The more “Val” unwinds the more the viewer identifies with his travails in life.
Val Kilmer, in perhaps the wisest move of his career, shot everything on videotape. What would be non-descript home movies for the average bear becomes a testament to a creative path that’s seen valleys and peaks yet has a redemptive theme running over a lifetime.
Prepare to take a trip from youthful glamour to decay derived from throat cancer with some revealing behind the scenes from memorable movies.
Kilmer was literally a teenager who had what at first was an obtrusive hand-held device that then morphed into an ergonomic albeit noticeable recording unit. It’s one thing when you point the camera at your mom while living at home and she’s cooking dinner. It’s another thing altogether when you’re pointing it at Marlon Brando in the fog of the most chaotic studio film of the 1990s, “The Island of Dr. Moreau.”
The media leaps to discredit Morgan Neville for using fake voice technology to recreate the voice of Anthony Bourdain. Val’s son Jack voiced portions of Kilmer’s dialogue.
Films, whether documentary or narrative, open the door to lies at 24 f.p.s. (Kilmer at 30 f.p.s. because he shot video.) Directors Lee Scott and Ting Poo flatten the frames so everything looks smooth.
When Kilmer talks in the present tense he has to put his finger over a hole in his throat for his voice to be heard.
Is Kilmer a Hollywood icon in the manner of, say, Kirk Douglas? Both suffered aliments that restricted their subsequent ability to speak. Douglas may have played Spartacus, but Kilmer became Jim Morrison. He studied tapes of The Doors for a year and imitated the Lizard King’s every move. In the film’s most eloquent mea culpa, and there are a few, Kilmer relates how his immersion into this particular character drove those he loved away.
It may have been Kilmer’s lowest moment, thousands of miles from home, on the set of “Dr. Moreau” when he learned of his divorce by way of an entertainment television show. Subsequent footage a generation later shows Kilmer in a solid relation with his two children.
A recumbent Brando beckons Kilmer and camera to “give me a push” as he lays dossal in a hammock. Clips include everything from “Top Secret” to “Top Gun,” with a little “Tombstone” thrown in for good measure. Wearing the Batman outfit you cannot hear. The very act was so physically demanding and sense depriving that it was all Kilmer could do to hit his mark and say his lines.
What makes “Val” stand out as a documentary is the way you relate to the subject, not as a friend or fan, as an observer watching someone reveal their soul.
“Val” opens in theaters this weekend.