The Other Side -- A Sly, Honest Ride Through The '60S With `The Doors'

XXX 1/2 ``The Doors,'' with Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan, Kyle MacLachlan, Frank Whaley, Kevin Dillon, Billy Idol. Directed by Oliver Stone, from a script by Stone and J. Randal Johnson. Crossroads, Egyptian, Everett Mall, Factoria, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Lewis & Clark, Oak Tree, SeaTac North. ``R'' - Restricted, due to language, nudity.


About a third of the way into Oliver Stone's ``The Doors,'' Jim Morrison is interviewed for a documentary about his newly formed rock group.

``Name? Occupation?'' he's asked.

``Jim.'' And that's it. Morrison, played by Val Kilmer, says it with the confidence of someone who needs to provide no other explanation or identification.

Insidiously funny and remarkably truthful about the psychedelic rock scene in the late 1960s, Stone's movie has some of that brashness. So does Kilmer, a good actor with a gift for wryness (check out his underrated 1985 comedy, ``Real Genius'') who looks remarkably like Morrison.

Stone's satirical evocation of the period is sharp and genuine. He takes on not only the acid-tripping fervor of Morrison and his cohorts, but the vampiric Warhol party scene and the obtuse backstage politics of ``The Ed Sullivan Show,'' where the ever-sullen Sullivan advises The Doors not to be sullen while his censors attempt to play havoc with their lyrics.

While one agent advises The Doors to soft-pedal their ``dark'' stuff and try to turn out bubble-gum rock hits like Herman's Hermits' ``Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter,'' the group sells ``Light My Fire'' to an ad agency and it ends up as a Ford commercial that is so glitzy-'60s it hurts. While Morrison's girlfriend (Meg Ryan) complains about his drinking, she's even angrier that he's dropped acid prematurely: ``Now you're gonna peak before me.''

It was a messy era, shot through with mind-boggling cultural contradictions, apocalyptic pretensions and premature celebrity deaths. It's Stone's contention that Morrison's much-flaunted interest in chaos and disorder, as well as his determination to turn them into ``something sacred,'' reflects the late 1960s as well as anything. He may be right.

After a montage of images of My Lai, Charles Manson and other horrors, Morrison announces that he's having a nervous breakdown. And who wouldn't? The way Stone sees it, the Persian Gulf crisis is a minor trauma compared to the earth-shaking social convulsions of 20-plus years ago.

In the words of one character, ``I could talk to God on this phone but I don't have anything to say.'' ``The Doors'' may be the only movie about the 1960s that finds its characters' cosmic pretensions both funny and interesting. Is there anyone left who still talks like this? And why not? In its gently mocking way, the movie is quite nostalgic about this stuff.

Using the full CinemaScope frame to create a psychedelic visual style, Stone and cinematographer Robert Richardson throw in a desert orgy that recalls Antonioni's ``Zabriskie Point,'' acid-tripping images reminiscent of ``Altered States,'' and time-lapse photography of eclipses and Fellini-esque grotesquery. Although some of The Doors' music has already become firmly associated with the trippy jungle sequences of ``Apocalypse Now,'' Stone manages to overcome any sense of deja-vu and make his own visual-aural connections.

Adding ``Riders on the Storm'' to the soundtrack during a prologue set in 1949, he hints that a traumatic incident in Morrison's childhood led to his fascination with mortality (``I feel most alive confronting death,'' he announces, and the movie leaves no room to doubt that). ``Light My Fire'' and ``The End'' are expressively used, and so are such druggy non-Doors hits as ``Eve of Destruction'' and ``Heroin.''

Although it's essentially Kilmer's show, the supporting cast is flawless: Frank Whaley, Kevin Dillon and Kyle MacLachlan as the other band members, Kathleen Quinlan as a witchy reporter, Crispin Glover as Andy Warhol, Mimi Rogers as a seductive magazine photographer, Paul Williams as a Warhol PR publicist, Oliver Stone himself as a film-school professor and, of course, Will Jordan as Ed Sullivan.

Like ``Stardust,'' ``The Rose'' and other attempts to chronicle the headlong self-destructiveness of the era, ``The Doors'' can't avoid sliding downhill during the final stretch. But for a movie that runs well over two hours, it's remarkably light on its feet, and it doesn't drag the audience down with its flame-out hero. Even the potentially grim finale is leavened with just the right sly touch.

``When you died, was there enough to base a movie on?'' Morrison asks himself at the beginning. The answer is an unqualified yes.