as consultants and even had cameos in the finished film.

When “The Doors” came out on March 1, 1991, the reviews, both critical and popular, weren’t that kind. Roger Ebert said in a review that if the Jim Morrison he’d seen in the film had lived he would have died. Viewers of the movie also weren’t that impressed, with one audience member coming out of the film saying he “couldn’t wait for the guy to die,” meaning Morrison. The screenplay that Stone ended up using was a hybrid of the one he’d written and Jahnson’s original. Due to losing the rights to most of Morrison’s poetry the movie relies too heavily on using Doors lyrics as dialogue. The one positive aspect of the film is Val Kilmer’s portrayal of Morrison. Kilmer practically embodied Morrison and everyone from Patricia Keneally to John Densmore was impressed with Kilmer’s acting.

If you’re looking for an alternative opinion on Stone’s “The Doors”, perhaps Stone was trying to illustrate an aspect of the ’60s, that being late ’60s hedonism, but while trying to get in a universal idea he lost Jim Morrison and The Doors in the process.

Originally published February 29, 2016.

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