Back in 1968, The Doors self-financed and produced a film about that year’s summer tour that was, for various reasons, never completed. Outside of bootleg copies and chunks used in other documentaries, Feast of Friends hasn’t been available in full until now.
Seeing the cinema veritae production all these years later, it’s easy to understand why there’s never been any urgency to officially release Feast of Friends. From the beginning of the project, in the spirit of the times, it was a film without a plan or point. As Jim Morrison said, The Doors weren’t making the film, it was “kind of making itself.” There’s ample evidence of the hit-and-miss filming in the special features on the new DVD. For example, guitarist Robby Krieger told the cameraman, “We’re wasting footage” when he was being urged to come up with some solo songs backstage. In other words, in its raw state Feast of Friends showed many rough edges in a low-quality hodgepodge of music and home movies.
Now, what makes the new release worthwhile is that with modern technology, Morrison’s original 16 mm negative could be restored with corrected colors and mastered in high definition. In addition, original Doors co-producer/engineer Bruce Botnick totally remixed and remastered the soundtrack, apparently drawing from the master tapes for songs released on albums like Waiting for the Sun and The Soft Parade along with the live location tapes reportedly recorded on a portable Nagra reel-to-reel recorder. (“Wishful Sinful” and “Walking Blues” from the latter album are eyebrow-raising choices, as those songs wouldn’t be released until the next summer.)
As a result, we can now hear top drawer music supporting clips of The Doors sightseeing, messing around on the beach, improvising a poem for a small audience, and playing cards in hotel rooms. At this point in their collective career, this was a group without egos, an assembly of equals who obviously enjoyed each other at work and play.
Of course, there’s ample concert footage intercut with both backstage interplay and conversations with concertgoers. For example, early on there’s a Vietnam vet talking about his opposition to the war despite his patriotism. There’s the “Minister at Large” who thinks Doors’ concerts are akin to religious rituals that began 50 days after the Crucifixion. In other words, the Doors created a trippy self-portrait that looks like the work in progress that it was.
Gratefully, Eagle Rock Entertainment and the surviving Doors seemed to realize that, on its own, the 40-minute Feast of Friends wasn’t going to attract much of an audience beyond devoted fans. So they added three bonus features that are much more than the usual interviews of participants recalling what they did all those years ago. First up is the newly produced Feast of Friends: Encore which includes footage shot during the same period as the title film, some of which is longer clips of the same material drawn from the 20 hours of film boiled down into Feast of Friends.
There’s also revealing footage of The Doors in the recording studio, notably showing the process of how “Wild Child” evolved. Encore also includes a newly unearthed bit of a Krieger solo where he sings and strums a little ditty; we hear a second Morrison poetry reading, and we witness a never-before-seen altercation with photographer Richard Avedon telling the crew they weren’t welcome to film him at work.
The next feature is the 56-minute The Doors Are Open, a British TV documentary originally aired on December 17, 1968. The bulk of the show is footage of a performance at London’s Roundhouse which is somewhat hampered by poor miking of Morrison’s vocals. While previously released on DVD in 2002, Botnick remastered the sound that, once again, showcases just how solid the players in The Doors were, notably Krieger’s flamenco introduction to “Spanish Caravan.” Famously, at one point Morrison, dismissive of the song “Hello, I Love You,” lets Ray Manzarek take over lead vocal duties.
Finally, the package boasts The End, a presentation of that song filmed in Toronto, Canada in August 1967, it is believed, and was the band’s international TV debut. At that point, Manzarek tells us, “Light My Fire” wasn’t yet a hit and few people knew who the band was. However, “Light My Fire” had been rising up the charts all summer, although August was a month before the famous Ed Sullivan Show broadcast. Whenever the show was taped, “The End” was filmed for The O’Keefe Centre Presents: The Rock Scene – Like It Is and was later aired in the U.S. in 1970 on a program called The Now Explosion. First released on DVD in 2002, it became credited with being one of the best Doors shows ever recorded.
So the Feast of Friends 147-minute package succeeds at being something more than an artifact of its time. I do think that in the title film and the British documentary, the film makers really strained to make The Doors a political group closely associated with the unrest in America’s streets. While interviews with each of the performers stress they all felt the music was what they were all about, the film makers wanted to add context, and they had a one-note context in mind. In The Doors Are Open, in particular, Morrison was labeled a “politician,” but that word choice was clearly loosely applied. Writing songs like “Five to One” and “The Unknown Soldier” obviously demonstrate a political point of view, but there’s no sign Morrison wanted to run for any sort of office.
Instead, songs like “Moonlight Drive,” “When the Music’s Over,” and “The End” reveal a poetic sensibility, but Morrison as poet is never highlighted. Rather, we hear soundbites from the likes of Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon decrying the lack of law and order in America’s streets along with scattered, and often annoying, footage of riots. As a result, those who weren’t there and are now experiencing the Feast of Friends material without a deep understanding of the late 1960s can be forgiven for not seeing how musicians commenting on their times were allegedly inciting social unrest. To only focus on politics is to dismiss so many other dimensions of the enigmatic music.
All of this means that while Feast of Friends and the other features provide interesting behind-the-scenes footage of The Doors offstage between gigs and spliced in bits of historical context, the heart of it all remains the music. The non-performance material is interesting but not especially revelatory. But the aural enhancements to the performances, especially those already widely available but not this clean and bright, are what is worth the price of admission.
So, for those who already know The Doors well, Feast of Friends will be a welcome and perhaps long wanted addition to your library. If you’re less familiar with The Doors canon, consider this disc a supplementary and not introductory education into what they were all about. Odds are, this will likely be the last Doors release that includes visual footage, as the collection, word has it, includes everything that’s left in the vaults. This could be the end, beautiful friend.
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