Written by: Paul Gleason
From the pompadoured Johnny Suede to the long-haired coonskin hat wearing character Sam Rockwell plays in Box Of Moonlight, director Tom DiCillo’s movies have always been a little bit rock and roll. Not only that, but Elvis Costello and Nick Cave have both made cameos in his films over the years. So when word came that DiCillo would be directing the Doors documentary When You’re Strange, he seemed the perfect man for the job.
Narrated by Johnny Depp, When You’re Strange is a compelling, insightful, and downright electric film about the legendary L.A. band. It captures the wild, kinetic energy of The Doors and in the process, offers a revealing and unflinching look at the energy between Jim Morrison and his bandmates.
SEM sits down with DiCillo to take another look at the triumphs and frustrations of the Grammy-award winning film.
SEM: I talked to John Densmore on Wednesday, and he mentioned his love for your documentary on The Doors, When You’re Strange.
TD: Actually, of the three of them, he and I formed the closest bond, and we hung out together a lot—especially on the foreign publicity stuff. We were in France together when the film opened there, and it was just incredible hanging out with him in Paris!
SEM: He said that a critic stormed out of the theater at Sundance because he thought that you had an actor impersonating Jim Morrison. Will you go into that?
TD: This whole question about the “double” and the “re-created footage” has haunted this film from the beginning. I got the job when the producers called me looking for a director. This was Dick Wolf from TV’s Law and Order, and Jeff Jampol the manager of The Doors. I had directed an episode of Criminal Intent plus they knew me from some of my films. They had the rights to all of The Doors’ music and every inch of footage about them. They’d made a few attempts at a documentary with some other directors but no one seemed to be able to find a unifying concept. So, they asked “Do you want to direct a documentary about The Doors?” and I said, “Yes”—instantly. And they said, “Well, what’s your concept?” I said, “How am I supposed to know? I don’t even know what you have.” And they told me they had thousands of hours of footage. And I said, “Well, the first thing I need to do is see the footage.”
So they started sending me DVDs of stuff—it was just raw compilations of footage, in no chronological order, some of it had no sound, some of it was repeats, and I just got boxes of DVDs. So I sat down and started watching, and the most amazing thing began to happen: I fell into the period; almost like an acid trip.
It was like—you know how you see recreations of the 60s and the 70s in film and TV? And it all just seems so phony? They take the basic ideas of that very intense period and reduce them to the stupidity of The Partridge Family. So here was all this real, original footage; I mean stuff of The Doors in concerts, backstage, rehearsing, in cars, dealing with fans and promoters. It was some very intense stuff because it was absolutely real. That’s where I got this inkling of an idea—that you could almost make the whole film out of this footage.
Now, also in these huge batches of material was this strange footage of Jim Morrison wandering down a desert highway, and then it would cut and he would be inside of a car driving, then it was a shot of him coming across a dead coyote in the middle of the road. I said, “What the fuck is this? This is some weird shit.” It was really badly exposed and grainy. I asked one of the producers and he said, “Well, those are outtakes from a movie Morrison made called HWY.” It was a movie he wrote, directed, acted in and produced—put his own money in. Clips of it have been on the Internet for at least 20 years.
Jim was very impressed with Easy Rider and the way Dennis Hopper made that very successful feature film with very little money. Before The Doors Jim went to film school at UCLA—he wanted to be a director—but he had such a bad experience in his last year, and they gave him such negative vibes that he never went back to it. But he always wanted to be a filmmaker. So he made this movie.
The main thing that struck me was that these outtakes from HWY were so surreal. The light, the framing, the intimate shots of Jim wandering through the desert. The first thought I had was that pieces of these outtakes could be used as a sort of connective tissue for the rest of the film. As if this guy that Morrison is playing is somebody that is wandering through the film searching for some kind of meaning; meaning for himself, meaning for The Doors. So I began to structure the film with these outtakes bridging some of gaps in the narrative.
To go back a bit; when Jim died his girlfriend, Pam Courson, inherited the rights to his estate. When she died, the rights went to her parents. That meant they had the rights to HWY. Now, no one had anything other than this really crappy print of it. It was actually taken from something called a “work print.” A work print is what you used to use when you were editing on film. And this print that we had had rips and tears in it, and some sections were missing. At the very last minute, the Courson family hinted that they had the original negative—a perfect 35mm negative.
It took some maneuvering that still remains a mystery to me but somehow we gained access to Jim’s original film. It was unbelievable. Oh, my God! The clarity, the beauty of it! The rest of the footage in When You’re Strange was very grainy and screwed up—understandably because it was shot on 16mm with no light. But, out of respect for Morrison I decided not to distress his film digitally to make it look like the rest of the material. I decided to make it look as beautiful as possible because that’s the way he shot it.
After the first couple of screenings with this new material cut in one guy came up and said, “Who’s the guy you got to play Jim Morrison?” I was just dumbfounded! I said, “What are you talking about? That’s Jim Morrison!” He said, “Well, he’s got a beard.” I said, “Jim had a beard many times in his life.” If you look at him all through the recordings of L.A. Woman, he’s got a full beard. The guy is still skeptical. “Oh, really?” he says. “You didn’t shoot that stuff?” I said, “First of all, I’ve already told you where the footage came from. Second, that would’ve cost millions of dollars to recreate those gas stations of the 60s. You think I really ran over a coyote and threw it out into the middle of the road? What do you think?”
But, it just kept persisting, and at one point, I wrote an explanation and put it in the front of the film. It said something like, “Every inch of this film is real. There are no recreations; there are no actors in this film.” Then we had a screening of this version of the film. Afterwards, a woman raised her hand and asked, “I get what you said about the footage coming from HWY, but who did you get to play Jim Morrison?”
We took the film to Sundance without the disclaimer. I took it out because it ruins the mystery of the opening. I said, “I’m not going to put that piece of encyclopedic bullshit at the front of the film.”
We went to Sundance primarily to get a US distributor for the film. There was one whom I knew and was really anxious to have see the film. Five minutes after the film started I saw him run out, and I went up to him and said, “What are you doing?” And he was so pissed off, he said, “I can’t believe you used an actor in this film!” And I grabbed him; I said, “It’s not an actor; it’s Jim Morrison from his own movie!” He couldn’t comprehend what I was saying to him. Actually, my explanation seemed to anger him more for some reason.
And this idiotic rumor persisted the whole time we were at Sundance. The end result being we never got a distributor simply because no one took the time to ask me about the HWY footage!
SEM: It shows the lack of knowledge some critics have about The Doors because that’s been written about in every biography I’ve read—and I’ve read many biographies about The Doors that mention HWY.
TD: You strike a very, very sensitive issue for me because if they didn’t know that, they should have asked me. Don’t just go to that unfounded, very destructive conclusion, you know? Also, many critics claimed the facts were wrong. That astounded me. Every piece of information came from John, Ray, or Robby—The Doors themselves! And in several instances I discovered that some of these complaints were coming from people that didn’t even know the most basic facts about The Doors–like that Jim did not write “Light My Fire”; it was Robby Krieger’s song; in fact the first one he ever wrote.
SEM: John told me that that’s the best period piece he’s ever seen on The Doors. And that’s why he wants it to get rereleased—he feels like you really got ripped off in the distribution.
TD: Let’s go back a little bit and pick up the thread again. I went out to L.A., sat in this editing room for three weeks, just watched footage, and took notes. It was like I was feeding all this material into my brain like it was a hard drive. And that was the most intense challenge of the piece because there were so many fragments of footage that were fascinating and interesting, and I had to remember them all! We’re talking about footage that went from 1967 all the way to 1970.
And week after week the producers kept pressuring me: “What’s your concept?” And week after week I didn’t have an answer. My anxiety was so intense that I almost got on a plane and came home. Part of my anxiety came from questioning myself; “Who am I to make a story about The Doors?” They’re such a very intense group—musically and artistically—I don’t want to just repeat something that everyone else has said. I realized the only real truthful thing I could do was use the footage to tell the story. And if I had any questions, I would actually put my questions in the form of narration.
For example, when I first saw the footage of Morrison wandering through the crowd at the Sugar Bowl, I asked myself, “Does he know how this fame is affecting him? Is he seeking it? Can he live without it?” It’s almost like he was addicted to it even then. Well, I wrote that question into the narration.
SEM: Yeah, I remember Johnny Depp saying that in the film.
TD: I think Depp did a fantastic job with the narration. It was a choice we both made to not to have it be over-exaggerated. What I like about what Depp did is that he kind of becomes a part of The Doors—he’s like a character in the film, observing.
So that was the beginning of my concept. And then, interwoven into it, will be the footage from HWY that serves as a spirit of Morrison. Then one sleepless night this idea hit me.
I remembered I had a shot of Jim driving, and I remember him reaching out and turning on the radio. And I said, “I could put something on that radio, maybe something with Walter Cronkite—135 troops were killed in Vietnam—or maybe it was going to be some wacky commercial.” But then, I said, “Wait a minute…the announcement of Jim’s own death probably first came over the radio. What if I use the footage of Jim driving and he hears the announcement of his own death? And that is how we start the film.
My point is, none of that was in his film—of course, it wasn’t. If people had taken the time to look at that, maybe they would have appreciated the thought and effort that went into that sequence. I took shots from Jim’s film and created that out of nothing. I had Jim Ladd, the L.A. DJ come in and record the announcement. Ladd was one of the first real champions of The Doors, a well respected and musically astute guy.
CITC: So that part was actually re-created. That wasn’t the actual announcement of Morrison’s death?
TD: No, I created it out of outtakes from Jim’s film. By this time I had about a half hour of footage cut together. I showed it to The Doors, and they were at first a little wary. They were like, “How can you make a documentary about The Doors without any of us talking?” But, a day later Ray called me and said, “That opening with Jim hearing his own death is powerful. And the use of only original footage keeps it very intense.” He ultimately gave me his blessing.
And he gave me faith in my idea. Because what ultimately developed through months of just reworking that material—re-cutting and reshaping—was this feeling that you were sort of discovering The Doors like everyone else did that was lucky enough to be around in 1967. There were no talking heads going, “Yeah, I remember this, or I think that’s what The Doors mean to me.” The film presents the band as if they were happening right now, and you had the chance to see them come to life. And then when you leave them, you leave them as they were.
SEM: John and I both felt that we understood what you were going for. And I’m sure you probably told him and the other Doors what you were doing.
TD: I spoke to all three of them at length, privately. At first it was a little difficult for me because I was in awe of them—I was 13 when I first heard The Doors. They still remain kind of like mythical figures to me, and the more I got to know them, the more they became that way.
My biggest regret was that I didn’t get a little more close to Ray because he was very influential in terms of their sound and how the band came together. Yeah, there was conflict afterwards, but when the four of them were together, the combination of the musical ability that each one had was amazing.
SEM: And they were so highly intelligent! I always feel like they are four jazz players improvising at the same time while holding the sound together.
TD: When they came out in 1967, radio was pretty much restricted to AM. Kids were still walking around with those little transistor radios. Because of all the commercials most songs were two-and-a-half minutes long. Well, The Doors’ first album, their first entry into the business, had songs on it that were five to seven minutes long!
Right at the outset, they weren’t thinking in terms of commercialism. When I learned that I felt a much different respect for them. They were just making what they wanted to make in a world that crushes everything into commercialism. The Doors shifted attention to the artistic realm of music. They gave this kind of music credence. They gave birth to the idea that a rock song could be entertaining but also carry great weight and emotional complexity. They were pioneers of music that wasn’t bubblegum, of music that could still carry the sexy power of rock and roll but add another whole element to it: that of artistic depth. If you listen to most of the music from that era today, it sounds corny and silly. But their music still sounds like it was written yesterday. It has grit to it, a kind of dark muscle and mystery that comes from something very truthful.
They believed in the artistic integrity of their music. So much so that Morrison had a vehement reaction against using “Light My Fire” in a Buick commercial. He didn’t want their music to become bastardized, creatively mutilated, or homogenized. And what’s even more incredible is that he defended a song that he didn’t even write!
SEM: Where do you see them in the canon of American bands?
TD: I actually see them as having in their own way as much influence on people’s musical sensibilities as The Beatles, as Elvis, as any of those kinds of movements that change things. They brought something to music—they actually served as an transition from the goofiness of 60s’ crap and the intensity of the punk movement where actual real feelings went back into the music. Yeah, a lot of it was rage or shock value, but still, it was more real than lyrics like, “I’ll see you at the chapel”, or songs like the “Battle of New Orleans.”
CITC: What’s so interesting to me is that, in my opinion, many people don’t see the through line from The Doors to Iggy Pop to Patti Smith, and then into punk. Why do you think that is? Why do you think The Doors get pegged as classic-rock hippies when they are really anything but that?
TD: I think it has to do with the way people see and listen. Most people don’t really see, and they don’t really listen. If you look at their music—take a song like “Roadhouse Blues”—that song has a propulsive and raw drive to it that, to me, is equal to anything being done today. That song sounds like it was written yesterday.
SEM: To me it has all the raw power—excuse the pun—of The Stooges; it’s all there in The Doors.
TD: Nostalgia is a very destructive force. Usually what nostalgia does is that it just crapifies something original and then turns it into Disneyland at its best and stale white bread at its worst. So nostalgia about the 60s has become like Ashton Kutcher—what was that show he did?
SEM: That ’70s Show.
TD: Yeah, he turned that entire decade into frosted flakes. My formative social and cultural stuff happened in the late 60s and 70s. This idea that people our age could have really strong opinions about things and really question authority and come up with a world view that was different from our parents’. It was really exciting. And I felt for a brief moment that it was real. I think ultimately that is where The Doors came from—that they weren’t really of that time; I think they were really ahead of it.
SEM: Right. In the same way The Velvet Underground were. But The Velvets have this cool cache, but The Doors—they don’t have that. This leads to a question about Morrison’s reputation as a poet—the poet-frontman. He’s really gone downhill in terms of his reputation, especially among indie hipsters. People look back at Lou Reed and say, “He was really ahead of his time.” But they don’t look at Morrison; they don’t take him seriously.
TD: Yeah, I don’t think that’s accurate. I don’t have anything against Lou Reed but when you compare him to Morrison…how can I say this? I think Morrison was a real innovator. He broke new ground in a way that had never been done before. But, now you see all these kids going to Morrison’s grave and posting videos of themselves slugging Jack Daniels—that’s what he’s become to them. And that’s kind of tragic because that’s the opposite of what he was. I really do not believe that was what Morrison was promoting. I do believe he was a serious alcoholic, and that’s something that came from talking to his sister and other people that knew him. So for people to take his alcoholism as a philosophical worldview is absurd! He wasn’t promoting that.
SEM: There was a philosophy behind what he was doing—Rimbaud and Blake and other poets and writers. Some critics don’t see him as being an intellectual and a well-read guy; they see him as what Lester Bangs called him: the “Bozo Dionysius.”
TD: I don’t think the Oliver Stone film helped too much. It presented what I felt was a very limited view of Jim.
SEM: Why do think Stone went in that direction? John told me that Stone wanted to do a film on the tortured artist, and he made Jim into an archetypal Romantic figure.
TD: That’s what he did. But, to me it was unconvincing. People rave about Val Kilmer’s performance but I felt something was missing. All you have to do is look at one frame of the real Morrison and you see an imp, a mischievous and very smart guy. Actually, his sense of humor was incredible.
I showed the film in Berlin, and some woman stood up and asked, “Why do you think Jim had a death wish?” I said, “What are you talking about? You don’t know this man. How can you even make a statement like that?” He didn’t have a death wish. I think he had a life wish. Every image you see of him is this guy living life to the max.
SEM: That’s where I think his reading comes in: his favorite philosopher was Friedrich Nietzsche.
TD: He really read that stuff. I think people just saw him as this guy who was a sloppy drunk and was going, “Yeah, everybody just get drunk.” And that is a real misconception. I think there are moments in When You’re Strange that serve to combat that and show what he was really like.
SEM: There’s a sequence of shots in which you show him clowning around on stage. That’s something that you don’t usually see—in all the posters you see this serious guy; you don’t see the clown. That was so much a part of who he was.
TD: That was at least half of his personality, so why would you take out half of the guy’s personality if you were trying to paint a picture of him? He was a very complex person.
I’m talking about him as if I knew him. That’s bullshit; I didn’t know him at all. What I’m saying is just conjecture on my part, but I do know this: every human being is complex and real, and that’s what I was trying to show in this movie—not make him a god or a devil; just make him a human being.
SEM: The way in which you capture the electricity of the band really came across, especially in the sequences where you show Morrison hitting the deck and the band just keeps playing. What was it like to cut the film in a way that captured The Doors as being a vital force?
TD: My goal to only use existing footage was, in one way, liberating, in another way presented real limitations on how to keep the chronology going. That instance came from speaking with Ray, John, and Robby. They told me that when they were on, and when Morrison was on—when he was clear, sharp, and focused—nothing was like the four of them. When they were all together like that and musically connected like that, they all said it was incredible. But when he went off, that’s when they were forced to kind of shock him musically to force him to stay conscious, to stay connected to the song. Sometimes he would just stop a song; sometimes he would just fall down. Fortunately, there was some footage that showed some of that in detail.
SEM: Do you know of any other bands at the time that were that unpredictable on stage?
TD: I don’t. There’s a famous conversation that he had with his girlfriend that I was going to try and get into the film: he had a show at 8:00 and just completely went to the limit to the point of incoherence, and she says, “Why are you doing that? You’ve got another show at 10:00.” And he said, “I could be dead at 10:00.”
I find this so inspiring about this man, and this is what people should be looking at in terms of the excess that they think they understand about him. The excess was a guy who kept pushing towards the edge in every single performance. I think that’s kind of what happened to him—you keep going out there, keep going out there—and the horizon keeps getting farther away. And pretty soon, how can you keep doing that? How far can you go?
SEM: To me, he’s so real in that—and this goes back to William Blake: “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” I think Jim was the only guy who had the guts to actually live it.
TD: You’re right. What was it that made him do that? I look back to his childhood and his father. This man absolutely negated anything of value in his son, and who knows how much that went into Morrison’s own struggle for identity?
I think it takes courage to do what he did. Lots of times people are crippled by what their parents say to them. A lot of people somehow get the information from their family that they have no value, and it cripples them for life. Well, Morrison said—look at him, he left home! He just said, “Fuck you! I’m not going to take that as an answer.”
But I think you’re right, it does take great courage to do that, and he did it consistently, longer than any human being could.
SEM: You talked about listening to The Doors when you were 13. Do you remember that first song, or first moment, that lit you up about them?
TD: I think I first heard “Light My Fire” on the radio—the short version. Then I heard this rumor there was a “long version.” I was in a cheezy little burger joint and they had a jukebox thing that stuck out on the side of the table, and there it was: The Doors “Light My Fire (Long Version).” It blew my mind. It went past two minutes! And it went off into uncharted territory; that instrumental riff keeps flowing and developing, and it takes you somewhere.
That was really my first experience of what I would call “artistic” music. It was outside the norm. I don’t even know how to qualify it. In some ways it’s a little circus-like, it’s a little simple and basic, yet there’s a real mystery to the simplicity, there’s an oddness to it. It felt like very personal music.
SEM: What made “Light My Fire” more artistic to you than a song like “Tomorrow Never Knows” by The Beatles or “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys?
TD: I guess it was the edge of darkness in it. In the way Morrison sang it, the form that the music took, I feel it resonated with some of the trauma that I was going through as a kid and I felt it. It was not bubblegum music—and I’m not saying The Beatles made bubblegum music; I’m a huge Beatles fan—but this music was a little like this band standing off in the corner, in the shadows.
In talking to Ray I found out they didn’t have a bass player, so he was doing these very simple linear bass lines on this new electric piano with his left hand. It was very cyclical, like Middle Eastern or Indian in a sense. And Robby told me he was very influenced by Indian music, and he also introduced that element into their sound with his guitar.
SEM: Well, “The End” in particular is like an Indian piece. It’s mostly a modal drone—one chord.
TD: A lot of people today make music on their computers with loops. You can get a million of them; drum loops, bass loops. Some people just take the same loop and let it repeat for the whole track. Well, The Doors, with Ray playing the bass as well as his keyboard riffs, have kind of that same cool repetition or drone sound in a way.
SEM: Most definitely. I talked about that with John. And I think that’s essentially what’s so elevating and spiritual about their music—even though it’s so dark. It does have that resonance of Indian music that lifts you to a higher plane of consciousness.
So I have to ask, what does it feel like to be a Grammy winner?
TD: The answer to that is directly related to the film’s theatrical release and the struggles that I had with the financiers—in particular, Rhino. There was a guy there who was extremely short-sighted. He made a decision to release the film on DVD at Target. The motivation there was that they were going to make the most money that way. I told the producers I wasn’t going to stand for it. First, I thought it was incredibly disrespectful to The Doors. Second, why would I spend 8 months on a film that got dumped in the bargain bin at Target? This is not a straight-to-DVD film.
It got intense. I got the The Doors to stand behind me and finally Rhino tried to get independent distributors to look at it again. But, since Rhino insisted on holding onto the DVD rights, no distributor wanted to touch it because that’s their security blanket. An independent distributor will spend some money on a theatrical release only if they know that when they release it on DVD, they’ll get their money back. Well, if the DVD rights are gone, no one is going risk their money on a theatrical release. So everybody passed on it.
Then Rhino came up with a plan to release it themselves. So, they put up a release budget of $350,000—that was to cover the entire release, including the cost of the prints, all publicity and the fee of the guy that was going to be handling the “release.” There was so little money they weren’t even going to take an ad out on the day the film was released until again, The Doors and I raised a stink.
But, I knew exactly what was going to happen. I think the film was released really in two cities in the United States—New York and Los Angeles. There was no advertising, nothing. There was no premiere. I yelled at the guy from Rhino—you have three of the surviving Doors here. You have to have a premiere! He said, no.
SEM: So how did PBS get involved?
TD: God, that was the other thing! Rhino made a premature sale to PBS for a little financial security. That did two things: it showed the film on TV before the theatrical release. So, three weeks before the film opened in theatres at least half our audience had already seen the film for free.
It also affected the kinds of theaters that it showed in. First run theatres refused to show a film that had already aired on TV. A friend of mine in Tennessee said, “It’s not even showing in a theater; it’s showing in a library at a university!” People tell me, “Man, you’re just too intense about this stuff.” I don’t think so. I think there was a real opportunity here that was squandered. Not just for me; for audiences and for The Doors. The band deserved a real, quality theatrical release. Audiences should have had a chance to see the film as it was meant to be seen; on a big screen with great sound. And, that never happened.
SEM: That’s how the Grammy people got ahold of it?
TD: I think Rhino’s connections to the music business and Jeff Jampol’s devotion to The Doors brought it to their attention. And, I was thrilled when it won. It was one of the great positive things that came from making the film besides meeting The Doors and immersing myself in their music. This award from the music industry itself, was very meaningful to me. It came from people who recognized the film as a musical contribution that The Doors made, and they recognized the work that went into the film.
SEM: John has this scheme to have it rereleased. Even though it’s on Netflix, he believes it still has yet to be seen in its full glory, on the big screen. Do you agree with that?
TD: Yeah, no one has seen it the way it should be seen. And, like I said, heard. You hear The Doors’ music in this film turned up full and rich through a great sound system and it just blows you away.
That’s the other thing I was going to tell you: I knew that I didn’t want to do just three-second snippets of their songs. So I made a choice to have as many songs as possible play out almost in their entirety.
SEM: I remember the “Light My Fire” sequence, where you can tell it’s an early version—Jim is tentative on the vocals, the band doesn’t sound all that together—but it was really cool to hear that in its entirety, and it would even sound better on the big screen.
TD: Yeah, it takes a little patience but for me it is worth it; especially watching how the band interacts throughout the course of the song. But, in order for the film to be re-released theatrically someone would have to spend money.
SEM: John said that he wants to make it into a project. Within the next year or two he wants it to be released on college campuses, like a Rocky Horror Picture Show kind of thing. Do you think that would fly?
TD: Listen, with the right kind of awareness campaign, I think it would. At least do a week of midnight screenings at two great theatres in NY and LA.
SEM: John and I talked about your movie, and how he thinks it’s the ultimate document of the band, and he wants to get it shown again. And I want to say this: it’s hands down the best rock and roll documentary I’ve ever seen.
TD: Thanks. I think it has something unique to it. Are there things in it I could have done a little differently? Yeah, sure. I wish that I had more freedom with some of the stuff about Morrison and Pam. But there was great sensitivity there from the Courson estate, especially about their daughter’s death. So, I had to make a choice between that and using the HWY footage which was so crucial to When You’re Strange.
I was also in a huge quandary in terms of how I was going to handle Morrison’s going to Paris and dying. You could make a whole movie about that. The decision I made was this: he’s gone. And once he was gone, The Doors were gone. And they all said that—John said that. That’s one of his whole things: without Jim Morrison, we are not The Doors. That’s what he was saying to Ray and Robby. People ask about the theories of how he died. There are thousands of theories. But, I kept coming back to this simple fact; the film is about The Doors; it’s not just about Jim Morrison.
SEM: You do the important stuff. You just end when the band ends.
TD: I made a specific effort to try to really put a focus on what the music was, what made it different, and how each member contributed to it. I felt the film succeeded in that. Some of those shots of Ray playing the bass line with his left hand—and we actually found footage of him doing that—I’m really proud of that. And I’m really proud of the sequence of “Riders On The Storm,” using the Vietnam footage. Ray saw that and said, “Damn it, why didn’t we think of that?”
I went to some of the screenings in New York and spoke to the audience for the first two weekends. The first thing I did was ask, “How many people here read the New York Times review?” And almost every hand went up. And I said, “Well, listen, I just want to thank you for not letting that affect your curiosity. Thank you for coming.”
Many people came up to me afterwards to share their thoughts. This one 15 year old African-American girl told me her father had turned her on to The Doors. She said, “I love this film. I love the music. I’m a huge Doors fan.”
I think the people that get it get it on the level that you get it—it affects them in a very personal way.