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The Doors: Break On Thru - A Celebration of Ray Manzarek

Doug Collette By

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The Doors
The Doors: Break On Thru -A Celebration Of Ray Manzarek
Trafalgar Releasing
Palace 9 Cinemas, South Burlington, VT
February 12, 2020

The Doors: Break On Thru -A Celebration Of Ray Manzarek, lives up to the spirit of its subtitle. In the course of the film's roughly ninety minutes, director Justin Kreutzmann efficiently interweaves the main concert footage with interviews of the various participants plus vintage archival video in such a way the late keyboardist and founding member of The Doors receives his just and joyous due. In fact, by the time this movie is over, his presence looms almost as large as that of his deceased band mate, vocalist Jim Morrison.

And there's a certain poetic justice in that. Especially in the years following the latter's death, Manzarek was one of the staunchest advocates of the so-called 'Lizard King." But there's also more than passing significance in the conception of this tribute as a collaboration between drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robbie Krieger: notwithstanding the belated nature of its organization, the star-studded show held at Los Angeles' Fonda Theater in 2016 represents a rapprochement between the two surviving members of the iconic quartet.

As Densmore somewhat uneasily references late in the quasi-documentary (not yet commercially available in physical or digital form), these once and future collaborators were once so seriously at odds, they wound up in court [see The Doors Unhinged (Percussive Press, 2013) for greater detail]. But with the help of Doors management, family and friends, he and Krieger reignite their friendship and chemistry during the course of the concert as well as the assembly of this piece of cinema. It's a process ultimately rendered all the more moving because their respective instrumental styles quickly become so readily recognizable during the course of the performance.

The camera work overseen by Kreutzmann, son of Grateful Dead drummer Bill, is essential to that end. As Densmore and Krieger accompany a number of guests, the combination of stage shots, interview segments plus video and photos of the Doors in their heyday occurs in time with the progression of the show. None of those transitions are much longer than it might have taken for the revolving cast of musicians to assume their positions, so Break On Thru moves at a surprisingly rapid clip.

As a result, A Celebration... never loses the momentum of the concert in whose honor it was originally held. And that holds true even as, on an almost subliminal level, the film morphs into something of a capsule history of the formation and evolution of the Doors. As such, the film reaffirms both the musical and philosophical sway the late Manzarek held over the group, a factor both Densmore and Krieger are quick to point out and fully acknowledge. The arrangements of classic Doors material like "Moonlight Drive" aren't altered appreciably for the rotating cast, yet such selections are more than a little telling too because, as the show proceeds, choices such as "Riders On The Storm" and "Light My Fire," prominently feature keyboard work, respectively by Rami Jaffe of Foo Fighters and Nathan Wilmarth, a self-acknowledged student of Ray's musicianship.

It helps that everyone involved stylishly acquits him and herself (as much so as Palace 9 with its balanced depth of sound in the designated theater). In that light, Dead Sara's Emily Armstrong may be the most memorable lead vocalist as her mix of abandon and authority on, of all tunes, "Back Door Man," comes closest to truly invoking the spirit of Morrison. But others in that place, such as Foo Fighters' Taylor Haskins and the more theatrical Andrew Watt, never fall prey to self-consciousness. Instead, each in their own way demonstrates the significant influence the Doors' frontman continues to wield over the role, now almost a half-century since his passing in Paris.

What might have been serious digressions in the movie turn out to be important placements of context. Journalist Ben Fong-Torres' recollection of an impromptu interview with Jim Morrison dovetails with his latter-day sit down with Manzarek, while the multiple contributions of X's Exene and John Doe (who sings "Riders On The Storm") highlight Ray 's extended production work with the seminal punk band: their rapid-fire take on "Soul Kitchen" is as illuminating in its own way as an offering of their own material in the form of "Nausea." There is nothing superficial about the execution of this project, quite the contrary in fact, so not surprisingly, only the most healthy sentimentality pervades this dual endeavor.

The worldwide screenings of the movie (of which the Vermont multiplex was a part, on behalf of a small but rapt audience) coincide with original scheduling of the concert on what would've been Manzarek's 81st birthday. And with some proceeds from each occasion donated to research into the cancer disease from which the man died, nostalgia, such as it is, takes the form of pragmatism. That said, the group singalong on that aforementioned first hit of the Doors' in 1967 is woefully misconceived: over and above the one stage crasher unceremoniously escorted off by security, a good third of those populating the stage are clearly out of place during this closing of the show as it originally took place.

Fronted by Gov't Mule's Warren Haynes, a fervent rendition of "When The Music's Over," brings the movie to a more proper and dramatic closing, even with closing credits rolling over portions of it. A periodic cover by the guitarist-vocalist's band, this offering features the most extended improvisations of the night— between he and Krieger—while Densmore's presence at the kit (more often than not supplanted by Jane's Addiction's Stephen Perkins) signifies the bonds new and old revivified via Break On Thru: A Celebration of Ray Manzarek.

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