Raymond Daniel Manzarek, born 2/12/39. Every Doors fan knows what I am quoting there and remember Ray’s birthday because of it. It’s from a film shot during The Doors European tour in 1968. Incidentally, this blog is about a film that celebrates Ray (and The Doors); Break on Thru: A Celebration of Ray Manzarek. Today was Ray’s birthday and the film is being shown around the world for one day only and what better day than his birthday?
I am not going to include too many spoilers in here because it hasn’t screened everywhere yet and I don’t want to ruin it for people. It’s just thru dumb luck of geography and time zones that I was fortunate enough to see it before most.
I arrived at the beautiful Capitol Cinema in Balmoral (Auckland, New Zealand) and the sun was starting to set behind some palm trees. I squinted my eyes, pretending I was back in L.A. and about to see the film.
Inside the theatre I admired the architecture and Doors music playing. I noticed a fellow fan wearing a Mr Mojo Risin’ t-shirt and that there was quite an age range in attendance. At this point there were barely twenty of us there and sadly that was it for the entire night. Where were you Auckland?
The film itself was a mixture of interviews (old and new) and old footage but the majority was from a tribute concert for Ray, held on his birthday back in 2016.
Concert films that have interviews interspersed throughout tend to walk a fine line between being brilliant and being a disaster. Break on Thru manages to survive the tightrope ride and deliver an enjoyable film. If you want a documentary to learn all about the Doors and their inner workings, this isn’t it. I suggest When You’re Strange, if that is what you’re after.
Ray’s son, Pablo, opens the film with the speech he made at the concert. From there it didn’t seem too much of a documentary on Ray but more of a concert. That was the intent. It is a film of a concert that celebrated Ray’s life. The music was doing the celebrating and we were celebrating with them as our feet tapped on the cinema’s floor (or in the case of the lady behind me, tapping her nails on her wine glass). It’s not pure Doors music as we know it but that is surely no surprise considering half of the band is no longer with us and most of the musicians aren’t The Doors. Of course, the film does return to talk about Ray and we also get to hear from Ray too.
There is a plethora of musicians who take to the stage and they all appear to be enjoying themselves playing Doors music and playing with the surviving members of The Doors, Robby Krieger (guitar) and John Densmore (drums). There are a couple of people I didn’t expect to see, but you can find out who they are by watching it and I suspect a lot already know, anyway.
At one point in the film Robby is lucky that he wasn’t in Miami, back in 1969. I won’t ruin it, but I will also say that he doesn’t whip it out.
Another way these kinds of films can fall flat is to make them too soppy and leave you grieving for the subject of the film. Break on Thru doesn’t do that, it really is a celebration. That’s not to say it doesn’t have it’s moments, but you don’t leave the theatre with the funeral march in your head.
So what is in it for hardcore Doors fans? Well, apart from seeing different musicians playing Doors songs (some better than others) there is extended footage of old shots, a few quick new shots and some isolated tracks. They will also hear some new information on old stories.
I left the cinema with Doors songs in my head and even more of an appreciation for Ray Manzarek.
The film manages to do exactly what it set out to do; capture the tribute concert and celebrate Ray’s life. Ray once said that the ancient Egyptians believed that you weren’t really dead if someone spoke your name, so today let’s all say out loud “Ray Manzarek”.