While I was researching The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald last week, I came across another film directed by Larry Buchanan. Beyond the Doors (also known as Down On Us) sounded like one of those truly odd films that I simply had to see for myself. Fortunately, it turned out that this rare and hard-to-find movie was available (in 13 parts!) on YouTube.
First released in either 1983 or 1984 (sources vary), Beyond the Doors tells the story of a FBI agent who, as the film begins, is out hunting with two friends who proceed to gun him down. Staring down at the agent’s dead body, one of the assassins sneers, “Rock and Roll is dead. Long live Rock and Roll.” The agent’s son then goes through his father’s files and discovers that, during the late 1960s and early 70s, his father was responsible for murdering “the three pied pipers of rock and roll” — Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison. The film then enters into flashback mode and we discover both why the U.S. government was determined to kill Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison and how exactly they attempted to do it.
What can I say about Beyond the Doors? If The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald seemed oddly respectable for a Larry Buchanan film, Beyond the Doors reminds us of why Larry Buchanan remains a cult figure for bad film lovers. Everything that Buchanan is known for is present in this film: unknown actors playing real-life characters, melodramatic dialogue, one set continually redecorated to look like a dozen different rooms, and plenty of conspiracy theories. As is typical of a Larry Buchanan film, it was shot with a lot of ambition but next to no money or actual talent. Hendrix, Morrison, and Joplin are played by lookalikes who give performances that don’t so much resemble their real-life counterparts as much as they seem to literally be Wikipedia entries brought to life. Hendrix worries that he’s sold out to the man, Joplin questions what fame’s all about, and Morrison makes pretentious observations. Buchanan couldn’t actually afford the rights to any songs from Joplin, Hendrix, or the Doors so instead, the soundtrack is full of music that’s designed to sound as if it could have been written by one of the “three pied pipers of rock and roll” even though it wasn’t. (And yes, the end result is just as silly as it sounds.) In short, Beyond the Doors is one of those films (much like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room) that is so amazingly bad and misguided that it becomes perversely fascinating.
In short, it’s a film that, like me, you simply have to see for yourself.
Tempting though it might be to buy into the conspiracy theories surrounding Hendrix, Morrison and Joplin, let’s not forget that these three individuals were, quite frankly, terribly irresponsible human beings. Why some people have trouble believing three rock stars hooked on drugs died from…erm, you know, drugs, strikes me as astonishing. The death toll for rock stars dying from drugs is incredible, so I’m not certain why folks focus on these three deaths so much. Anyway, fact is if these three lived, there’s a good chance they’d be recording duets with “American Idol” contestants and judging on “America’s Got Talent”. Really, the Establishment had nothing to fear from these stars. They were hardly the three most politically-charged performers of the Woodstock era.
The same brain chemistry that often allows for the energy, creativity and artistic genius is also of course implicated in the self-medicating, excess and eventual destruction of these and many others.
The only “conspiracy” is the pathetic lack of recognition and understanding *to this day* of the treatable underlying mental health issues involved.
end of mini-rant
Nice review, Lisa!
Firstly, I’ve never bought into the belief that creative types are by nature self-destructive, require drugs, etc. I believe you’ll find that the penchant for destroying oneself is quite common throughout the race–in fact, I believe that destroying oneself is humanity’s greatest (and most unfortunate) talent.
Secondly, I think people who abuse drugs are less mentally disturbed, more just flat out irresponsible.
Finally, we live in an overly medicated society. You want a conspiracy? Take a perfectly normal human foible, demonise it until it becomes classifiable as a disease, invent a drug to “cure” or “regulate” the disease, then sit back and watch the billions of dollars roll in. Depression and hyperactivity are perfectly natural human states. The (witch)doctors are turning us into vegetables. Honestly, you want to make me chuckle? Tell me you have a degree in medicine–that’s always good for a laugh.
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Delighted to read one of the rare level-headed assessments of Larry Buchanan films. (And all are invited to read MY taje on this one at ManorOnMovies.com )
It became “fashionable” to smugly rip Larry Buchanan, so often by those with little or no understanding of the exploitation film industry nuts and bolts and no personal familiarity with the man himself.
As it so happens, I contacted Larry regarding another film, and found him to be a gentleman, VERY honest about the shortcomings of his movies, intelligent and as helpful as humanly possible. And I am hardly the fanboy type who loses all objectivity upon meeting someone with a degree of celebrity.
In fact, his autobiography is very candid about said shortcomings, explaining much about many but never putting the blame entirely on second parties.
Thank you. If nothing else, Larry Buchanan’s films were always uniquely his own. When you watch a film like Beyond the Doors, you can’t help but admire the ambition behind it and the fact that Buchanan got this film made despite not having the type of budget that he probably would have preferred.
Sounds like you get it. And this applies to so many other directors/producers out there, many often mocked: They did the best they could with limited resources–and, yes, that included talent, in some cases–and they got movies made…and, for this, they deserve at least a modicum of respect.
Most garage bands never recorded an “Electric Ladyland” but that doesn’t mean they didn’t passionately love music–or, worse yet, deserve to be mocked for inability to measure up to the Hendrix Experience.