In 1968, the Doors decided to chronicle their life on the road and commissioned a crew to document their in-progress tour. The band would produce the project itself; singer Jim Morrison and keyboardist Ray Manzarek had met at UCLA's film school, so they reached out to some of their old campus cohorts. "We had some of our film-school buddies follow us around and shoot," says Doors guitarist Robby Krieger. "The idea was to make a documentary, a cinema verite kind of thing. [Jim and Ray] were all hot on the new kinds of movies that were coming out in the Sixties." According to Krieger, Morrison wanted the project to be a free-form, anything-goes look at the group, onstage and off. "He would say, 'The film is making itself.'"
Unfortunately, the film didn't actually make itself — titled Feast of Friends, the project was abandoned, overbudget and, in the wake of Morrison's 1969 arrest for indecent exposure in Miami, left unfinished. After a few festival screenings, the movie was shelved. It's been bootlegged among Doors fans for years, and the band has used its footage as raw material for music videos and other projects. But it's never seen a wide release — until now. A new DVD edition features footage dramatically cleaned up from its 16-mm source, and its 39 minutes have been augmented with 34 minutes of outtakes (plus a British documentary on the band from 1968). "It's a document of a time," says Doors drummer John Densmore.
The disc features the Doors doing an epic version of "The End," with Morrison improvising part of his monologue based on a grasshopper he spots on the ground; the singer trying to fight his way through a wall of white-shirted security onstage in Cleveland so he can interact with the audience; the group recording "Wild Child" in the studio with producer Paul Rothchild; Krieger and Morrison improvising songs while hanging around backstage; the whole band doing ordinary activities like riding the monorail to the Space Needle in Seattle. "I hope that people who have seen the Oliver Stone movie see this one," Krieger says, "so they'll see how Jim really was."
In one memorable sequence, the Doors are captured in the middle of playing cards — Krieger says it was a game he taught the rest of the group called "Three-Thirty-Three." According to Densmore, the card game they favored on airplanes was called "three-card monte" (not the street con). "A total bluffing game," Densmore says. So who was the best bluffer in the band? "Oh, you know, Robby was full of shit."
Many scenes show the Doors floating through mainstream society of the day, clearly not belonging. "We were definitely different from most people in those days," Krieger says. "Now everybody looks the same. I guess we wanted to be different. Sometimes it got us in trouble: One time we went to a restaurant and there were some Army guys there, and we got into a big fight with them, just because of how we looked. That was actually here in Los Angeles — you'd think that wouldn't happen in L.A. We were the only ones in town with long hair, pretty much."
The main crew on Feast of Friends were cameraman Paul Ferrara, soundman Babe Hill, and editor Frank Lisciandro; one UCLA pal who helped out for a while was a carpenter named Harrison Ford. In one outtake, you can see the future Han Solo wandering into a shot. "I didn't have much contact with him," Densmore says. "He was just lurking around with the camera equipment. He's a nice guy."
I had an inkling that [Morrison] was charismatic and different, but I didn't know that it was a death pact.
Although neither Densmore nor Krieger attended film school, they both speak positively of how it influenced the band. "All of us loved the marriage of visual with sound," Densmore says. Krieger, for his part, declares that "Ray and Jim both had cinematic minds. I know Jim got a lot of ideas from films. If you listen to some of the songs, a movie comes into your head — at least it does for me." Asked to cite an example, he names "Soul Kitchen": "Of course, it helps that I've been to the real Soul Kitchen — this cool restaurant where people sat around, got high and ate great soul food."
For Densmore, seeing Feast of Friends now evokes "memories and a little bit of sadness for Ray and Jim." (Manzarek died in 2013, Morrison in 1971.) He particularly cites a scene where the whole band is on a boat, looking innocent and sun-kissed. He reminisces about Manzarek's musicianship, and how he managed to be the band's keyboardist with his right hand and play basslines with his left hand. "Man, what a gift! Bass players and drummers are sort of pals, cooking the groove in the basement. What if Ray's left hand and my feet didn't sync up? There wouldn't be any Doors!"
Discussing Morrison, Densmore says that he wishes he had known "that we were in a band with a crazy kamikaze. I had an inkling that he was charismatic and different, but I didn't know that it was a death pact."
Watching Feast of Friends footage today, Krieger wishes he had gotten a better haircut. "One writer said that I had the worst hair in rock & roll," he recalls ruefully. (He still has most of it, although it's white now.) He has conflicting feelings about the scarcity of Doors video, claiming that The Doors R-Evolution DVD from last year pretty much cleared out the band's vaults; the guitarist wishes there was more, but knows that the rarity makes what exists more precious. Back when the movie was first cut together, he confesses, he found it "kind of boring." With a laugh, Krieger says, "One good thing about living a long time — you can go back and stuff appears different than it was."