Posts Tagged ‘alcoholism’

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The Doors is one story of rock icon Jim Morrison, directed and written by Oliver Stone with Randall Jahnson.  The film combines historical recreation with shamanistic mysticism weaving in and out like threads of a dream.  This is, in my opinion, one of Stone’s best films alongside JFK.

The Doors movie is a pack of lies.”
-Ray Manzarek

Ray Manzarek, The Doors’ late keyboardist, greatly disliked the film, and he called it a “powder movie,” implying that cocaine was more of an inspiration than were psychedelics.  He also disliked Val Kilmer’s portrayal of fallen rocker Morrison.

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The band’s initial formation was linked to psychedelic experiences in the mid 60s, and that is a plot point in the movie.  The band’s name is itself an allusion to a psychedelic awakening and is taken from a William Blake quote about the “doors of perception.”

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

Obviously a reference to Plato’s Cave in there.  We are the blind, deaf, dumb slaves and only through opening these doors of perception can we realize our full lives, our potentials, our true places in the universe.  These were the kinds of ideas that drove Jim Morrison.  These themes reappear in his songs and in his personal journey.

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With such a controversial story, the principal character long dead, the survivors fighting with the director for their own visions it’s amazing the film got made in the first place.  Robbie Krieger, John Densmore and Patricia Kennealy all served as advisers on the Stone film, however they did complain that Stone went his own way much of the time.  The historical accuracy of the film is challenged, but this is a fictional portrayal of a very mystical character.  “The Lizard King” was not your typical subject, and I’m not seeing that the inaccuracies greatly changed the public’s perception of Morrison.  He did, in the end, kill himself with heroin.  He was known for excess and bouts of outrageous behavior.  If the specifics changed somewhat for dramatic effect and through the fog of memory and time, the main thrust does not seem to have been significantly altered — to me anyway, but then again Manzarek was there.  The most formidable detractor of the film has been the Doors’ keyboardist.  His main beef is the concept of “sensationalism.”

“What are the poems about? And man, they’re about much further out stuff than the sensationalism going around now, the sensationalism of the Oliver Stone movie.”

Is this a valid critique?  Did the film gloss over the more esoteric and provocative ideas of Morrison in favor of sex, drugs and rock and roll?  Perhaps so, but a two hour poetry reading just doesn’t work either.  Balance is key, and Morrison’s verses without the edgy sound of the band would have gone nowhere.  This marriage of intellectual and visceral is part of the terrain.  What is sensationalism?  Is it a real thing?  Does it actually exist?  Or is it more of an opinion that someone was expecting one thing, and got something else instead?

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Ray Manzarek also complained loudly about Oliver Stone’s presentation of Jim Morrison:

“Jim with a bottle all the time. It was ridiculous . . . It was not about Jim Morrison. It was about Jimbo Morrison, the drunk. God, where was the sensitive poet and the funny guy? The guy I knew was not on that screen.”

Excess and wild behavior are more cinematic, but the idea that Morrison wasn’t presented sober and with emphasis on his words and ideas is false.  Much screen time is devoted to the early period, Morrison’s poetry, acclimation to stardom and interviews.  Manzarek was biased before production even began and refused to talk to Kilmer or anyone involved on the project after talks with director Stone broke down.

As a first-person eyewitness, however, Ray Manzarek is not shy about Morrison’s legendary excesses:

“Jesus Christ, at the fucking University of Michigan homecoming with the football players, Jimbo took over and Jim was simply not able to perform. It was so bad that John and Robbie left the stage. I picked up a guitar and played some John Lee Hooker kind of stuff hoping we could get through at least something and Jim was just drunk as a skunk berating tuxedoed guys and gowned, coiffured girls who had come to hear the band with that hit song Light My Fire and instead they get The Dirty Doors. It was like a tragedy, man. (laughs)  We got banned from the Big 10.  The letter went out.  Never hire this filthy, dirty, disgusting band ever again.”

Robbie Krieger:

“When the Doors broke up Ray had his idea of how the band should be portrayed and John and I had ours”.

Stone’s talent for combining various film formats and looks that signify different time periods and subplots works fantastically to deepen our understanding, or at least our appreciation for, Morrison.  This is, however, not a happy tale, and everyone already knows how it ends.  That kind of hurdle can kill a lot of films, as suspense is somewhat diminished.  But The Doors lived on, and Morrison lived on past his own demise and to this day.  The movie attempts to show why.  The band arguably changed rock and roll forever, and they did so in the most turbulent period, the late 1960s, dragging music from corporate plastic prefabricated product into the realms of mystery and psychological aggression.

Stone makes movies for grownups, and the material is blunt, sexual, edge of the law and beyond.  He isn’t restrained by the usual Hollywood sensibilities, pandering to 13 year olds and the producers who think like them.  He presents the facts, and he presents the interpretation of the visions taken from Morrison’s works and interviews.  Stone attempted to expand the consciousness of the film beyond what is in front of the camera and to tie it to the age, the shifting culture – all very difficult to do.  Some were unconvinced, or perhaps they misunderstood the intent, but Stone out on a ledge is far more interesting than most directors’ straight bio-pic.  Keeping with Morrison’s own intent, to cleanse the doors of perception, Oliver Stone approached the material from every conceivable angle, to subvert preconceptions.  That’s a very Morrison thing to do, and it should be appreciated as such.

The surviving band members have since put together a documentary, When You’re Strange (2010) from old documentary footage.  Manzarek is highly pleased with this portrayal.

When You’re Strange: The End

 

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I’m going to have to buck the trend on this one and say it’s really not much of a movie.  For some reason the critics are lavishing praise on this little relationship ad-lib, but it’s very light on the movie moments.

The film is notable for its complete lack of a script, throwing the actors in front of the camera without a guide and letting things unfold in real time.  This technique is bold and different and ultimately doomed to fail.  Actors fumbling around to develop a scene isn’t all that compelling to me.  Perhaps if the stakes were higher, the situations more dire, real threats, grit, it might have had potential.  As is, this film just sort of panders to drunken 20-somethings.  I hate pandering.  I hate obvious attempts to relate to audiences.  It’s so cheap and pathetic.

I do, however, love Olivia Wilde, but in this role she is rather repulsive.  The opening has her overly accommodating, an object told not to do much to challenge the menfolk.  It’s obvious to the point of irritation.  Later she’ll grow some.  Snore.

Every scene of the film has them drinking designer beer.  It’s the 20-somethings drinking expensive beer movie. The drinking gets old pretty fast, and the specific scenes are banal more than extraordinary, or:

“…just like a night of heavy drinking, it’s something you’re not likely to remember.” -Moira MacDonald (Seattle Times)

 

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Readers probably suspect that I like my low-budget indie comedies, when they work.  Who doesn’t, really?  Throw in Sookie, Anna Paquin, and of course I’ll take my chances.

But writers should pay attention to the first five minutes of Straight A’s, and how to really introduce a character.  Ryan Phillippe steals this show, as crazy and charismatic as he’s ever been.  It’s a family dramedy with that dark sheep crazy uncle, but this one out crazies your uncle in all likelihood (but not mine).

I really did laugh a lot through the film, and the ending is gripping and well done.

What I didn’t like was the blinding overexposure, probably from blowing out the sensor on the Red camera.  I noticed within 5 minutes the clipped highlights and it irked me.  Probably most people don’t notice, but I surely do.  The extreme brights are where film shines and most digital cameras fail. That may be changing (Arri Alexa is top dog right now for digital), but it’s a limiting factor right now.  I wish more lower tier filmmakers actually cared about this issue as digital overexposure really does degrade the image, and yet is correctable with neutral density gels and compensating through lighting.

 

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Reviewing Flight (2012) has compelled me to think back and acknowledge where some real self-destruction and cinematic genius had coalesced. Sid and Nancy is as good a place to start as any.

Based on the real life of Sid Vicious, the bass player of The Sex Pistols, we see how raw and unhinged addiction, the music industry and love can all be.  Throw them together and it’s a ride you won’t soon forget (unlike Denzel’s public service announcement for AA).

Roger Ebert was a big booster for the film:

“[Sid] was handed great fame and a certain amount of power and money, and indirectly told that his success depended on staying fucked up. This is a big assignment for a kid who would otherwise be unemployable. Vicious did his best, fighting and vomiting and kicking his way through his brief days and long nights, until [Nancy] Spungen brought him a measure of relief.”

It’s a fascinating descent into complete shyte.  These two, playing off of one another, expose the senselessness of their reckless ideology, its self-destructive mandate.  On a spiraling death plummet, but not without an original stain on the pavement, Sid and Nancy live forever in infamy.

 Trailer From Hell: Sid and Nancy

Other selections in the sub-genre include Johnny Depp’s Blow, a fantastic modern history of the drug trade and one of his most underrated films.  The allure of prohibition is more than just substance addiction.  Drugs have been a thorn in the side of society for so long, and their outlawing provides for a significant underground economy, including the predictable wars and mayhem associated with avoiding capture and prosecution, the creation of warlords and the casualties produced with increasing territory and profit margins.  People get caught up over their heads in so many ways.  Blow is also based on a true story, and Depp’s range is on display here.  Speaking of Depp, what’s a more mind-bending drug fueled descent into madness than Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?

While Blow tackles cocaine, the larger problem today is arguably crystal-meth.  Spun is a twisted indie take on that menace, and also underrated / unknown.  Powerful performances, powerful situations, and the filmmaking is sharp as a shiny new hypodermic.  Spun is an experience, a trip to take, much like Requiem For a Dream.  There are just so many great drug addled explorations once that Pandora’s Box is pried open.

Yet another addiction drama with a twist is Rush, with Jason Patric and Jennifer Jason Leigh.  Undercover narcotics officers get hooked on their own contraband.  The lines between law and outlaw are blurry indeed.  Denzel’s previous drug film Training Day also explored that territory.

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Clicking on the Sid and Nancy imdb page instantly prompted me with Oliver Stone’s The Doors, which is another groundbreaking intense exploration of addiction and self-destruction – and pretty much true, and significant.

Others in this genre include Less Than Zero, with Robert Downey Jr. and Bright Lights, Big City with Michael J. Fox.  I’ve given a nod to The Wackness with Ben Kingsley, and even Charlie Bartlett (Downey again) had more complex characterization than Flight.

Perhaps the crème of them all is Phillip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly.  Mind bending exploration of addiction, prohibition and the images are presented like no other film you would have seen (except perhaps Waking Life).


If you watch all these films, you will instantly see why Flight comes up so banal and inconsequential by comparison.  It’s relegated itself to the cheap, disposable dustbin of obviousness and even preachiness.  Flight is far too simplistic and simple-minded to bother talking about any further.

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A big, edgy PSA for Alcoholics Anonymous?

I finally caught Flight, the much talked about Denzel Washington vehicle.  What stuck with me most is the thinness of the character, his one dimensional alcoholism that infects pretty much every scene of the movie.  Rather than adding sufficient complexity and making the story seem more real, the incessant drive for alcohol and self-destruction sort of makes the plot obvious and predictable.  The one-dimensional label may be inaccurate, as “Whip” has at least two dimensions: he’s a spooky talented pilot as well as a self-destructive alcoholic.

We never get much background on either situation however.  Other than the expected interpersonal problems, Denzel’s alcoholism doesn’t seem to grow out of anything in particular.  His upbringing and development are non-existent.  As for his flying skills, there is one passing throwaway line about being in the Navy at one point.  And?

What helped make the film work for audiences was a unique in-flight emergency.  The plane fails in a spectacular fashion, and only the most radical, insane maneuver can save it.  As for the technical details, I’m not at all sure they got that right either, as every system on the aircraft starts failing at once without adequate explanation.  Be that as it may, we’re sold on the radical maneuver, the incredible flying and the big save – of most of the passengers.  A few die in the crash.

This plane crash centerpiece reminded me instantly of another film, one that did affect me: Fearless (1993).  In Fearless, Jeff Bridges walks away from a devastating plane crash without a scratch, and the survivor’s guilt is so powerful that it changes his entire life on the psychological and even on the physical level.  A magical realism elevates the film to another plane, a magic that is nowhere to be found in Flight.

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Flight is more of a character study.  But the character they’ve concocted is pretty much a dead horse, except for the flying sequence.  So, is this a movie of the week that got lucky and spiced up with sex and drugs?  You tell me.

Another film that comes to mind of a broken character, an alcoholic drug abuser with complexity, and an interesting story line is Postcards From the Edge (1990).  This was Carrie Fisher’s (Princess Leia’s) “semi-autobiographical” novel transformed into a feature film featuring Meryl Streep like we had never seen her before.  Postcards shows a struggling alcoholic trying to be a better person, much like Flight, but the tone is comedic and spontaneous, and not so suffocating.

So many stories have centered on human frailty and trying to overcome one’s demons that the field is always open to another contender, if it can shine a light where one hasn’t poked before.  I don’t think Flight does so.  Perhaps it comes close, but no spliff.  The plane incident does not provide sufficient novelty in my opinion to elevate this story to a place among the best of them.  Denzel’s performance is expectedly compelling, but I don’t think the material was sincere enough.  It had a paint by numbers, cynical undertone that grated on me and left me underwhelmed.

The litmus test: I could watch Fearless or Postcards again and again, but have no desire to revisit Flight.


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