An abstract perspective: Jim Morrison’s ‘HWY: An American Pastoral’

You may have seen him played by Val Kilmer in the Oliver Stone film, “The Doors,” which is based on the band he is most well known for performing in. You may have heard your parents or older siblings singing along to his arrangement of lyrics like, “Break on through to the other side, break on through!”

Still, today, Jim Morrison is considered one of the most charismatic performers in music history. However, Morrison was much more than a performer. Morrison’s himself thought that he was a shaman of American Indian culture, healing the crowd with his own musical ceremony. Morrison’s background outside of music is often overlooked or misrepresented, simply because of his fame with The Doors.

Morrison began college at Florida State University, where he was involved with theater, appearing most famously in a student production of “The Dumbwaiter.” While Morrison enjoyed the theater program, Florida State University did not seem to suit him. He moved to California his sophomore year, where he attended UCLA. During his college years, Morrison developed an interest in poetry and film, influencing him to cultivate a bohemian lifestyle.

As an artist at the time, Morrison wanted to live that kind of lifestyle to find perspective, appearing as both an outcast and a stereotypical “loner.” Contrary to the Oliver Stone film, Morrison gained an undergraduate degree in theater arts. However, with The Doors gaining fame and influence, Morrison was only able to complete two films in his short life. One film by Morrison was a documentary on his band, The Doors, called “Feast of Friends.”

The other was an experimental film called “HWY: An American Pastoral.” “HWY” was a 1969 production, written by and starring Jim Morrison.The film follows a hitchhiker, played by Morrison, who wanders through the desert and along its barren highway. The hitchhiker eventually gets a ride, and then somehow acquires this person’s vehicle for himself. He ultimately ends up in L.A., aimlessly walking the streets. This film is as abstract Morrison’s poetry.

The transcendental film uses less than four lines of dialogue in total, and it contains a score of music throughout the film that would put any viewer in a daze. One scene, in which the hitchhiker is looking around in a pharmacy, seems to be a reenactment of a part from Aldous Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception,” which is a book that The Doors are named after.

Overall, by divulging a traumatic event that occurred during his youth, Morrison intended for the abstract techniques of this film to create a question of perspective for the viewer. Near the beginning of the film, Morrison walks alongside the desert highway. He soon starts to speak through a voiceover. He describes an event when he was a child, where he witnessed a violent car wreck on a desert highway. He describes American Indians scattered across the road, bleeding to death.

As a result of witnessing this terror, Morrison then depicts his experience of being possessed by an American Indian spirit as he traversed the roads of the desert. It is possible, based on this Morrison’s voiceover, that the hitchhiker’s character is somehow related to the spirit of that Indian, by aimlessly traveling the highways, always looking for something. “HWY: An American Pastoral” is a film that employs a multitude of abstract techniques and ideas. It may take two or three views of “HWY” before one can fully grasp these concepts, but I would recommend it to anyone interested in The Doors, abstract art, film or 1960s culture.

It is comparable with Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” but it is harder to follow and thus it may be more difficult for one to understand. However, this quality unquestionably represents Jim Morrison, a man of words and a man with a vision, who was misunderstood by most of the world.

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