Robert Saitzyk the director behind such indie sensations as “The White of Winter” and “Godspeed” has been working on his latest project “The Last Beat” which is a fictionalized look at Jim Morrison’s last days in Paris. Robert was kind enough to sit down with us and talk a little bit about “The Last Beat” and The Doors.
DE: How did you get turned onto The Doors?
Robert Saitzyk: I’m pretty sure it took until I was in college, which was way back in the 90’s now. This was San Francisco and there was this renewed interest and excitement of all that had gone on in the Sixties, especially in a city like San Francisco. So of course you’re exposed to so much more in college, and even though I certainly had already heard a lot of The Doors songs, it really took me getting to college where I decided then to take this path as an artist and a filmmaker that the music and certainly Morrison’s lyrics started to have a way deeper resonance and meaning for me. I mean suddenly you’re reading Nietzsche, Sartre, the Beats, and The Doors are melding and merging with all of that and it, for lack of better words, really expanded my mind and allowed my imagination to take greater hold on all that I was doing.
I have to admit I was a full-fledged Doors and Morrison fan by the time I was 19 and I was actually an extra in Oliver Stone’s “The Doors” — and this was of course while I was still in college, so to have a major film directed by a filmmaker I really admired come to town was an amazing experience. Whatever people think of that film, I could see the intense dedication that Stone had for making his version of the story and also his clear admiration for Morrison and The Doors as a band. It was strange since here I was reading Jim’s poetry, studying a lot of the same philosophers and other writers that had also influenced him, and here I was, actually in the 60’s! Anyway, maybe “The Last Beat” is another way of me coming full circle to what this all meant to me, but certainly from a different perspective — i.e. not a wide-eyed 19 year old anymore!
DE: How have The Doors influenced your artistic vision?
Robert Saitzyk: I think a band like The Doors has allowed me to really let go of boundaries and restrictions on my imagination and even my thinking when writing or making films. Their music moves you emotionally and gets deep into the subconscious, but it also makes you want to explore what’s going on in your head more than any other band, then or even now. They are unique in their sound, which for anyone who considers themselves an artist, is something we all strive for — for finding that uniqueness that our own voice might have, then not holding back or being afraid to let that voice out even if most people don’t get it at first.
And perhaps it’s also because they seem so cinematic at times, creating not just musical landscapes but psychological ones as well, that their music really resonates with me and certainly other filmmakers. I mean I re-watch that opening scene in Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” whenever I need some inspiration!
DE: Your previous films are quite different than “The Last Beat,” how did you decide to do a film about Jim Morrison’s last days in Paris?
Robert Saitzyk: They are different, but I think similar in that they tend to focus in on what’s happening more on the inside of someone’s head rather than externally view them coldly from the outside. In other words, they tend to have a more subjective point of view and I like to move more into a dream-like kind of space, and this is what we are definitely trying to do with “The Last Beat.” And being inspired by someone like Morrison, and most especially his writing, thoughts, and philosophy is just the kind of world that I want to explore.
So Shawn (who plays our Morrison-inspired character Jay Douglas) and I really wanted to make a film together again. We made my first film “After the Flood,” stayed friends of course, but hadn’t made another film together. And the first idea Shawn had was this one — something based on Morrison’s last days in Paris. And it is something I’ve always thought about doing, but didn’t really know how until we started just brainstorming the idea. The fictionalization was something that excited me from the start, and I really liked Gus Van Sant’s take on Kurt Cobain with his “Last Days.” Beyond being independent filmmakers and the whole rights issues, I wanted to be able to tell a story that was still personal to us and wouldn’t be restricted by supposed facts or faulty memories from people who might have been there. It becomes a pedestrian biopic re-telling without any soul.
And being that the psychological workings are the things I’m most interested in, I wanted to be able to get deep into our main character’s head without restrictions. It’s strange how imagination might be closer to the truth than we think. Shawn and I both adore Jim’s poetry and writing, and the depth of his mind and thinking, so the foundation of this film was always going to be the poetry and celebrating this man as a true poet outside of the rock stardom.
DE: Jim Morrison has always been perceived as something of a symbol from sex symbol when he was alive, to now kind of the embodiment of a rock ‘n’ roll archetype. Do you think “The Last Beat” is striving to illuminate the human being or does it show Morrison as a symbol to illuminate something about us?
Robert Saitzyk: I don’t think anyone can fully escape the “Morrison” myth, and the irony is, neither could Jim in my opinion. But I can say we are trying to show this person as complex human being who, I think like the real Jim, is really wanting very badly to shed the last skin as the rock star / Lizard King identity, and it centers more on the man as an artist struggling to deal with his own mortality and choices in life, something I think we can all relate to, no matter where we come from. I feel like Jim was someone who really “travelled” to some deep, far places in his consciousness, coming back with some truths and knowledge of the limits of our own humanity, but it cost him dearly, maybe even his mind. He did this in some ways to push is own self as an artist but also, I believe, to come back and tell us something about it, through his writing and his poetry. I just felt like this part of Morrison hasn’t really been addressed, and so this is one of the reasons for the
“The Last Beat” — some way for me to tell a version of this tragic figure. We’re attempting to link whatever might have been driving his art and poetry to what might have been going through his head in those final days, and coming from a very internal place rather than, as I said earlier, just a distant observational place, and I think this might give all of us some better understanding of the man outside of the base pop culture symbol he has become.
DE: What do you hope your vision of Jim Morrison and his experience will impart about Morrison to your audience?
Robert Saitzyk: This sort of carries over from the last question, but my hope is that people will really look at Jim’s poetry again and see that as a crucial part of who this man was. For me, Morrison was a continuation of what the Beat Generation started, and there is a through-line in his thinking and poetry, especially with someone like Jack Kerouac.
The image of the lonely figure on the highway — the lost and lonely male figure — seems to me a modern day American archetype, that obviously plays in Kerouac and Morrison’s work. So, for me, I feel like I’m placing someone like Jim in with American writers like Kerouac, but also even John Fante and Henry Miller.
The point being, he’s not just a face on a T-shirt or a rock n’ roll icon, but a poet with a deep understanding of the human condition, and these are artists we all need in our lives, even if they are revealing things we’re afraid to face or to look at.
I don’t think this is in the script, but it’s in some poetry we wrote for the book that our character has written called “American Asylum.” In it there’s a line “The Future is my Face without a Soul.” I wasn’t sure what that meant when I wrote it, but it seems to relate to this idea of Jim’s face being plastered everywhere on the internet or social media, but there’s no story or reference to it. I guess we’re trying to put a soul back into those images, in our own way.
DE: What do you think The Doors influence or legacy is for future artists?
Robert Saitzyk: I think The Doors inspire musicians and all artists to not be afraid to take and blend different influences into their own work, and as I pointed to earlier, not be afraid to “say it” differently. They are so unique in their sound that they are identifiable within a few notes.
I also think there is no doubt The Doors have shown us that lyrics can go way beyond normal everyday experiences, or just stuff about broken relationships. Lyrics can move into an even more poetic space and drive the music around them to go even further than we are used to — further than just a pop-driven fun little piece. Nothing wrong with that, but when you fall into songs like “The End” and “When the Music’s Over,” you realize the true power music has, and these songs, for me, have always inspired me to take things further in my own work. It’s not always just about entertaining the listener or the viewer if you’re a filmmaker, but about pushing the audience a bit, pushing them to see things in a different way, to push past things that seem to hold people back from looking deeper into their own selves or experiences to come out on the other side maybe a little more illuminated.
There are not a lot bands like The Doors, and that’s certainly why, to this day, they are one of the most popular bands, period. It’s not just great music, they are expanding their listeners’ minds and taking them to new places, and even if you’ve heard one of the songs for the thousandth time, you seem to travel to a new place and see something else. For me, that’s the art, no matter what it is, that means the most and stands the test of time. It’s this striving to make this kind of music or art that I hope really does influence future artists!
DE: Thank you Robert!
Originally published March 6, 2014