movie thoughts: Val (2021)

There appears to be an interesting sub-genre emerging of documentaries made by people privileged enough to have their own video cameras in the 80s and 90s (before we all had recording devices on us 24/7) and who decided to record things all the time. The proto-vloggers. In 2015, we had ‘Raiders‘, a film about friends recreating Indiana Jones in their backyard. Earlier this year, we saw the release of ‘Kid 90’, a documentary about child star Soleil Moon Frye.

Val Kilmer is one of those people, had a camera from a very young age and became obsessed with documenting his career and parts of his life – it is hard to tell how much by this documentary if he was careful only to include his career OR if he actually didn’t record as much of her personal life as he did his work. That, in and of itself, is an interesting commentary about him…

Kilmer has always been known as a method actor, someone who becomes the character as much as he can. He trained at Julliard, focusing on stage acting. He takes his job very seriously and wants to give 110%. The clips of his audition tapes, his rehearsal tapes, and even some of his more covert recordings on the set and behind the scenes show the layers to his process and his dedication to his craft, a thing that was a turn-off for many in Hollywood.

When the film starts, you learn that Kilmer had throat cancer that led to a tracheotomy so the voice over for the movie is his son, Jack. I was immediately struck by how much Jack sounded like young Val from the movies I remembered (mostly Willow) but what really hit me was at the end, when you hear Jack talk in his normal speaking voice – clearly he spent his formative years with his mother, who has an English accent, because Jack sounded British. So he wasn’t just reading his father’s words for this movie, he was actually doing his voice.

This was an interesting piece, filled with spiritual thoughts and melancholy. I am barely familiar with Kilmer’s filmography – I have seen ‘Willow’, ‘Batman Forever’ and ‘Tombstone’ but I still found myself mesmerized. You can feel Kilmer reliving and re-evaluating his life and career as he speaks to the camera. Talking about his unhappiness making ‘Batman Forever’ and then cutting to him signing autographs at Comic-Con, having images of Wingman and Batman shoved in his face over and over…what must it feel like to be assaulted by your own youth on a regular basis, especially when your health has declined and your body betrayed you?

Before now, our memories were all we had, a few still photographs to mark the time. But now we have photos and video that we can take every day. That we can look back on next year, or ten years later or 40 years later and see ourselves in our youth and be reminded of all of it in a much more vivid way than we did before. I think that is why these documentaries are being made and I wonder how this style of storytelling will change with access to so much footage in the future. Are there other Val Kilmer’s out there right now, documenting every day of their life and career with the intent of going back to it?


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