It’s been nearly 40 years since the death of Jim Morrison, but the surviving members of the Doors, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and percussionist John Densmore have kept soldiering on, playing in various reformations (Densmore has, for the most part, largely declined to partake) of the ground-breaking band. The meteoric rise of the band, during Morrison’s brief stint, is chronicled in the new documentary, When You’re Strange directed by longtime indie stalwart, Tom DiCillo (Johnny Suede and Living inOblivion).
Manzarek has openly called the film “the true story of the Doors” and the “anti-Oliver Stone,” in reference to the 1991 bio-pic The Doors, starring Val Kilmer. I spoke with Manzarek via telephone to get his input on the film, Oliver Stone, his relationship with Morrison, and his upcoming East Coast tour (including a Boston stop) with Krieger as Manzarek–Krieger (with former Fuel front man Brett Scallions filling Morrison’s large shoes).
So how did the project come together?
Dick Wolf, the TV producer. He was a big fan of the Doors and booked the Doors when he was in college a long time ago. So he’s been a Doors fan ever since, and he came to us and said, “Let’s make a documentary.” He had won an Academy Award with a documentary short about two firefighters who died during 9/11 [Twin Towers, 2003] and he wanted to make a feature and hired Tom DiCillo, a guy who had made documentaries and did well at Sundance. So we talked to Tom and he had a lot of great ideas, especially the whole shamanic thing with Morrison driving in his car and hearing about the death of Jim Morrison. It was something Tom wanted to cut back to [in the film]; Jim Morrison coming back to Los Angeles even if he was dead, or is he? [The footage was from a short film Morrison made during the recording of L.A. Woman, the Doors last album with Morrison]. I thought it was an in interesting idea.
Where did all the great archival footage come from?
We have it all in a vault at the office. We’re down the hall from the Eagles and they have tons and tons of tape. The footage was shot by Jim and I and one of our buddies from the UCLA Film School, Paul Ferrara, and we’ve had the footage ever since we started shooting it, right after “Light My Fire.” So it’s been sitting there, it just hasn’t been used in quite some while.
In that short, was the voice on the radio, saying that Jim was dead, something that Jim did for his movie or something Tom added?
That’s something Tom put in.
I’ve read several remarks about how you have been displeased with the Oliver Stone film, The Doors.
Oliver Stone is the anti-Doors. Oliver Stone’s movie makes Jim out to be an alcoholic, drunk weirdo; a strange poet totally out of control and you never see the intellectual side of Jim Morrison. You never see the wit, the charm, the elegance. You never get a sense of the real poet. You see a crazed Jim Morrison. Don’t forget the next movie Oliver Stone made, what movie did he make after The Doors?
No, Natural Born Killers.