The Doors on DVD reviewed

❉ Fabulous Films’ DVD triple bill marks The Doors’ half-century. 

In 1991, you couldn’t move for VHS tapes with Jim Morrison’s face on them. Every branch of HMV, Our Price (remember them?), even Woolworths (remember them??) seemed to have its own corner devoted to The Doors, largely because of the release of a certain very popular, slightly contentious film. It’s just that the best-selling one wasn’t actually Jim’s face, but the face of Val Kilmer pretending to be him.

Teenagers beginning to go through a phase of being mystical/wayward/both didn’t mind too much. Oliver Stone’s movie was a gateway drug to discovering Morrison’s poetry and decadence, warts and all. But Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek was pissed at the newfound public perception of Morrison as a mean, shambling drunk, and began a long campaign to redress the balance. Having long held the position of keeper of the Doors flame, Ray had been the driving force behind a series of Doors-related video tapes since the 80s. Uniquely, considering his huge role in the Doors, Manzarek quite humbly made little attempt to build up his own part in proceedings, preferring instead to further emphasise Morrison’s role, acting as a cheerleader for his beloved and departed friend, putting him on a pedestal as a poet, a shaman, a force of nature. It was a role that Manzarek was happy to fulfil for the rest of his life, that of a psychedelic John the Baptist to the wayward Lizard-Christ figure of Jim.

These three DVD releases from Fabulous Films will be familiar not just to Doors fans, but the kids browsing in Woolworths in the early 90s. Before box sets came along, these were the definitive article for fans, with Manzarek as curator.

Dance On Fire from 1985 is quite ground-breaking for its day, and simultaneously quite dated. A collection of Doors TV performances, promo clips, and that most dreaded of propositions, the cheesy posthumous artist-directed video clip – Dance On Fire has Manzarek taking a load of cool old footage, but being completely unable to leave it alone. A fellow film student at UCLA, Ray re-edits and throws in all manner of home movies, tour footage, and completely unrelated atmosphere into the middle of these cool old clips, and it’s distracting, and a bit annoying.

Each clip is broken up by a vignette of Morrison reciting his poetry (drawn from An American Prayer plus other bits like Horse Latitudes) against sedate backgrounds that look suspiciously like they’re from rides at EPCOT. The pick of these clips is the Smothers Brothers performance of Touch Me, for the hilariously straight-laced session brass section and orchestra, the ice-cool sax solo from the turtle-necked Curtis Amy, and the absolutely massive shiner sported by guitarist Robbie Krieger. The nadir is probably during a wicked Moonlight Drive, where Ray unironically inserts shots of the sodding moon landings.

The Soft Parade, built around the Doors’ 1969 PBS TV appearance fares better. Edited together as Manzarek’s riposte to the image of Morrison presented in the Stone movie, it’s an improvement on Dance On Fire as a holy relic of the Cult Of Jim. Manzarek can’t quite curb his impulse to edit and ‘improve’, but the opening tour supercut of The Changeling is actually pretty cool, and the home movies cut into Wishful Sinful work in their own way. The rest wisely focuses on the meat of the PBS tapes. The band kick it live in the basic TV studio environment, but inevitably the focus is on the bearded, grizzly Morrison, who’s starting to falter a little at this point, but is still a magnetic presence as he enters his gnarly bluesman era. He’s articulate, if a little rambling in interviews too. That said, we may never know if Manzarek was being ironic when he superimposed a heaving pair of boobs over Morrison’s face during The Soft Parade.

Lastly we have Live At The Hollywood Bowl, a rare fully-filmed Doors performance dating from Summer ’68, before Morrison’s personal issues began to take over. It’s visually rather static, but the band look and sound great, and you get the measure of their studied rock theatre, especially during the startling The Unknown Soldier, where the band enact Morrison’s death-by-firing-squad.

It’s fifty years since the Doors’ debut Elektra album was released, a fact slightly swept under the carpet by a rock heritage movement that has a lot of other things celebrating a half century this year.

These DVDs won’t give you the definitive Doors experience, but they’re three hours well-spent, and provide a welcome blast from the past for anyone who remembers looking round Woolies in the early 90s for psychedelic enlightenment.

❉ The Doors: Live at the Hollywood Bowl, The Doors: Dance On Fire and The Doors: The Soft Parade were released on DVD by Fabulous Films, 22 May 2017. Available from all good retailers.

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