Ray Manzarek remembered with an epic recount of a New York adventure
There was a brief break between shows, and I was relieved to see the theater fill completely for the next film. The primary reason for the night was, after all, the premiere of Ray Manzarek’s directorial debut, LOVE HER MADLY. This was the only film of the evening that I hadn’t seen before the screenings, and I was nervous. I like Ray, and talking to him about the various artistic projects he’s working on, his enthusiasm and joy is clear and unmistakeable. I’ve read the script for the film he’s going to make next, RIDERS ON THE STORM, and I think it’s ambitious and imbued with a really daring spiritual side. It has the potential to be something really special.
So in a way, I’m glad he got LOVE HER MADLY out of his system first.
It seems strange to say when the filmmaker is a world-famous rock star multi-millionaire, but this is very much a student film, with all the bumps and bruises that term implies. Its cast tries incredibly hard, but none of them are able to make much of their largely unsympathetic roles. For the most part, they’re impossible to relate to. They’re types, not people, and it keeps us from being drawn into any of the emotions that we see played out in rather obvious fashion. It’s a shame, too, because there’s some potential here. If we were able to really understand the madness that is supposed to grip the main characters, then maybe we’d be drawn in and we’d be willing to take this intense ride with these people. Instead, we watch these events unfold without ever once being in danger of actually feeling them.
Ray explained that the initial idea for the film came from Jim Morrison himself in the days after film school but before they started The Doors. The basic premise, for which Jim gets a “story by” credit, takes place on a college campus. As the film begins, there’s been a murder, but we aren’t sure who’s been killed, or why, or even how. The film flashes back in time 24 hours so we can meet Hadley, a beautiful drama major, as well as the three men who are obssessed with her. One is her theater professor, a former Pulitzer Prize winner who lives in a bottle now, coasting on his laurels while he “writes” his follow-up play. One is a sculptor, her supposed boyfriend, and all he ever seems to sculpt is her lithe nude form. Finally, there’s a video maker with ties to internet porn who sees dollar signs when he looks at Hadley. Each of the men is inspired by her in some way, and she feeds off of it, playing each of them to get what she wants.
And, as an idea, that’s a pretty good one. The execution, on the other hand, is a case of someone still learning to put it together as you watch. To be fair, the theater totally fucked Ray on the exhibition of the film. They lost his print and had to show a digi-beta tape version instead, and somehow the sound got off-sync even as the picture washed out completely. As a result, it’s hard to fairly judge the film on a technical level. I have no idea what the cinematography of the film actually looked like, since the version we saw was overbright to the point of being indistinct.
As always, Ray was engaging and self-effacing during the Q&A after the film, and he didn’t try to oversell the movie. He answered questions about the production with his typical laconic dry wit, and he stayed until the Clearview Cinemas literally forced us to wrap things up so we could get the next screening started. I think it would be wrong to call LOVE HER MADLY a disappointment, since I had no real expectations one way or another. Let’s call this a necessary first step, and let’s see what Ray can do with RIDERS ON THE STORM. If there’s anything Ray’s proven over the years, it’s that he is a rennaisance man, willing to try new things and push himself, and willing to fail at times. That’s something to admire in any artist, whether the filmmaker pays for his movie with his rock-star royalties or his credit card he can’t pay off.
(that's the end of the original pieces from Ain't It Cool)
I hold that entire encounter dear, and I left it all in there because it's one of those whirlwind moments that I am still amazed actually happened. Lots of what we talked about in that piece never came to pass, but I get the feeling Ray was always thinking, always planning, always creating. It means the world to me that he was willing to open up as much as he was, and aside from a local LA gig not long after the New York trip, I never saw him again. I thought of him often and fondly, though, and my thoughts go out to his family and his friends.
Ray Manzarek was 74. Fuck cancer.