Friday, May 13, 2011

Twentieth Century Fox

All the colors faded to black and white before they returned, brighter and more brilliant than before. From the floor came a voice.

“Ray, you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz, haven’t you?” asked Jim, an earthen vision in brown corduroys and t-shirt.

Ray thought he heard someone speak in a muffled walrus sound. He sat on the couch, under an Indian bedspread, unmoving. Time had stopped.

“Whoa. Do you feel it Jim?” Ray spoke, starting his own conversation. “This is great shit.”

“Where did you get it?”

“World’s Biggest Drug Store!” They erupted into a paroxysm of laughter, reveling in the reference to Huxley.

Jim returned to his own line of thought. “Well, you remember how it all starts in black and white, maybe sepia, I don’t know. Then, but then, when Dorothy’s house crashes and she opens the door, everything is incredible, the colors, like, they jump out of the screen.”

Ray wasn’t listening, stuck in his own head. “It’s like the end of 400 Blows, you know. When Doinel is at the beach, locked in the frame, frozen for all time.” It had been four hours since Ray had sucked his LSD-laced sugar cube until it dissolved and he was so tired.

Jim was anything but lethargic. His energy was without bounds, and when he talked about movies, or literature, there was no stopping him.

“Do you think everything was in black and white back then? It’s like, you know, you never see things in color from 30 years ago?” Jim was sprawled out on the Oriental rug, looking off into space beyond the ceiling, some of Ray’s film magazines strewn at his side.

He’s an interesting cat, I gotta give him that, thought Ray. Ever since the two met at UCLA, both enrolled in film school, sharing classes, he was intrigued. The guy was smart, though strange. He knew every book he’d read by heart, wrote poetry, made movies, had wild ideas.

“I’m pretty sure things have been in color forever, but I never thought about it.” Jim could be right, couldn’t he?

“When I was back in Florida, there was a person there who put me in a movie for Florida State. It was a gas. I had to walk to the mailbox, and read a rejection letter. I had a scene with some old square. I had to ask him, uh, ‘What happened? How come my parents didn’t look ahead?” Jim emitted a snide chuckle.

“Is that why you decided to study film?”

“Ah, no, man. That wasn’t a movie, it was a commercial, man, a warning. I wanted to make movies, movies that say something, you know.”

Ray had seen Jim’s student film. It was crazy, man, wild. It had no plot, something about a stag film, and hand puppets. There were Nazi storm troopers, some broad’s ass jiggling as she walked, the sounds of balling and kids chanting in the background. Oh man, the professors hated it. Everyone hated it. Ray thought it was pretty good, though it was clear Jim knew nothing about editing or camera work.

“Film is where it’s at, Ray. You know that - Kurosawa, Fellini, Truffaut. They’re for real. They know, man, they know what’s going on. Even tripping we were both thinking of movie scenes. It doesn’t get more real than that.”

“Hey, did I tell you about this cat I met at my meditation class?” Ray and his girlfriend Dorothy were hip to the TM scene, attended talks by the Maharishi himself. “I was talking to this guy, John, he’s a pretty good drummer, and I mentioned the 400 Blows. He cracked up, man, thought it was about blow jobs or something.” Ray laughed; Jim didn’t.

“I’ve been thinking about a film I’d like to make. It starts with me swimming in a quarry, waterfalls surround me. I get out of the water and dress, and, I’m walking alone. It’s very quiet and I’m walking through jagged stones, desolate, immaculate. Then I’m hitchhiking in the desert but no one will give me a ride.”

It didn’t sound like much of a movie to Ray. Where was the story? Jim was in a trance-like state, watching the weird scenes playing in his head.

“Then I talk about the Indian workers, you know, from that truck accident. I’ve told you that story, about the Indians scattered all over the highway, bleeding. I must’ve been around four years old, I think, looking out the window my parents’ car, redskins lying all over the highway. I felt like the soul of an Indian, leapt into me while I was locked in the car.” Jim paused dramatically. “I tasted fear man, for the first time.”

Jim went on.

“Then there’s an old junked car half-buried in the sand and, and, I come out of it. Finally a car pulls over to pick me up, but, this’ll blow your mind, there’s no driver. I’m the driver! You get it? And, and I’m driving down the highway, just me, no one else for miles around, only desert and mountains.”

Ray didn’t get it. “I don’t see the point. I don’t know, it sounds kinda boring to me.”

“Oh, no, it’s not boring, not boring at all,” Jim was on a different plateau now.

“Well, it’s, you know, come on, it’s obvious. Then I’m at a service station, or a truck stop, looking at the magazines, spinning the paperback book rack, around and around. There’s a dog bleeding on the highway, wailing a sad mournful cry. But I’m back in the car, bopping along, screaming for it to stop, you know. It’s in my soul, it takes me over. So, OK, so then, I drive the car in circles, spinning the tires, kicking up dust. Then I’m jumping up and down with these kids, but I’m really in the car, driving. It was like, it was a vision. Then it’s night and I’m reading a map by headlight, trying to figure out where to go.”

“Where?” asked Ray, hoping this would lead to something interesting.

“I don’t know that’s not important. I’m searching, you know, on a quest. Next scene, it’s morning, and I need gas. You know where I’m headed? Joshua Tree. That’s what the attendant says. You see?” Jim points to his temples.

Ray lit up a joint and took a long drag. He said nothing.

“But I don’t go there. Now I’m headed into L.A. through different neighborhoods, Chicano, white, black. Lots of cars, a long way from the desert, right. Houses and palm trees, like a dream. I go to Venice, lots of freaks and old people. Then to Hollywood, the Strip. Gradually day destroys the night, but it’s not like night in the desert, when I was reading the map. Oh no. It’s noisy, horns honking, traffic rushing by, music in the air. I’m in a phone booth, telling someone I’m back in town from the desert. Just a regular conversation, as if nothing happened.”

“But nothing did happen.” Ray was lost. Or Jim was crazy.

Now Jim sat up and stared deeply at Ray. He began to yell.

“Listen man, you got a problem? Don’t you see? It’s spiritual, it’s deep. I killed someone out in the desert! And I don’t care. It was the guy who gave me the ride. I wasted him. That’s why you didn’t see him. I walk the streets; no one knows my terrible secret. I ask a guy outside a club if there’s any pussy, or LSD, trying to provoke him. Last thing you hear are sirens and gun shots and alarms and, so, they catch caught me, see?”

Jim exhaled, instantly calm. A beatific smile played on his lips.

“That’s the kind of movie I want to make. Beautiful, spiritual. It speaks to the human experience. We’re all killers.”

Ray didn’t know what to say. It was ridiculous, valueless. Ray switched the subject.

“What about music?” Ray started seeing glowing colors, the weed kicking his waning trip up one last notch. He pulled off his frameless glasses and rubbed his eyes.

“What about it?” Jim replied crisply, annoyed that Ray was disinterested in his epic.”Film is the great art form of the twentieth century. There are no rules. I like that.”

“OK, but remember we talked about starting a band? I could ask John if he’s interested and if he knows anyone who would want to join. We could be the American Rolling Stones!” Ray chuckled. He knew Jim loved the Stones; they really blew his mind. Not now though. When Jimbo got angry, he didn’t let go.

“You really think The Rolling Stones are gonna last forever? The Beatles? Come on. Film is where it’s at, eternal. Remember that class we took with von Sternberg? I mean, his movies are like 40 years old and they’re still important, dark, mysterious; they still survive. I didn’t start living until I began to study film. I’m not ready to stop now. I want to live forever man, immortal.”

“Poets live forever. Your poetry makes for great lyrics, great songs. They’ll last. And songs are only three minutes long.”

“I’m no singer. You think I want to be the next Fabian?” Jim snapped. “That’s not my bag. Rock and roll is for teenyboppers and little girls, man, it’s not serious.”

Ray was taking another drag when Jim ripped apart his future plans.

“Anyway, I’m going to New York, that’s where the real film culture is, not Hollywood, not plastic L. A.”

Ray knew that when Jim left he’d never see him again. Jim wasn’t much on staying in touch. He didn’t talk to his own family. There was only one thing to do.

“Want some more?” Ray offered another sugar cube.

Jim smiled, an inscrutable smile of innocence and deviltry, as on his knees, he leaned forward, mouth open.

The ceremony was about to begin.

Ray Manzarek met Jim Morrison at UCLA, where they were enrolled in the film school. Both graduated in May 1965, Jim with a B.A. in film, Ray with a Master’s. After talking about music while walking Venice Beach in July, they formed The Doors (taken from Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception). The group, which included Ray’s friend John Densmore from his meditation class, and John’s friend Robbie Krieger, made a demo in September. Signed to Elektra, they finished their first album in the fall of 1966, though it wouldn’t be released until January 1967.

Jim maintained his interest in film, directing promos for “Break on Through” and “Unknown Soldier,” as well as a 51 minute movie entitled HWY- An American Pastoral (1969), described by Jim in the story above. At the time of his death, Morrison was rumored to be working on a feature film project.

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