Judge Jeff Robbins can't believe it: Jim Morrison drank?
"Vince, don't let Jim take his pants off."—Doors road manager Vince Treanor recalling a pre-concert request from Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek.
While Jim Morrison: His Final Hours is certainly watchable, it does not "Break On Through" as a serious investigation into the events of July 3, 1971, the day that the Lizard King's life reached "The End." And if you thought those song references were cheesy, you need to check out this documentary's self-described "high-end dramatic re-enactments."
Facts of the Case
Trying to escape his rock and roll image that made him an unwilling sex symbol, Doors singer/songwriter Jim Morrison escaped to Paris in March 1971 in hopes of concentrating on writing poetry. But only four short months after he arrived, Morrison would be dead. Jim Morrison: His Final Hours looks at the events of Morrison's last day alive.
If there is one subject that people are fascinated by that doesn't have anything to do with Taylor Swift, it's death.
People are particularly fascinated by celebrities who die young, largely because it feeds into the "price of fame" mythology that makes those of us living uninteresting lives feel a bit better about our own humdrum existences.
The trouble is that death, even when it happens to a celebrity, isn't usually that interesting. Like the general population, only a few, like Jayne Mansfield or Marvin Gaye, really die in a shocking manner. Thankfully, life does not imitate torture porn movies.
That leads us to the main problem with Jim Morrison: His Final Hours, a hour-long documentary that originally aired as part of the Canadian series Final 24, a show that weekly examined the last 24 hours of a celebrity's life.
Whether or not you are interested in The Doors and their music—and I consider myself a casual fan—there is no doubt that lead singer and chief songwriter Jim Morrison was a fascinating guy. And there's no doubt that the official cause of his death—heart failure at the ripe old age of 27—has been and probably will always continue to be the subject of some debate.
But what is usually accepted as the agreed-upon circumstances surrounding Morrison's death—he died while taking a bath in his Paris apartment on July 3, 1971—is considerably ho-hum.
Having your life end in a tepid bath may be unglamorous, but it is riveting stuff compared to the account of the singer's final 24 hours as presented—with the help of "high-end dramatic re-enactments"—here. If we are to believe this documentary's account, Morrison spent his last few hours on earth strolling through the streets of Paris with a friend, doing some shopping, bringing some firewood up to his apartment, and taking in a Robert Mitchum film with his girlfriend, Pamela Courson. Oh, and he had a killer case of the hiccups.
He also snorted some of Courson's heroin (which author Danny Sugerman, not a source for this documentary, believes Morrison thought was cocaine), a decision that ultimately proved fatal.
Since Morrison's actual final 24 hours make a typical Wednesday night at my house seem engrossing (there's no heroin snorting, but between my three-year-old and seven-year-old, there's usually one head-scratching, balls-to-the-wall meltdown a night) what Jim Morrison: His Final Hours does is spend the vast majority of its runtime on Morrison's life story.
While viewers looking for new details on Morrison's death may be disappointed to find so much old information about Morrison's life (which would be understandable, given the DVD's misleading title), incorporating the material is not a horrendous decision. The people interviewed, including biographer James Riordan, journalist Ben Fong-Torres, a former road manager, and a former record executive, are knowledgeable. (Although the less seen and heard of famous groupie Pamela Des Barres, the better.) Moreover, since the recent Doors documentary When You're Strange contained absolutely no interview footage, these sections of Jim Morrison: His Final Hours can be seen as a decent companion piece to that superior film.
Unfortunately, it speaks to the unauthorized nature of this program that none of the surviving members of The Doors—all of whom have been quite happy over the last forty years to exhume Morrison's memory to anyone who would listen and/or pay for it—are interviewed about their former band leader.
That Jim Morrison: His Final Hours is not an inside job also means that actual Doors footage is rare here (though the producers did a fine job assembling archival photographs), forcing producers to include even more of their "high-end dramatic re-enactments."
Playing Morrison, actor Christian Skott is no Val Kilmer; whether "performing" in the studio or walking in Paris, Skott's range of emotions are limited to a singular look of detachment, which could be interpreted as an aloofness or as disgust at smelling an extraordinarily rancid fart.
Though given less screen time, the "actors" portraying the rest of The Doors aren't any better, as they are given little to do outside of literally shaking their heads at Jim's latest drunken antics just as Family Ties's Steven Keaton might do after listening to his son Alex's latest Republican-infused diatribe.
Besides the laughable nature of its re-enactments, Jim Morrison: His Final Hours also suffers in the translation from television program to DVD release. While the program's many re-starts might have proved useful to viewers settling back in after a lengthy commercial break, on the DVD the constant reminders that "Jim Morrison moved to Paris to escape the rock lifestyle and earn a fresh start as a poet" are extremely annoyingly repetitive. Also unnecessary are the frequent and ominous intonations from the narrator that "in x number of hours, Jim Morrison will be dead."
In addition to the swiftness of much of the Morrison biography material (those who found Oliver Stone's 1991 film ponderous will undoubtedly prefer the pace of this program), what works here is the documentary's last few minutes, during which alternative theories of Morrison's death are given unfortunately too little screen time.
Here we are told that some believe that Morrison may have died of a drug overdose at a popular Parisian night club, whose owners, in a successful effort to prevent being linked to such a high-profile death, had Morrison's body quickly and secretly brought back to his apartment. We're also informed that for many years Morrison was thought to have faked his own death in an attempt to completely escape his rock star past, though this theory—admittedly silly to begin with—is thoroughly discredited by Riordan.
Finally, we are presented with the possibility that upon finding his body, Courson may have delayed getting Morrison medical attention, choosing instead to call her heroin dealer first to apprise him of the dire situation happening in her apartment.
Indeed, if there is a villain in Jim Morrison: His Final Hours, it is Courson, who is portrayed as little more than a junkie; road manager Vince Treanor calls Courson "the worst influence on his life." Unfortunately, Courson is not able to defend herself against such charges, having died of a heroin overdose in 1974.
While its use of archival footage and photographs means that the video quality of Jim Morrison: His Final Hours varies, the newly-produced interviews and re-enactments look great. Considering that there is little of The Doors' music included, the clear and crisp mono audio utilized here is fine.
Disappointingly, there are absolutely no bonus features included on the DVD release of Jim Morrison: His Final Hours; given that this program was originally edited down to fit into a one-hour broadcast timeslot, there is probably at the very least some worthwhile interview footage that had to be cut for time. Sadly, none of that is incorporated here. The main program is broken up into six chapters, corresponding to the segments of the original broadcast.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It could be argued that the lack of interviews with Morrison's former band mates is not crucial since none of them were with him in Paris when he died. It could also be argued that the "high-end dramatic re-enactments" are at least a different way to tell a story told often enough before in other higher-profile, more "inside" productions. Unfortunately, no one else interviewed was with him in Paris when he died either, and no argument could justify the silliness of this program's re-enactments, especially when Jim Morrison: His Final Hours obviously wants to be taken quite seriously.
Jim Morrison fanatics are likely going to be offended by Christian Skott's one-dimensional "portrayal" of the Lizard King, but some with a more casual interest in Morrison and The Doors may find Jim Morrison: His Final Hours a breezily entertaining way to spend 48 minutes. But for anyone looking for a 2010 Doors DVD to check out, When You're Strange is an easy recommendation over Jim Morrison: His Final Hours.
If Jim Morrison isn't turning over in his grave over Other Voices and Full Circle, albums that the surviving members of The Doors recorded after his death, Jim Morrison: His Final Hours might be enough to send him spinning. Guilty.
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