Cannes Film Festival: ‘Val’, ‘The Velvet Underground’ and Famous Jerks

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CANNES, France – At the start of the documentary “Val”, a shirtless young Val Kilmer basks on the set of “Top Gun” and claims he was almost fired from every movie he made. Then Kilmer’s lips twist into a smirk. He doesn’t play for sympathy. He is boasting.

At the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday, two documentaries debuted about prickly pop culture figures, but despite this promising first scene, “Val” would rather recontextualize the actor as a misunderstood softy. You might remember the stories about Kilmer, a big 1990s movie star whose career fell apart amid rumors he was difficult to work with. Well, “Val,” directed by Ting Poo and Leo Scott, allows the 61-year-old actor to tell these stories more sympathetically, in his own voice.

Or, to be more precise, the voice of his son Jack, who delivers the first person narration of the documentary. Throat cancer has ravaged Val Kilmer’s signature purr, and Jack Kilmer, an actor, is an acceptable voice substitute who nonetheless seems a lot easier to get along with than his father ever did. Kilmer has been recording himself since he was a child, and over decades of home movies he and his son paint a portrait of an underrated artist who always wanted to give his all, even when Hollywood wasn’t interested.

Jack’s storytelling is so good that it might take a little while for you to realize that Kilmer doesn’t like nearly every movie on his resume that a fan might want to hear about. “Top Secret,” his first movie, was “Fluffy” in which Kilmer said he was embarrassed to appear, and he practically had to be strong to make Tom Cruise’s chauvinist movie “Top Gun”. On “Batman Forever,” Kilmer claims the studio machine thwarted his attempts to deliver an actual performance, so he modeled his Bruce Wayne on soap opera actors instead.

All the while, Kilmer was recording elaborate audition tapes for Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese, efforts to which “Val” devotes almost as much screen time as the roles he actually reserved. Here’s the funny thing, though: Kilmer was a much better actor in the movies he hated! In the clips for “Top Gun” you see Kilmer at his more loose and playful because he doesn’t take anything seriously from the movie but when we watch his “Full Metal Jacket” audition – or when he practices lines of ” Hamlet ”, a dream role he was never able to play – Kilmer’s charisma calcifies and he becomes far too smooth and pretentious.

So, was he as big a jerk as we’d been told? “Val” dodges the story of his crushing his cigarette on a cameraman or the “Batman forever“Director Joel Schumacher’s claim that the actor was” psychotic “; here, Kilmer is simply saying that he quit playing Batman because the costume was too strenuous. In a segment on the famous 1996 flop “Dr Moreau’s IslandKilmer presents himself as the serene moral compass of troubled production; you would never know that a tired Brando threw Kilmer’s cell phone in the bushes and would have said, “Young man, don’t confuse your ego with the size of your salary.”

There’s also a lot of talk about Kilmer’s romance and marriage to actress Joanne Whalley, though we barely hear her speak in any of Kilmer’s personal video footage. After they divorced and he fought for more time with their children, the film lets his lofty wronged phone calls to Whalley unfold almost entirely. I would expect this unchallenged view from a celebrity memoir. I’m not sure I bought it in a documentary.

In contrast, Todd Haynes’ new documentary “The Velvet Underground,” which also debuted at Cannes on Wednesday, is only too happy to confirm all the stories you’ve ever heard about singer-songwriter Lou Reed being a self-centered jerk. Like Kilmer, Reed claimed that anyone who supported him was just interfering with his artistic process, but unlike “Val,” this movie isn’t afraid to show how much Reed wanted to be famous and how badly he resented them. collaborators who could tear the spotlight from him.

Reed passed away in 2013, and other important characters from the film like Andy Warhol (attributed to the early career of Reed’s band, the Velvet Underground) and singer Nico are long gone. Haynes isn’t interested in incorporating a lot of archival clips to bring those lost voices to life; instead, this artistic documentary allows living band members, like instrumentalist John Cale and drummer Moe Tucker, to do more big work.

“The Velvet Underground” is not a conventional musical documentary: for one thing, it hardly uses any performance sequences, although some of the band’s most iconic songs, like “Candy Says” and “I’m Waiting for the Man, ”often play in the context. Haynes is more involved in creating an atmosphere, placing the viewer in the midst of the mid-’60s which produced landmark figures like Reed and Warhol.

And while Haynes is clearly a fan of his subject matter, he’s not afraid to complicate that vibe, either. One of the film’s most beloved talking heads is the critic Amy Taubin, who remembers what was so alluring about Warhol and Reed’s art scene, then adds a thorny observation: If you weren’t pretty enough, says Taubin, all of these men have ended up losing interest in you.

Let’s face it, famous people are narcissists: if you want to become famous and stay there, it’s practically necessary. Haynes explores this concept in a way that “Val” can’t quite bring himself to do. Even if “The Velvet Underground” is less a full documentary than a perfume that lingers for a moment, evoking a time and a place, at least it is not afraid to add some tangy notes in search of a more full-bodied scent. .


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