Val Kilmer’s CINEMA TWAIN is unique–creative, dramatic, laugh-out-loud funny, and visually stunning. I almost forgot it was an expression of historical biography. The spirit of Mark Twain was expressed so vividly, perhaps more Twain than if it were Twain himself. It was part stand-up comedy, part reading, part theater, part performance art. The image of Mary Baker Eddy, a major focus of Twain’s last decade of work as an author, made brief appearances throughout. The film concluded with the actor emerging from behind the character makeup and the old-timer southern accent, as Kilmer slowly became himself again while talking with the audience. Then we, the audience for the film, got to have our own live questions and answers with Kilmer.
I was not expecting the show to be so impactful. I was moved, and I got the sense that the whole audience was too. There was no question of the deep respect the audience expressed in their engagement with Kilmer during the Q&A, and also the deep respect Kilmer expressed for both Mark Twain and Mary Baker Eddy.
Besides being a wonderfully colorful way to portray the ever colorful Mark Twain, the creative inclusion of Mary Baker Eddy in the broad mix of topics in was especially interesting to me. I had seen a glimpse of Kilmer’s earliest historical work on “Mark Twain and Mary Baker Eddy,” scenes of which he did as a staged theatrical reading through a video broadcast from the Mary Baker Eddy Library. I realized watching CINEMA TWAIN how much Kilmer has blazed a new trail for creative approaches to biography of Eddy, a trail which I have followed with CROSSING SWORDS. He opened my thought to possibilities.
But more than this, he has opened the thought of Mary Baker Eddy fans everywhere to the idea of creative biography about her life, and her relationships with other famous Americans. I say this because when I first began to circulate CROSSING SWORDS as a manuscript among Mary Baker Eddy fans (who as a group take how she is represented to the public very seriously), despite the edgy topic (marriage and sexuality) and the new territory of literary nonfiction drama, I was consistently pleasantly surprised at the positive and open-minded response I received from Eddy fans. In conversations, I could refer to Kilmer’s work, and I would be met with knowing nods. The Red Sea parted, and I could pass through untouched.
I do hope that someday Kilmer succeeds in producing his “Mark Twain and Mary Baker Eddy” movie. But CINEMA TWAIN, besides being a big step in that direction, is in itself a triumph, a complete idea, a work of art.
Cheers to you, Val! And thank you for leading the way.