Film Noir and The Doors

The Doors - Strange Days
Cover of The Door’s album Strange Days

As a child of the 60s, my favorite rock band is The Doors. The band’s innovative music and the dark subterranean lyrics of Jim Morrison never cease to enthrall me.  In previous posts I have featured lyrics from the band’s last album LA Woman:

At this year’s Sundance Festival, veteran feature-filmmaker Tom DiCillo will release his first documentary, When You’re Strange (2009), which documents the LA band’s rise in the mid-60s.

In an interview on SPOUTblog, DiCillo said: “I’ve always, always been turned on by music, and by film. The Doors’ music is extremely cinematic. Their music is very dense and highly emotional. It deals a lot with character, and blood, murder and a lot of crazy things.”

Ray Manzarek, the band’s keyboardplayer, agrees that The Doors were inspired and influenced by cinema.  Both he and Jim Morrison came out of the UCLA film school. “That’s where we became friends”, Manzarek said, “We’re definitely cinematic.” Morrison and Manzarek took film classes taught by director Josef von Sternberg.  Manzarek said von Sternberg inspired many of The Doors lyrics regarding moral ambiguity and dark eroticism.

15 thoughts on “Film Noir and The Doors”

  1. Hey Tony,
    As something of a child of the 60s myself (I was born in 1955), my favorite band was also The Doors. I discovered them a little late, the first album of theirs that I owned was Waiting For The Sun, their third. I loved Morrison’s baritone, so unlike all the other rock singers back then. And you’re right, I also loved the cinematic quality of their music, darkly romantic without being overtly Goth. I remember how it was that I discovered their music, it was from an article in Life magazine that had Martin Luther King on the cover. Reading about revolution excited my young adolescent mind, and The Doors were espousing it the same as so many others. Looking forward to seeing DiCillo’s documentary, thanks for bringing it to my attention. Also, both Scorsese’s Who’s That Knocking At My Door? and Coppola’s Apocalypse Now utilized The End in their soundtracks, which tells me that they also thought The Doors were aurally cinematic. Oh, and one last thing: Musically, as a kid, I went from The Monkees to The Doors. Quite a leap, eh? And lately, for as much as I’ve been interested in checking out Von Sternberg, I’m definitely going to have to take the plunge now. My only problem with The Doors’ music nowadays is that I can’t listen to them like I used to, since I played their stuff INTO THE GROUND back then.


  2. Thanks Guy for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

    I was born in 1953, and I was 14 when I first heard Light My Fire on the radio – I was hooked. Coincidentally, the first Doors album I owned was also Waiting for the Sun! That album’s cover and the moody nostalgia of songs like ‘Summer’s Almost Gone’ appealed to my budding adolescent angst. That album also revealed the softness in Morrison’s voice in songs that are almost ballads. In an episode of the excellent documentary series Classic Albums, on the band’s first (self-titled) album, Ray Manzerak refers to the ballad quality in Morrison’s voice, and reveals Morrison was a fan of Elvis and Frank Sinatra! In the band’s first studio session, Morrison was stoked to learn that he would be using the same make of microphone used by Frank Sinatra – shown in that iconic photo of Sinatra singing into a studio mike… And yes Guy, that opening shot in Apocalypse Now with The End on the soundtrack is one of those very special moments in cinema.


  3. I’d read about Morrison’s admiration for Presley and Sinatra many years ago, but I’ll have to check out the Classic Albums doc you mentioned. I recently saw von Sternberg’s Last Command, and his Underworld, on the big screen here at the Detroit Film Theatre (an extension of The Detroit Institute of Art), with the Alloy Orchestra. One of his that I’m dying to see, though, is The Scarlet Empress, the stills I’ve seen and the things I’ve read really have me looking forward to it. The Last Command was outstanding, the score created for it really enhanced the experience of seeing it. As a youth of thirteen, fourteen, I would put my cheap stereo close to my head when I went to bed at night,and I’d go to sleep to The Doors and wake up to them as well, the stereo would play through the night (quietly though).


  4. Wow, it’s really amazing that both Morrison and Manzarak took classes under Von Sternberg! It’s surreal! I count myself as a fan of this iconic American rock group (maybe consider them the greatest in USA rock history) as well, as I also grew up with them, born in the same year as Guy Budziak. My own favorite Doors song is the rock ballad “Touch Me” (from ‘Soft Parade’) with the breathlessly gorgeous transitional stanza(s):

    “Im gonna love you, till the heavens stop the rain
    Im gonna love you
    Till the stars fall from the sky for you and I
    Im gonna love you, till the heavens stop the rain
    Im gonna love you
    Till the stars fall from the sky for you and I”

    Ah, the priceless memories that song brings back, as well as “Light My fire,” “Love Her Madly,” “People Are Strange,” “Riders on the Storm,” and of course “Strange Days” and “L.A Woman.”
    I had read about Morrison’s love for Presley and Sinatra, Guy. But there’s no denying of the cinematic relevence of their music and lyrics, and this is a glorious post. (ex. Von Sternberg’s influence of “moral ambiguity” and “dark eroticism.”

    So guys, what do we think of Oliver Stone’s THE DOORS? Are we fans?


  5. Sam, I would also say that The Doors was the greatest US rock band, and I would go further and say of all time. Their music is quintessentially of it’s time yet beyond it: the lyrics are poetic milestones, and the melodies and musical innovations as fresh as ever. Listen to The Doors with quality earphones and you will rediscover a world of infinite permutations. Also their live act was raw and unpredictable, and included many rock and blues standards.

    To be honest I have avoided Stones’ biopic, just as I have avoided the movie bios of Elvis and Johnny Cash. Jim Morrison, Elvis, and Cash, were larger than life, and no movie can do justice to their personas, their music, or their angst.


  6. As Tony and Sam know from past discussions at Coleman’s Corner, I love The Doors. They are one of the few bands for whom I become defensive when they are attacked by someone who clearly does know what they are talking about. (See? There I go already.) Everything Tony, Guy and Sam say is inarguable–The Doors’ equally moony and moody melodies, the poetic lyrics, the atmospherically subterranean attitude of their music and the singularly cinematic quality of their work, all combine to create, at the very least, one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

    As I likewise expressed in the “W.” thread over at Coleman’s Corner, I am no fan of Stone’s “The Doors.”


  7. My musical tastes have taken a lot of twists and turns since the late Sixties. In the early Seventies, after Morrison was gone, I got into the best of the Glam era, Bowie, Lou Reed, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, Iggy, The Velvet Underground, Nico, then in the late Seventies it was Punk and New Wave. I was pretty selective, but what I liked I liked a lot. As for biopics of bands and musicians, I’m not a big fan either. I don’t much care for Val Kilmer as it is, in the Doors film or any other for that matter. I did get a kick out of seeing Crispin Glover as Andy Warhol though, he’s such a nut, but in a way that I truly enjoy. I have been to see some concerts in recent years, but those already mentioned, Roxy Music (twice in the past ten years), Iggy and The Stooges (again, twice, I won free tickets the second time), as well as The Pixies, The Breeders, Ray Davies (I read that Morrison was also a Kinks fan, some say the riff from Hello I Love You was a lift from All The Day [And All Of The Night]). I also became a fan of Elliott Smith after hearing Needle In The Hay in the film The Royal Tenenbaums, his album From A Basement On The Hill is a masterpiece. And I love Johnny Cash’s music, especially the last four Rick Rubin-produced albums he made late in life. My enthusiasm for music these days takes a back seat to my love of film, but I haven’t turned my back on it totally. Yesterday I was listening to a Radiohead concert and a new album by a band called Animal Collective, both from the NPR Music site on the net. The latter sound much like The Beach Boys when they went psychedelic, incredible harmonies. Oh, one last thing, if you listen very closely to the very end of Touch Me, you’ll hear these words: “Stronger Than Dirt!” Swear to God, just like the old TV commercial for Mr. Clean. It’s there, check it out.


  8. Well ,Tony, I will say this: The Doors are high up on my list of favorite bands, and i can’t blame anyone who puts them on top. The Beatles would be tops for me, with the Who the runner-up. After that the Doors, the Stones, and the Beach Boys next in no certain order. Needless to say I was utterly fascinated by the fantastic comments here from Alexander and Guy! This is a great thread.


  9. I too love the Doors. What do you think of the fact that many music critics (particularly those tilted more towards the punk scene and wary of sixties bombast) disparage the Doors as over-the-top? My response has always been yeah, but so what? And I don’t buy Morrison as completely un-ironic in his morbidity; not that it was a put-on either.

    Though The Doors has the most famous songs, I’d say Strange Days is their best, most interesting album, it’s got a marvelous sonic quality and overarching mood (and you gotta love the cover art).


  10. Thanks MovieMan. Morrison was a mad beat poet and yes his live act was over-the-top, and as you rightly say, so what! His irony was in-your-face but deeply profound:

    Cancer city
    Urban fall
    Summer sadness
    The highways of the old town
    Ghosts in cars
    Electric shadows

    from Poems – The New Creatures (1970)

    The recent live albums reveal his humor and that he was not above self-parody. His most resonant outburst for me at a concert: “I don’t know about you but I’m gonna get my kicks before the whole shit-house burns down…”.


  11. As most of the people that leave comments on this webpage, i was not born in the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s. I am 17 years old and really enjoy music by the doors. I mostly listen to music from the 60’s and 70’s, and one of my favorite bands would have to be the Doors. I love the pure poetry and life that Jim Morrison puts in his songs,a Lyrical genius. Out of the many many songs the Doors made my favorite would be between “Queen of the Highway” and “People are Strange”


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