The turmoil of the 1960s with drugs, Vietnam, protests and social ferment seems to lose something in the translation to celluloid in the 1990s.
At least if the critically acclaimed movies of Oliver Stone are any indication.Stone's first major hit, "Platoon," was about the '60s all right and one of the best war films ever made, a success critically and at the box office.
But his other movies of the genre have been financially disappointing: "Born on the Fourth of July," the post-Vietnam war story of a paraplegic veteran-activist; "Salvador," espousing the idea that the U.S. diplomatic corps kills American citizens abroad, and now "The Doors," the saga of the late rocker Jim Morrison.
With victory in the Persian Gulf War, glasnost and the cosmic failure of communism, the spirit of the '60s holds little fascination for young moviegoers today.
Drug-besotted rock star antiheroes have become something of a bore. Perhaps they always were. They were, essentially, losers in a society that loves winners.
Young Frank Whaley - who may be seen currently starring in "Career Opportunities" - was in Stone's "Born on the Fourth of July" and played the kid in "Field of Dreams" with Kevin Costner. He plays a key role in "The Doors."
Whaley shook his head during an interview the other day, thinking about "The Doors," and said, "It's a flop."
At the time, "The Doors" had earned a nice $26.8 million in four weeks. Not bad, but it was expected to become a breakaway film.
Whaley, in his late 20s, looks like a teenager and has portrayed them in most of his 11 films. He is very much a part of his generation. He even has his own rock band, The Niagaras, for which he plays drums. For "The Doors" he learned to fake playing a guitar.
"The music was dubbed," he said, "so we had to learn every move and technique to be believable musicians on screen. We rehearsed for two months solid as a band before we began shooting 'The Doors."'
To Whaley and his peers, the '60s are ancient history. Movies dealing with the era are period pieces. The here and the now - "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" or "Home Alone" escapism - is what his generation wants to see. They comprise a flabbergasting majority of filmgoers.
"I rather liked `The Doors,"' Whaley said on a trip to Hollywood from his New York home. "I can see why it didn't do what `Ninja Turtles' is doing at the box office because it's not that kind of movie.
"People who wanted to see our picture did so the first two weekends. It didn't appeal to the baby-boomer crowd. Kids didn't want to see it. Older people who remember the period liked it.
"I suppose a lot of people who were mixed up with drugs in the '60s just didn't want to relive it. 'The Doors' is almost a documentary of the times.
"It's really not a commercial film. It's very long. It's not a happy film and people don't want to see downers. They want to go with happy.
"The movie was released as we were winning the war in Iraq and everybody was riding a wave of patriotism. They want to see `Home Alone' and the `Turtles' and Julia Roberts."
Whaley, clean-cut and candid, grinned and said he hoped everyone is in a mood to see "Career Opportunities," a comedy in which he plays a small-town con artist locked in a discount department store with a cute young runaway, played by Jennifer Connelly.
"It was written and produced by John Hughes - `The Breakfast Club,' `Ferris Bueller's Day Off' - and his films always do well," Whaley said.
"It's a movie kids 21 years old and younger will really enjoy. So will older people. It's fun and there aren't any heavy messages. This is a very commercial, mainstream picture."
Whaley doesn't mind being cast in younger roles, saying, "I've got my whole life ahead of me to play adults. I'm lucky to be doing guys from their teens to 25. I'm also lucky to work with men like Hughes and Stone."
Despite his supporting performances in well-known movies, Whaley needs a major commercial hit to make him a star. He thinks "Career Opportunities" fits the bill.
"I made the picture two years ago," he said, "before 'The Doors.' But a lot of changes were scheduled."
If "Career Opportunities" doesn't do it, perhaps Whaley's recently completed adventure comedy, "Back in the U.S.S.R," filmed entirely in Russia, will turn the trick. In his search for a megahit, Whaley would just as soon forego another '60s saga.