December 11, 2014

Feast of Friends


THE DOORS’ ONLY SELF-PRODUCED FILM, RELEASED FOR THE FIRST TIME — and a new book about Jim Morrison — offer fans a new look at the Los Angeles rockers

by Harvey Kubernik~

A never-before-released documentary film about the Doors, produced by the band, Feast of Friends, has finally been released commercially after
45 years.

Shelved due to lead singer, Jim Morrison’s legal issues, the uncompleted film was only ever seen at a few film festivals and was never completed. Eagle Rock Entertainment, the largest producer and distributor of music programming for DVD, Blu-Ray, TV, Audio and Digital Media in the world, and Doors Property, LLC have painstakingly remastered the audio and video and compiled bonus footage as well as an historic British documentary called The Doors Are Open.

In April of 1968, filming began for what would become the first and only film produced about the Doors, by the Doors. Funded by the band and helmed by friend and fellow film graduate Paul Ferrara, the footage shot for this film would become the well from which the majority of future documentaries and music videos about the band would utilize.

Paul Ferrara thought it was a great lyric to use for the title. Other than a few appearances in film festivals the following year, an official release of Feast of Friends would never be seen. Until now.

If not for a poor quality bootleg copy circulated among collectors and eventually via the Internet, the film’s existence would have scarcely been known beyond the circle of devoted Doors fans.

doors-group- shot

By many accounts, the original source of that bootleg is thought to have been Morrison’s own copy, which he hand-carried when he relocated to Paris in 1971 after recording what would be the Doors’ final album. Concealed in a paper bag and forgotten at a friend’s house, Morrison would never reclaim it, as he passed suddenly in July ’71.

Feast of Friends offers a cinematic look at the Doors on the road during their summer ’68 tour. Whilst never truly completed, as the production monies were abruptly cut due to the band’s political problems stemming from Morrison’s arrest in Miami, the film provides a stylistic approach in true ‘60s cinema verite style.

The film is comprised of concert performances which are intercut with fly-on-the-wall footage of the group in their natural habitat – playful, sensitive, chaotic and touching. Other than a few bookings in film festivals during 1968, this is the first official release.

Completely restored from the original negative, Lisciandro helped supervise the edit the film with input by Morrison, the film has been color-corrected and mastered in high definition with the soundtrack totally remixed and remastered by long-time Doors co-producer/engineer Bruce Botnick.

Along with the full version of Feast of Friends, this revealing release contains three important bonus features. The first is Feast of Friends: Encore. A newly produced feature using footage shot for Feast of Friends, Encore is a complimentary piece that provides a deeper look into the life of the band during this period as they tour, record, travel and even vacation together. The program avoids the typical selection of hits and makes use of the Doors’ rare recordings to accompany this unreleased footage.

Encore showcases the band’s recording process as The Doors record one of their biggest hits, “Wild Child. ”Viewers will follow the band as they break from touring to sightsee, play poker in their hotel room and witness an unedited interaction with Jim and the “Minister at Large” who attempts to determine “just what the hell it is (they’re) doing. ”Fans will also see a newly unearthed solo backstage performance by a singing Robby Krieger, a poem by Jim Morrison (while, in the background, you can hear Ray Manzarek’s piano work on “Love Street”), a never-before-seen altercation with legendary photographer Richard Avedon, a tranquil scene of Jim and his friends at peace in the cool waters of the Kern River.

Next is The Doors Are Open — A British TV documentary that originally aired December 17, 1968, focused around the band’s performance at London’s Roundhouse, which took place just days after the completion of filming for Feast of Friends. Interspersed with the band’s music are intense scenes from the Vietnam War, political leaders, and riots back in the States. The Doors Are Open highlights the political relevance of the Doors’ opinionated lyrics and iconic sound while giving context to the tumultuous times in which they were living. Although previously released, the film has suffered from numerous sound and picture quality issues. Now the image quality has been dramatically improved and the sound has been transformed by Bruce Botnick to be as true to the original live sound as possible.

Also included is The End — a feature that was filmed in Toronto, Canada in August 1967. This performance of “The End” was for The O’Keefe Centre Presents: The Rock Scene – Like It Is.

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It was originally broadcast October 16, 1967 in Canada, and August 1, 1970 in the U. S. as part of a musical program called The Now Explosion. The selection has an introduction by Noel Harrison and later interviews by John Densmore, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek and Doors’ former manager, Danny Sugerman. This might be one of the best examples of the Doors ever captured on film.

Earlier this century, I conducted an interview with Ray Manzarek who acknowledged the influence the UCLA School of Film and director Josef Von Sternberg (The Blue Angel, Marocco, Shanghi Express) had on him. Von Sternberg’s teachings informed the Manzarek and Morrison wedding of cinema and music.

“He’s the guy who really kind of gave a real sense of darkness to the Doors, not that we wouldn’t have been there anyway. But having Josef Von Sternberg seeing the deep psychology of his movies, and the pace at which he paced his films, really influenced Doors’ songs and Doors’ music. The film school is always there. Our song structure was based on the cinema. Loud. Soft. Gentle. Violent. A Doors’ song is again, aural, and aural cinema. We always tried to make pictures in your mind. Your mind ear. You hear pictures with the music itself. The concerts were an extension of the audio document. It was not yin and yang. One was an extension of the other. ”

“There’s one really significant fact about the official release of Feast of Friends: It’s the only movie made about the Doors, and there have been dozens in one form or another, by the band itself — everything else has been produced, edited and distributed by other parties,” suggests Doors’ scholar, Rob Hill.

“In this sense, Feast of Friends is exactly how the band saw themselves in 1968. From the spring to the end of summer the band was followed by a film crew as they toured America: getting on and off airplanes, sightseeing on the streets, interacting with fans and acolytes, and, of course, performing on stage.

“Although the film is mainly an abstract cinema verite series of starts and stops with no real narrative structure — the opening scene is Morrison and journalist Albert Goldman sitting in the back of a limo that deposits Morrison at the back entrance of a concert hall where he is mobbed be female fans that paw and kiss at him as he bashfully saunters on in his cobra skin pants; then sharply cuts to the band boarding a monorail in Vancouver; another scene has Morrison talking to a pastor backstage which then bleeds into the band swimming in the Kern River in California; then to the band onstage playing “The End” at The Hollywood Bowl — the intimacy is clear both on and off the stage.

And that’s because the film was shot by Morrison’s college buddies, Frank Lisciandro and Paul Ferrara, while his closest confidante and favorite drinking buddy, Babe Hill, helming the sound (which, at times, is almost in audible or overdubbed).

And, most importantly,” Hill continues, “Morrison was heavily involved with the editing of the movie along with Lisciandro and Ferrara, even putting up his own money to finish it after the band lost interest and wanted to pull the plug. ” (Morrison rented a small office in West Hollywood near the Doors’ offices so the filmmakers would have a place to work. )

If you feel a sense of deja vu while watching film, well, there’s a reason for that: Almost all the footage of The Doors used in videos, compilations, documentary’s and YouTube vignettes, have been mined from Feast of Friends, piece by piece.

“Seeing it in its whole, however,” counters Hill, “with the color-correcting and sound remixes, is a rush; it was one of the very first of its genre — the rock documentary — naive, experimental and not commercially conscious. But the real gems for hardcore Doors’ fans are the extras, the long lost treasures from the cutting room floor, which are almost certainly some of the last unseen footage of The Doors: The band showing up for a photo shoot at the famed photographer Richard Avedon’s New York City studio for Esquire magazine and Avedon throwing a hissy fit, rushing the camera and telling them they can’t film, his hand finally covering the lens; the band sightseeing on Seattle’s Space Needle; Morrison improvising on a piano in the bowels of an Arena they are waiting to thrill (after he’s done tickling the keys he looks at the camera with a sly smile and says, ‘How’s that for a shit eating grin’); the camera following a leather-clad Morrison into a backstage dressing room where he recites poetry while holding a still photo of himself on stage at the Fillmore East.

In short, the extras are a more humanistic, naked and less conscious look at the guys — young men at the height of their success — playing jokes, horsing around and interacting with their fans.

In various interviews Morrison himself called the film a ‘poetic documentary’ and a ‘fictional documentary’ that he hoped would leave the audience ‘puzzled.’ In any case, it’s a nice package for any Doors’ fan trying to wrap themselves around the ever-expansive and debated mythology of the band. ”

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For any fan or student of the Doors, highly recommended is the book Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together by author/photographer Frank J. Lisciandro that was published in early 2014 by Vision Words & Wonder LLC. 55 photos inside 392 pages of personal accounts culled from conversations with 14 interview subjects.

Frank Lisciandro is a documentary filmmaker and photographer. He also attended the UCLA Film School with Jim Morrison and Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek, and later collaborated with Morrison on his two films — Feast of Friends and HWY. A close friend and confidante of Jim, he was the co-producer of the Grammy-nominated album, An American Prayer, which featured Morrison’s spoken word poetry with musical backing by the three surviving Doors.

In 1982, Frank released his first photo book, An Hour for Magic, which featured more than 100 photos and personal anecdotes about his work, travels and friendship with Morrison.

In the late ‘80s, on behalf of the Morrison Estate, Lisciandro went through the vaults containing Morrison’s personal writings and co-edited two volumes of previously unreleased Morrison poetry for Villard Books: Wilderness (1989) and The Amer-ican Night (1990).

Lisciandro has made more than 25 documentary films and shown his photographs thoughout North America and Europe.

The seeds of Jim Morrison: Friends Gathered Together were planted on an otherwise mundane Saturday in 2011 when Lisciandro, while looking for something else in his studio, stumbled upon a box that contained audio tapes, floppy disks and transcripts of the interviews he had conducted with Morrison’s friends more than 20 years before.

“As I re-read the transcripts, I found a lively and wide-ranging discussion about Jim Morrison and, surprisingly, an oral history of the turbulent times and glittering city that gave rise to a music revolution in Los Angeles,” writes Lisciandro in the book’s introductory chapter. “Most of the people I interviewed were themselves active participants in the West Coast arts scene: musicians, concert promoters, publicists, filmmakers, band managers, and poets. It became clear that these interviews needed to be published in their entirety in a format and fullness that respected their documentary and historical significance. ”

“For the forty plus years since his death people have asked me, ‘What was Jim Morrison really like?’ And despite all the books, docs and articles that have come out about him, people still ask me the same question,” Lisciandro reiterated to me in October, 2014. “I finally realized that these fans know that the information they’ve been fed doesn’t match what they feel about Jim. They’ve read Jim’s poems, listened to his music and seen his smiling face in films and they know that he wasn’t the drugged-out fool that the media (and those that feed it) has largely misrepresented him to be. When they ask me ‘What was he like?, they’re looking for a Jim they can recognize, a Jim they can identify with, a Jim they know intuitively is not the myth the media & its friends have created.

“My new book contains the honest testimony of 14 people who knew Jim, worked with him, saw him day after day; and their words confirm what his fans have always know: Jim Morrison was a creative, intelligent and humane person and a good friend.”

To retain control of the content and look of the book, Lisciandro chose to self-publish. “I’m pleased to be able to put these transcribed interviews in your hands, and hope you enjoy the detailed historical tapestry they weave.

“In these pages Jim is candidly revealed by the people who knew him, who were his pals, colleagues, mentors and lovers. You’ll find funny stories, secrets revealed and truths more start-ling than any of the distortions spread during and after Jim’s life. By weighing the observa-tions of those who knew him you can reach your own conclusions. ”

“Like a lot of myths, there’s a lot more to Morrison’s story than ever got told, especially the parts that made him a human being,” volunteers Rob Hill about Lisciandro’s intimate study of Jim Morrison.

“The press is in the business of helping manufacture new gods only to soon blow them apart. Luckily Frank Lisciandro, who first met Jim Morrison when both were students at UCLA’s film school, interviewed a dozen of the singer’s close friends and co-workers in an effort to present the full picture of just who Jim Morrison was. That this book succeeds so thoroughly is mostly due to Lisciandro’s devotion. He lets his subjects go deep, and isn’t afraid of including it all. Some might sense a high dose of repetition in the interviews, but for anyone who ever wanted to know who the real Jim Morrison was, start right here. ”


One Comment

  1. Donna Emery

    I have been screeching with silent excitement (don’t want to wake the neighbors ! )the entire time while reading this article about the MOST ANTICIPATED, SOUGHT AFTER, BOMB DROPPING moment in the history of ROCK AND ROLL,.. THE RELEASE OF THE DOORS PERSONAL DOCUMENTARY …FEAST OF FRIENDS!!!!!!!!!!!! As all hard core Doors fans know, this labor of love film has been tantilizing our imaginations since we’ve known of it’s existence !! Teasing us for literally decades !! With only bits and pieces baiting us over the internet and other films, notebly,When Your’e Strange., But now, to see it in it’s entirety, from delicious beginning to please don’t let it EVER END!! Im about to explode with eager excitement , happiness and most of all sincere gratitude and undying thankfulness to none other tnan FRANK LISCIANDRO for keeping JIM MORRISON alive for all of us who never had the priviledge of seeing him live and the deep respect and admiration you so clearly and dearly have for such an awe inspiring, sensitive, generous, talented, non-materialistic, beautiful human being who gave us his ALL , asking nothing in return. Every book of yours, from “An Hour For Magic”, to your most recent, “Friends Gathered”, have been the most honorable, dedicated, deeply intimate portrayal of the Jim Morrison no one ever thought existed.I know Jim now because of you. His integrity, true spirit, and true legacy was sealed the day he met you! I can’t thank you enough for your genuine, loving tribute to your great friend and my FAVORITE POET, SINGER, SONGWRITER, PERFORMER, VISIONARY. CAN’T WAIT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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