The Doors
Feast Of Friends
(Eagle Vision)

It's Spring 1968, and The Doors are one of the most celebrated rock groups in the United States: sold-out concerts attended by large crowds, albums and singles high up in the charts, a following that unites the "underground" audience and those young girls in love with Light My Fire who keep on their walls a picture of Jim Morrison, the group's singer and "poet in residence" whose sex-appeal can still move large sums of money today, more than forty years after his death.

Summer 1968 will be a good one for the group, their new album Waiting For The Sun shooting up to #1 (their only album to reach that position), just like their new single  Hello, I Love You (their only #1 after Light My Fire).

So it was only logical that somebody thought of making a movie, a "road movie", a "documentary". Sure, today the idea doesn't sound like much - technical progress having accustomed the multitudes to the concept of filming stuff on the street on their phones, with decent technical results - but in those days the whole thing had a flavour of "cinema vérité". Whose idea it was we don't know for sure, accounts dramatically varying with the passing of time (not the only time: a whole book wouldn't be enough to give an account of those quite different explanations about why those horns and strings were added to the songs featured on The Soft Parade - many different reasons being given by the same person!).

The material, as they say, was there. Both Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, the group's keyboard player, had got their film degrees at UCLA, Los Angeles, just like their classmates Paul Ferrara - who at the time was the group's official photographer - and Frank Lisciandro. It was decided that Ferrara would shoot the scenes, with group friend Babe Hill recording the sound via a hand-held microphone. Coming on board as an assistant, Lisciandro would edit the movie, which entailed the time-consuming task of synchronizing the sound (the only concert to be professionally filmed and recorded being the one held at The Hollywood Bowl).

In its definitive form, the documentary - about forty minutes, from the twenty-three hours available - features material shot from April to September '68. Whether the film was really "finished" is something we'll never know for sure. What we know is that Bill Siddons - the group's manager - and The Doors had a look at the expenses and decided to pull the plug (the fact of concerts being cancelled after Miami didn't help). Feast Of Friends had its first public showing in May '69, later appearing at various Festivals (I still remember the rumours about the movie to be featured at the 1969 edition of the Venice Film Festival).

Those are the facts.

As it could be expected, Feast Of Friends is a fiasco. But - as I'll argue in a minute - it's the bonus material featured on this new DVD-V that makes it a required purchase even for those who are not such big fans of the group.

Feast Of Friends shows the many faces of the group "on the road": in transit, in their dressing room, on vacation on a boat. A relaxed, professional atmosphere, in striking opposition to the concert excerpts: mayhem, the audience shouting, people trying to jump on stage (in this respect, those scenes filmed at the Singer Bowl are especially impressive), policemen doing their job.

The main minus point of Feast Of Friend is an "external" one: the movie being about half a century late. Though quite disjointed and not particularly revelatory, if shown at the time the movie could have been useful in making it possible for audiences who lived far from the events to see what it was all about with their very own eyes, direct information at the time been quite scarce. (I understand that this is a point that's particularly hard to grasp for today's "globally interconnected" audiences.) The fact of seeing quite familiar scenes appear in a movie one has never seen before doesn't help, a circumstance that's due to the habit of cannibalizing some of the best scenes in Feast Of Friends in order to make other releases look better.

Bonus material #1 of this edition of Feast Of Friends is something titled Feast Of Friends: Encore. Thirty minutes that don't add much, with the choice of having songs that were still to be recorded at the time those scenes were shot appear in the soundtrack adding a touch of incongruity. There's one fine episode, though, showing the group, their producer, their sound engineer, and their session bass player, all in the studio, rehearsing and recording Wild Child (these are not the same scenes that appear inn When You're Strange), an episode that'll prove to be quite interesting for those who like this stuff.

Last bonus on the DVD-V, a version of The End recorded in Canada for TV: a fine performance, fine images, but we've already seen this one before.

The main point of interest here is the first appearance in its speed-corrected - and so, pitch-corrected - form of a legendary movie: The Doors Are Open, also known (since those days of vinyl bootlegs) as Live At The Roundhouse, from the name of the London theater where the concert was filmed, on September 7th, 1968.

The fact of The Doors touring Europe - there were dates on the Continent, too - was big news at the time, so Granada TV decided to film one of their London concerts. According to reliable sources, The Doors Are Open was the first movie of this kind totally dedicated to just one group to air on UK television.

The film - in black & white, about 52' - shows the group playing on stage, various interviews with group members, and scenes such as the Doors arriving at the airport from the USA, alternating with scenes of protest riots and political rallies, and US politicians talking, the Vietnam war looming in the background. The producers' decision to present The Doors as a group quite similar to The Jefferson Airplane was quite logical and bizarre at the same time: The Doors were not a "political" group, but it's understandable that - as seen from the UK - the group's "counter-cultural" dimension was seen as being politically "in opposition".

In this respect, I wonder whether today's audiences will be able to give names to those faces appearing on screen. I had no trouble recognizing Lyndon Johnson, who at the time was President of the United States. Richard Nixon, who will be President in a short while. California Governor (and future President) Ronald Reagan. The mayor of Chicago, Daley (famous for the riots, and the song composed by Graham Nash). And a General I saw quite often on TV at the time I was a boy, whose name I remember as Westmoreland (with or without the "e"). Other faces I didn't recognize.

A brief technical note. A restored edition with excellent visual clarity and sound, this edition runs at the correct speed, some previous editions, also those excerpts featured on The Doors: Live In Europe and When You're Strange running slower (about 4,27%, I'm told) than they should, due to an erroneous transfer from PAL to NTSC format.

Songs performed in the movie are: When The Music's Over, Five To One, Spanish Caravan, Hello, I Love You (a soundcheck performance without Morrison, Manzarek on vocals, the group live sound engineer Vince Treanor holding a microphone), Back Door Man (with part of Crawling King Snake), Wake Up (from The Celebration Of The Lizard), Light My Fire, and The Unknown Soldier. Audience recordings from the time attest that Break On Through, Alabama Song, and Love Me Two Times were also performed, but they are not featured in the movie.

What makes this concert different, and better? Perfect performances where energy and musicality go hand-in-hand. Maybe the fact of appearing in front of an audience they didn't know - sympathetic, sure, but culturally "different" - made the group go back to that "stage" proximity they shared at the time of the concerts at The Matrix, before Light My Fire became such a great hit.

Two adjectives appear to me as the best ones to describe the music played by The Doors at that time: "tense" and "sinister", both qualities being quite apparent here. Two adjectives that to me perfectly describe The Doors on stage are: "concentrated" and "deeply connected", and in this respect John Densmore's close-ups while playing speak volumes.

All perform admirably: Morrison at his best, Manzarek as a man-orchestra, Robby Krieger going from one style - and a role - to another with such ease and finesse, John Densmore demonstrating why his professional occupation - as declared in the scene showing the group arriving on English soil - is: "percussionist".

Hoping that a knowledgeable restoration work such as the one applied to The Doors Are Open will benefit another chapter in the history of The Doors: the TV special shown in 1969 on PBS in the series titled Critique, featuring material from The Soft Parade that the group rarely performed in concert.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2014 | Nov. 17, 2014