"Classic Albums: The Doors" is a documentary film about the Doors and their first album, which was recorded during six days in August 1966 and released on vinyl in January 1967. The album is named after the band, because it has no title, and therefore it is known as the eponymous album.
The film, which was released on a DVD in 2008, tells us how the album was recorded. Nine of the eleven songs on the album are discussed - one by one - with interesting details and anecdotes about the music and/or the lyrics of the song. Two songs are not mentioned: tracks # 8 "I looked at you" and # 10 "Take it as it comes."
["Moonlight Drive" is discussed, even though it is not found on the album. It was one of the early songs, but it was not included on the album, because it was not quite ready. It is found on the second album "Strange Days" which was released in September 1967.]
The DVD has two sections: the main track runs for ca. 50 minutes, while the bonus material runs for ca. 38 minutes. The total running time is ca. 88 minutes.
Several witnesses were interviewed for this project: the three surviving members of the band - Ray Manzarek (keyboards), Robby Krieger (guitar), and John Densmore (drums) - plus ten other persons, who were close to the band and/or the musical scene at the time or later. Here are the names in the order of appearance:
* Bill Sidons, road crew, manager
* Perry Farrell, musician
* Michael McClure, friend and poet
* Henry Rollins, author and musician
* Bruce Botnick, recording engineer
* Paul Ferrara, friend and filmmaker
* Billy James, Columbia Records
* Jac Holzman, founder of Elektra Records
* Jim Ladd, the last DJ, KLOS Radio
* Ben Fong-Torres, author and journalist
All witnesses (except two) are well-chosen, and most of their comments are sharp and perceptive. Two witnesses do not seem relevant, because they belong to a later generation: Perry Farrell (born 1959) and Henry Rollins (born 1961).
Clips of witnesses are mixed with clips of songs from the album. This structure works well. The band and their album are placed in context. Their music is seen as a reflection of the time in which it was composed.
Track # 1 "Break on through" includes the line "She gets high." But at the time the word "high" was not allowed, at least not if you wanted your record to be played on the radio. So on the first version released to the public, Jim Morrison only says "She gets ... She gets..."
Track # 5 Alabama Song is written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil, but it was adapted by the Doors. It was strange and experimental. In other words: the Doors in a nutshell.
Track # 6 "Light my fire" began as a slow folk song composed by Krieger, but after a while it became a fast-paced rock-and-roll tune. Krieger wrote the first verse about love. When singer Jim Morrison added the second verse about the funeral pyre, Krieger asked him: "Why do you always have to talk about death?" Morrison responded: "It is perfect: the first verse is about love and life, while the second verse is about death." To which Krieger says: "He was right."
The song includes the line "Girl, you couldn't get much higher." When the band was going to appear on the Ed Sullivan show, they were warned not to say the word "higher." They promised not to, but Morrison said it anyway. Afterwards the producers were furious and told them: "You will never appear on this show again." Krieger says they did not care: "We just wanted to do it once."
In this film the focus is often on Morrison. This is easy to understand: he is the only person who can no longer speak for himself, so the others will talk about him.
Morrison was always unpredictable. For the other members of the band it was dangerous as well as exciting. Perhaps the latter element was dominating in the beginning, but as time went by, the former element became more and more dominating.
As Densmore puts it, creativity and self-destruction do not always come together. Picasso was highly creative, and he lived to be an old man. But Morrison had both elements, and as time went by, the latter took over. This was the end of his career and of his life. He died in Paris in July 1971. He was only 27.
Not everything presented in this film is new, but it is good to have the story of the Doors with the focus on their first album, which was - by all accounts - a powerful debut. The four members played together for about five years, from 1966 to 1970/71. Looking back it seems like a short period, but it was a very intense time, and the products they created were exceptional.
"Classic Albums: The Doors" is an excellent documentary which tells us how an outstanding album was recorded by a great band.
PS. Over the years many films and books have been produced about this band. Here are a few examples:When You're Strange - A Film About The Doors
(DVD, 2009); Final 24 - Jim Morrison
(DVD, 2010); Mr Mojo Risin' - The Story Of L.A. Woman
Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugarman, No One Here Gets Out Alive: The Biography of Jim Morrison
(1991, 1997, 2011); James Riordan and Jerry Prochnicky, Break on Through: The Life and Death of Jim Morrison
John Densmore, Riders on the Storm: My Life With Jim Morrison and The Doors
(1990, 1991); Ray Manzarek, Light My Fire: My Life with The Doors
by Ben Fong-Torres and the Doors (Manzarek, Krieger & Densmore) was published in 2006 to mark the 40-year anniversary of the founding of the band.