Feast Of Friends (DVD-V)
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.
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).
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!).
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
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).
are the facts.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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 2014
| Nov. 17, 2014