Val Kilmer Is Your Huckleberry

Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s The Doors (1991)

Since Wednesday morning, cinephiles and just about anyone who enjoys a wild tale well told have been passing around a link to what essentially amounts to a celebrity profile. “You might think you know what this piece will be,” tweets the New York TimesA. O. Scott, “but you have no idea.” The title the NYT Magazine has given Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s feature is “What Happened to Val Kilmer? He’s Just Starting to Figure It Out.” But she prefers “The Iceman Come Backeth,” a reference to Kilmer’s breakthrough role in Tony Scott’s 1986 blockbuster, Top Gun.

Brodesser-Akner begins where she must, with a description of what it’s like to talk with Kilmer now and the methods he uses to overcome the loss of his voice, a result of being treated for throat cancer a few years ago. “The sound is something between a squeak and a voiceless roar,” she writes. She maps out HelMel, Kilmer’s office, art gallery, and studio in Los Angeles. She also, of course, walks us through a career that soared from Top Gun through Kilmer’s turn as Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s The Doors (1991)—a performance “so Methody” that “it’s not so long into any kind of rewatching of that movie that I realize I can no longer remember what real Jim Morrison sounded or looked like”—and his single franchise outing, playing Bruce Wayne in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever (1995), to the days that Kilmer began to develop a reputation in the industry for being difficult.

Without giving too much away, though, all that is not really what Brodesser-Akner’s piece is about. Over the course of several conversations with Kilmer about two guiding lights in his life, Mark Twain and Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy, Kilmer relates a few stories that some might find challenging to deal with, such as the moment he was driving down the highway, an approaching car jumped the median, and his own car “went through this other car without colliding with it. He can still see the mole on the driver’s neck as he went through him without causing material disturbance to either of their bodies or vehicles. These things happened because he’d been praying his whole life.”

As the series of conversations proceed through the month of March, the coronavirus is becoming a serious global threat, and many of the anchors in Brodesser-Akner’s own life begin to become unmoored. The occasion for this feature—as well as for a recent profile of Kilmer in Men’s Health, where Alex Pappademas is particularly good when writing about Kilmer’s later work in film and particularly cautious when talking with the actor about God and death—is the publication of Kilmer’s new memoir, I’m Your Huckleberry. The title is a line Kilmer delivers as Doc Holliday in Tombstone (1993).

The A.V. Club’s Danette Chavez finds the book to be more of a “sprawling monologue than a retrospective, full of asides and free association, often sanguine and occasionally resigned.” Reviewing the memoir for the Washington Post, Thomas Floyd writes that when Kilmer “asserts that picking up I’m Your Huckleberry is like slotting a couple of quarters into the ‘pinball machine of my mind,’ he is not overselling the experience.” The Daily Beast has posted an excerpt, which takes us back to Top Gun. “All in all, the movie was both a blast and an education,” writes Kilmer. “I hear the voice of poet Ezra Pound, who, in one of his cantos, wrote, ‘Pull down thy vanity,’ but I am afraid my vanity is about to be put on full display.”

The Latest

Spike Lee has announced that his next film, Da 5 Bloods, starring Chadwick Boseman, Paul Walter Hauser, Norm Lewis, Delroy Lindo, and Jonathan Majors as soldiers who return to Vietnam to find the remains of their squad leader and the gold he helped them hide, will see its world premiere on June 12—on Netflix, which picked up the film in February 2019.

Lee was to have been the president of the jury at Cannes this year, but of course, this year’s edition has been postponed indefinitely. Paul Schrader seems convinced that there will also be no fall festival season. “Karlovy Vary and Locarno are off” and “Venice will be next,” he tells IndieWire’s Eric Kohn. “No one wants to go. There won’t be a vaccine.” So he’s calling on Netflix to host a virtual “festival of festivals.” The idea would be to get “the major festival curators to come up with a list of films at all levels of competition, and if you get an all-star jury of maybe two dozen actors, artists, and critics, you have an event.”

Tribeca, in the meantime, is planning to roll out “a curated selection of new, classic, and independent films” to drive-in theaters across the nation beginning June 25. And on July 14, Melbourne will unveil a program of “approximately forty features, including films planned for the festival’s intended 2020 edition alongside discovery highlights by emerging filmmakers” as an online program it’s calling MIFF 68½. Melbourne is holding on to its original dates, too: August 6 through 23.

And finally, a disturbing story from Tatiana Siegel in the Hollywood Reporter. On January 23, the day that Wuhan was locked down, Sundance opened. Year in and year out in Park City, “the quaint mountain oasis transforms into a petri dish as some 120,000 festivalgoers from around the world huddle in crowded movie theaters during cold and flu season.” But this year seems to have been different. Siegel talks with several attendees who suffered severe symptoms—“feeling like I got hit by a truck” is the way one of them puts it—that are scarily similar to those brought on by COVID-19. “It may take months before the mystery of Sundance 2020 is unravelled,” writes Siegel. “Antibody tests are not yet readily available.”

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