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(Credit: Tri-Star)

Film

The extraordinary performance of Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison

@Russellisation

As one of the defining American filmmakers of the late 20th century, Oliver Stone articulated the frustrations of a disgruntled youth with the likes of Vietnam war films Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July. Meanwhile, whilst such deep-rooted resentment festered, Stone also elevated the figures who were inspiring a new way of thinking, celebrating the revolutionary American president with JFK in 1991 as well as, on the other side of the coin entirely, Jim Morrison in The Doors. 

An American rock band formed in Los Angeles in 1965, The Doors were known as one of the most controversial and influential groups of the 1960s thanks to the erratic behaviour of the frontman, Jim Morrison. Joining guitarist Robby Krieger, drummer John Densmore and Ray Manzarek on the keyboard, Morrison was regarded as a key figure in the counterculture of ‘60s America when the Vietnam war was a hot topic and the hippie movement was gaining great traction. 

It wouldn’t be until 1991, however, 20 years after the death of Jim Morrison, that Oliver Stone would get around to making his movie about the influential band, releasing The Doors to great commercial acclaim. Much of the film’s praise was directed toward Val Kilmer in the lead role of The Doors’ frontman, an actor who had dedicated himself physically and mentally to the iconic role. 

Long before the release of the film, Stone had been eyeing up Kilmer for the lead role after the actor impressed him in the Ron Howard film, Willow, luckily, the Top Gun star was also keen to take the role. Already possessing a similar singing voice to Morrison, Kilmer spent several thousand dollars to prepare himself for the role, including losing a significant amount of weight and rehearsing music from The Doors every single day. Learning 50 songs off by heart, 15 of which are actually performed in the film, Kilmer also spent significant time with the band’s producer Paul A. Rothchild where they discussed, “anecdotes, stories, tragic moments, humorous moments,” whilst also interpreting the lyrics of Morrison. 

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By the time Val Kilmer had to audition for the role, he made his own eight-minute audition video featuring himself as various iterations of Morrison throughout his Doors career, performing the music so accurately that the band themselves couldn’t tell the actor apart from the real thing. Such led to a fairly straightforward shooting process in which Kilmer did his own singing without the help of a backing track, with only the actor’s endurance standing in the way of his performance, as his singing voice began to quickly deteriorate. 

Having been so wrapped up in the life of the iconic singer for so many years during the production of the film and long before it too, Val Kilmer reportedly needed therapy to recover from the filming process and return to his life of normality. In a somewhat flawed biopic of the sensational American rock band, Val Kilmer stands out as a shining light to Jim Morrison’s legacy, delivering a spellbinding performance that is rarely recognised for its true power and subtle grace.