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Monday, March 06, 2006

Down on Us: A Review

Larry Buchanan’s 1984 movie Down on Us (later renamed Beyond the Doors) is about a government agent who is assigned to murder Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. The movie is based on information from a man claiming to be a black operator who had participated in the murders. President Nixon allegedly ordered the hits to blunt the effects that the youth culture would have on his 1972 re-election bid.

I finally saw the film a couple of days ago. I steeled myself, for every single critic described Down on Us as one of the worst films they ever saw.

The critics didn’t lie.

Frankly, Ed Wood could have done a better job with this material. The script is utterly incoherent at times. The cinematography gives the impression that the project was filmed through snot. Except for Gregory Chapman (Hendrix) and Riba Meryl (Joplin), the acting is on the level of an elementary-school play.

Of course, what really drives the viewer up the proverbial wall are the many historic inaccuracies, things that any Hendrix/Joplin/Doors fan would spot in a minute. The actress playing Monika Danneman can’t seem to decide if she’s British, Swedish, German, or French (her accent changes with every line). Another actress takes on characteristics and actions of both of Patricia Kennely (Morrison’s wife) and Pamela Courson (Morrison’s common-law-wife), but is not named as either (she’s listed in the credits as “groupie”). The actor playing Noel Redding actually looks like Noel Redding, but the guy playing Mitch Mitchell resembles a middle-aged drunk somebody dragged out of a bar in the middle of the night. The actors playing Ray Mazarek, Robbie Krieger and John Densmore look like shorthaired clones of Leon Russell. And when did the Doors ever have a bass guitarist?

Nevertheless, the film offers some interesting scenarios that merit a further look. According to this movie:

(1) Monika Danneman was drugged at the scene of Hendrix’ death. If true, this could have accounted for some of the conflicts between her testimony and that of other witnesses.

(2) The attending paramedic (in real life the man’s name is Reg Jones) participated in the plot to kill Hendrix. If true, this might also explain why Jones' story is so diametrically opposed to Danneman’s.

(3). Morrison figured out the plot against rock stars, and consequently faked his death to get the government off his back. He then retired to a French monastery, living the life of a monk until his death in 1974.

(4) Most fascinating: Joplin, whose real-life death is the least suspicious of the three, was apparently drugged from a food source. She collapsed before she could inject herself with a lethal dosage, which was administered to her by a government agent after she had passed out.

What makes this last item so intriguing is that the pathologist who supervised Joplin’s autopsy, Dr. Thomas Noguchi, inspected the scene personally when police told them they could find no heroin in her room, despite combing through it looking for evidence. Noguchi’s tests indicated that whatever she took intravenously consisted of a very small dose. Therefore, he reasoned, there must have still been heroin in the hotel room. Yet police found none after an extensive search.

The only possibility would be that somebody took the heroin. But who? Why? Her friends had no reason to take it. If she died from it, they would have suspected a hot shot, and therefore wouldn’t have injected themselves with it. Plus, they would have incriminating evidence of murder on their hands, not to mention an amount on them that would ensure a felony conviction for a long hard prison stretch.

When Noguchi arrived at the hotel, he found a balloon filled with heroin in plain sight—sitting by it’s lonesome in a trashcan. He concluded that the police weren’t very thorough in their search for evidence. Personally, I’d find it more likely that the balloon was placed at the scene after the first police search—another thing that makes it unlikely that friends took off with the heroin, for the cops sealed the room immediately.

So, as bad as the movie Down on Us is, it still might hold something worthwhile for conspiratologists.

And since Johnny has gotten me to think more along these lines, I’ll mentioned one last thing. The movie’s plot hinges on a briefcase that contains the whole story of the murders. The combination of the briefcase lock was one character’s birthdate: August 15, 1952.

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