A tribute to one of my favorite unsung filmmakers and an inspiration to my own films
Written by Fabrizio Federico
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Unfortunately out of the many brilliant achievements Jim Morrison realized in his short life his true love of becoming a film director never flourished, due to his other commitments. But in his short life he did manage on a couple of occasions to leave some examples of how he could have easily changed the face of cinema just as he did with his music.
''Cinema returns us to anima, religion of matter, which gives each thing its special divinity and sees gods in all things and beings. Cinema, heir of alchemy, last of an erotic science'' Jim Morrison
Starting his film studies in 1964 at UCLA his experiences there were not what he originally hopped for, he was misunderstood by both the teachers and many of the students for his forward thinking free-form ideas. From an early age his main influences were Cinema Verite & Surrealism, some of the films he saw in this period were Von Sternberg's - The Blue Angel, The Devil Is A Woman, and his favorite Anatahan.
Jim managed to cause an uproar after he completed his only untitled student film, which was screened in front of his senior class on May 1965. The film consisted of mixture of primitive chanting's by priests and children, a fuzzy test pattern similar to the Outer Limits sci-fi TV Show, then cut to a group of men smoking and getting ready to watch a pornographic stag film. The film breaks and the screen fills with crude hand-shadow puppets, then they throw darts at Playboy centerfolds taped to the walls of Jim's apartment, over insistent peyote chanting Navajo Indians. A woman is seen from behind walking down the street and disappearing into an elevator, Jim is then seen taking a huge toke on a joint, as his eyes bulge he cuts to stock-footage of an atomic bomb exploding. The he delivers a cheeky wink to the camera. Cut to a wooden console TV with a blonde Aryan bombshell stripteasing on-top of the TV which is screening Nazi storm trooper marches. Finally the girl licks an eyeball to cleanse it of all the toxic imagery from the TV.
Porn. Drugs. Television. Nazis. Sex. Music. Irony.
No plot, no beginning, no middle, no end. For his minor masterpiece Jim received an F and the film was thrown away, no copy has ever surfaced.
Ridiculed for being an original, he quit UCLA shortly afterwords. But fast forward to 1968 and The Doors are now the biggest band in America and Jim has convinced the rest of the band to make a documentary of their summer tour, a documentary that will perplex just as many people as his first film.
''Early film makers, who—like the alchemists—delighted in a willful obscurity about their craft, in order to withhold their skills from profane onlookers.'' Jim Morrison
The end product was called Feast Of Friends which was self financed by the band and shot through out different cities with the help of Jim's friends Paul Ferrara, Babe Hill, Frank Lisciandro and a young intern called Harrison Ford in 1968. In many ways the film shows the boredom of touring mixed with the complete anarchy of The Doors shows that summer, causing riots at New York's Singer Bowl, Chicago and in Cleveland. It shows the generation gap between the band and America's mainstream society (ministers at large, cops, promoters).
Jim is seen interacting with his adoring fans (a memorable scene of a wild eyed groupie grabbing his crotch in a limo - and of his consoling a bleeding fan backstage) the band lazily playing cards before a show, a tongue in cheek terrifying Frederick Nietzsche inspired piano improv, we see the band being escorted funeral pyre like from backstage similar to lambs sent to the slaughter, travel and anti-war propaganda announcements fills the movies soundtrack along with many of their greatest songs.
Jim had a cinematic mind that is clearly reflected in The Doors songs, images are mirrored with sound to create mini-movies for the ears. But what leaves the greatest lasting impression of all is the raw charisma that Morrison had over his fans. Like a witch-doctor he sends them into a frenzy time & time again, they come across as children of the damned in an inferno of magic, a seance of worship towards their favorite band. Jim had clearly learned his stage craft from the magic and alchemy of cinema. The film finally ends with the Hollywood Bowl infamous acid induced performance of The End, try watching it with the light out. Finally the band are whisked away to enjoy the sun on a boat in Hawaii, once again the film ends with a catharsis, the sun clears away the voodoo aura that is so attractive and new to rock fans. Morrison brought ancient shamanism to the rock stage for the first time and it was captured brilliantly in the film.
Feast Of Friends was another disappointment for Jim. The film was received badly at film festivals and was met with a lot of booing. But I wonders whether this is what Jim actually wanted, maybe he was winking at us, some people get irony some don't.
''Cinema derives not from painting, literature, sculpture, theater, but from ancient popular wizardry. It is contemporary manifestation of an evolving history of shadows, a delight in pictures that move, a belief in magic. Its lineage is entwined from the earliest beginning with Priests and sorcery, a summoning of phantoms. With, at first, only slight aid of the mirror and fire, men called up dark and secret visits from regions in the buried mind. In these seances, shades are spirits which ward off evil.'' Jim Morrison
Finally in 1969 he created his cinematic masterpiece, HWY: An American Pastoral. A lonesome hitchhiker (inspired by the serial killer Billy Cook) stalks the desert as he makes his way back to Los Angeles. Filmed with the same team that made Feast Of Friends excluding Harrison Ford, this film conjures up a mystical poetic trip that is seldom seen in cinema. Jim is in full beard and looking every bit the rock start before he shed his Lizard King persona forever, the song Riders On The Storm is essentially a plot synopsis of HWY.
The film is exquisite, once again Jim proves that cinema does not have to include an ordinary structure.
The journey starts with Jim swimming in a beautiful desert oasis, as night falls he sleeps rough in an abandoned car which he then proceeds to destroy in a rage as morning arrives, after what seems like hours trying to hitch a ride he mysteriously kills the driver of the vehicle that picks him up in the hot desert sun.
Morrison financed this low-budget gem with a soundtrack composed by Fred Myrow, the film is a soft parade of desert children dancing away in the wilderness, to images of black ghetto children looking lost and shaken to the sounds of Frank Sinatra's My Way. By 1969 the chaos of the 60's had taken it's toll on the counterculture and you could start to smell the rotting dream of flower power. Because of it's Death Valley imagery HWY brings to mind the Manson Family, who at the time of filming were in the desert plotting Helter Skelter, waiting to put a nail through the 60's coffin. Death lingers in this film, one of HWY's most moving images is of the dying coyote seen making his last gasp's for air on the highway tarmac.
HWY's hypnotic pacing finally brings Jim back to Los Angeles where he mysteriously makes a late night phone call to his friend Michael McClure, confessing to him that he wasted someone ''hey man I really got a problem, I was out in the desert, man...I dont know how to tell ya..but...I killed someone...it's not a big deal I dont think anyone will find out about it - the guy started to give me some trouble and I couldn't take it... so I wasted him.''
Then hangs up.
We seen Jim taking a leak at his favorite local motel, the Phone Booth, to the soundtrack of a lonely piano, then climbing onto a roof top and walking on the ledge of the building in a suicidal death gait. He finally takes a walk down to the Whiskey A Go-Go where he memorably asks the clubs bouncers ''got any groovy pussy in this joint?'', ''any LSD..any LSD in there?''. The film ends on a melancholy note, leaving the viewer feeling almost like an isolated barfly. The LA night skyline stares back at you in disarray.
Once again Jim received no praise or respect for his unique cinematic efforts. The film was screened only a few times, first in Vancouver in 1970 then finally in Paris just before Jim's tragic death.
From watching his films I consider Jim Morrison to be one of the first true independent filmmakers and there is no doubt that if he had lived he would have created many more incredible films. They enhance his already solid legacy and his films prove that there is an unbreakable bond between alchemy/ritual/shamanism and the power of cinema.