Few debut records in the history of rock 'n' roll packed the singular explosive power of the Doors' eponymously titled 1967 album. How could the introduction of Jim Morrison have been anything else? Fueled by the Lizard King's inimitable vocals and the bluesy psychedelia of keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore, the Doors' first LP sounded like nothing else at the time.
The music was raw, exciting and hypnotic, with several of the songs -- most notably "Break on Through (to the Other Side)," "The End" and the No. 1 smash single "Light My Fire" -- becoming classic signposts for an era marked by social upheaval. Eagle Eye Media's "Classic Albums" series spotlights that immortal record in Classic Albums: The Doors, and no fan of the band should miss it.
The documentary combines excellent archival footage with a slew of insightful interviews that range from the surviving band members (everyone but Morrison) to Elektra founder Jac Holzman, who signed the Los Angeles-based group after he was urged on by Love's Arthur Lee. Other interviewees include such musical iconoclasts as Perry Farrell and Henry Rollins, but some of the film's most revealing moments come courtesy of original recording engineer Bruce Botnick, who sits at the control board and gives us a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the making of The Doors.
Evenly paced and consistently interesting, Classic Albums: The Doors is smart and entertaining, and it boasts an appeal that extends beyond the band's faithful. The 50-minute doc is comprehensive without being exhausting, delivering a greater understanding of the collaborative efforts that went into the record's 11 tracks.
Indicative of the approach is the documentary's exploration of "Break on Through (to the Other Side)." It was Densmore's idea to employ a vaguely bossa nova beat for the number, thereby inspiring Manzarek to serve up a Latino flavor on the organ, with a hint of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" tossed in for good measure. "We'd steal from anyone," Manzarek quips. Similarly, Krieger came up with the music for "Light My Fire" after Morrison urged his bandmates to write some songs.
By centering on the quartet's blockbuster debut, the documentary also tells the story of the Doors, beginning with its formation and early gigs at Los Angeles' London Fog and the famed Whisky-a-Go-Go. Manzarek is a gifted storyteller (if occasionally a bit too polished) recounting tales of Morrison's booze-addled unpredictability.
Other memorable insights come from various folks who knew the singer/poet, who died of a drug overdose at the tender age of 27. Poet Michael McClure praises Morrison's lyrics to "Break on Through" before reflecting on his old friend. "William Blake said the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, and William Blake also said prudence is a rich, ugly old maid courted by incapacity," McClure says. "And I would say Jim utterly lacks prudence."
The picture, presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 televisions, is clean, clear and generally solid, but otherwise unremarkable.
The 2-cannel audio mix is sharp and clear, sufficiently showcasing the music of the Doors. Optional subtitles are in Spanish, French and English for the hearing-impaired.
Included are 11 clips of extended interviews clocking in just shy of 37 minutes. Several of the clips are worth a look, particularly Manzarek recounting the Doors' first performance of "The End" at the Whisky-a-Go-Go and Morrison hurling a TV at a window during a recording session.
Many of the anecdotes revisited in Classic Albums: The Doors won't be new to the legions of rock lovers well-versed in the band's lore, but that doesn't slow down this well-made, cogent and consistently entertaining documentary. For even a casual Doors fan, this DVD deserves to be highly recommended.