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RIDER ON THE STORM : With 'The Doors,' Director Oliver Stone Exhumes the '60s in All Their Lurid Excess.

February 24, 1991|Hilary de Vries | Hilary de Vries is a free-lance writer based in Cambridge, Mass

DISAGREE WITH OLIVER STONE and the judgment is swift and unmitigated. "You missed the '60s."

Oliver Stone--Hollywood outlaw, cinematic high priest of the lost generation, America's reigning Angry Young Man--has dismissed the haplessly out-of-touch: those within earshot as well as those not in sync with his favorite decade.

"Get out there! Take a chance! That's what the '60s were--the cutting edge! Ride the snake! Now! Now ! Remember that? Go to the limits! Challenge authority! Challenge your parents! See for yourself! Get in touch with your senses!"

That fusillade is being delivered by arguably Hollywood's most successful protester. Yale dropout, drug-taking, decorated Vietnam vet turned auteur , Stone has delivered take after take on the '60s and their children--"Salvador," "Platoon," "Wall Street," "Talk Radio," "Born on the Fourth of July"--coming at his theme every which way. Drugs! War! Money! Politics! Stone has made movies to exorcise his and his generation's demons, annoying the industry with his excesses, filmic and personal, earning a round of grudging respect for ballyhooing a 20-year-old Zeitgeist all the way to the bank. He is even a producer these days, taking home a nice percentage of the gross. The Outsider has become Establishment. Hey, Oliver, what's that sound, everything going round and round?

After nearly two decades in the business--writing or directing about a dozen films, earning five Oscar nominations, including two awards for Best Director--Stone has mastered the art of turning the counterculture into a mainstream, bankable product. Today he is Hollywood's most consistent practitioner of point-of-view filmmaking, yet one who just as consistently falls on his own sword.

His films, lofty in their intent to capture the New Left values of the '60s, frequently come up short with undistinguished if competent craftsmanship and an in-your-face moralizing. Critics regularly fault his work. The New Yorker's Pauline Kael wondered in a review of "Platoon" whether Stone was "using filmmaking as a substitute for drugs. . . . There are too many scenes," she went on to write, "where you think, It's a bit much. The movie crowds you; it doesn't give you room to have an honest emotion." If Stone disdains such caviling as aesthetic elitism--"Critics say that; audiences don't. I won't ever make boring movies, ever!"--he nonetheless has his sharpshooter's eye trained on his place in American film history. Stone still hungers for the imprimatur of artist.

"We don't practice repression in this country, we practice triviality," the director says, standing in a Hollywood sound stage on an early winter afternoon. "I try to make films that are bold and on the cutting edge, with ideas that are greater than me--and I try to serve those ideas."

Now, Stone is set to unveil his latest homage to his generation--"The Doors," the much-anticipated movie about the legendary '60s band, starring Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison, the band's charismatic lead singer and lyricist. It is Stone's first film since "Born on the Fourth of July" won him his third Oscar three years ago, and at $30 million it's his most expensive production to date. It is also his least overtly political--something of a first for this filmmaker who is regularly accused of being anti-American--but one that is not without risks.

With few exceptions--such as "The Buddy Holly Story"--movies about the music industry are notoriously poor box office. And with "The Doors," Stone is bringing to market a glossy tale of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll come round again in a new age of conservatism. It is a film for the '90s, with a controversial protagonist who practiced a particularly lethal brand of hedonistic nihilism; Morrison died of an apparent heart attack in Paris 20 years ago at the age of 27. Stone has taken a calculated risk in opening "The Doors" in today's sexually nervous and unexpectedly jingoistic climate--the AIDS crisis and the country embroiled in its first real war since Vietnam. "I think we all feel on the edge of imminent disaster," says Stone about his film's upcoming release. "One always has that feeling."

Even by the '60s' break-the-mold musical standards, the Doors were considered sui generis--a home-grown Los Angeles band whose organ-rich, Eastern-sounding melodies, combined with Morrison's vicious but poetic lyrics and undeniable stage presence, captured the growing alienation of an entire generation. From their first album--"The Doors" in 1967--to their last--"L.A. Woman" four years later--the band's raspy mysticism and intellectual lyricism embodied the dark side of the '60s.

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