A collaborative effort produced by VICE and Groslch Film Works, anthology film “The Fourth Dimension” contains three short works that explore otherworldly experiences, but have little in common beyond that. VICE Films director Eddy Moretti provided the participants with a few vague guidelines, such as the requirement that they blur the line between reality and fiction, but left the content largely up to the filmmakers.
That’s probably a good thing, because the first and best entry of the anthology, Harmony Korine’s “Lotus Community Workshop,” could only have come to fruition if the “Gummo” director was given no restrictions for how to express his ideas. For this project, Korine (who recently finished shooting his next feature, “Spring Breakers,” in Florida) turned to a name actor equally willing to work without restraint: Val Kilmer, playing “Val Kilmer,” a pompous, retired actor living in an upscale neighborhood and giving nonsensical motivational lectures to desperate people who cling to his every word.
The movie is a jarring, absurdly hilarious experience that may very well end up as one of the best actor-director collaborations of the year. Indiewire sat down with Korine, Kilmer and Vedder in New York this week to talk about the project shortly before its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Val, this is a role unlike any you have done before, and you have done a lot. What drew you to it?
VAL KILMER: I don’t want to get into a legal tangle, but I would say I’d almost say yes to anything Harmony wants. (laughs) He’s an imp and he might take advantage of me. He might write an absurd character who’s wildly stupid and call him my name.
HARMONY KORINE: That is a legal tangle.
VAL KILMER: Every time I asked him about this, he said, “You know, we’ll just see, if it doesn’t work, we’ll change it.” Then I get [to the shoot] and there’s a sign that says, “Welcome to Lotus Community Center, Val,” and it was 30 feet wide, so I kinda figured that’s how it would go.
Harmony, how did you conceive of this project for Val?
HK: When Eddie approached me about making a 30-minute movie, I thought it was a weird timeline, a little longer than I’d imagine a short film. It wasn’t a feature, and I didn’t really want to make a movie. I thought it would be interesting to make something that was more like a performance or a social experiment or something. I’d seen a picture of Val wearing a beret and a ponytail and I just thought, “If I could write anything for anyone, it’s him.” I just wanted to hear him say this stuff, and then I wrote it.
Eddy, what sort of role did you take on once Harmony showed you the script?
EDDY MORETTI: I took on almost no role. I forwarded on money. I believed that if you’re going to pick a director to work with, you are picking them because they’re bringing their vision to the project. I got excited about it. It’s like a chamber drama or a one-act play. He’s never done something like that, so I was really excited to see what he did with that format. The only question I had was who the people in the crowd were. I imagined them to be really down-on-the-luck people, the great, vast unemployed American middle class that’s fucked now with no jobs. And he thought so, too.
I saw a production still that showed Val in the middle of his sermon while Harmony watched on a nearby monitor and smiled. It made me wonder who was really in control of the performance.
VK: It’s scripted, so it’s all in the spirit of that guy. There are a thousand ways to play any role. The only organic, logical and immediate take on it, if it’s taken seriously, is that this guy has gone insane. He has lost perspective. You could see this really absurdist film where the guy has lost his mind. You know, he’s giving advice that’s not relevant or valuable. But I really like the rhythm of it, the way preachers, self-help guys or advertisers do it. This distinctly American confidence. How to get rich — OK, first you get some gold bars, then bury them. Because what else are they selling on TV?
But since the character has your name, the film is a commentary on the kind of expectations people have of celebrities. There’s a weird disconnect.
VK: Yeah, they listen to them more. I do start off, right away, saying, “How lucky you are to be here with me.” And a guy did come up to me once and say, “I’m so glad you had the chance to meet me.” I was like, “You kinda goofed on that.” But people do believe that.
The other part of the movie follows Val riding around parking lots on bike, hanging out with his girlfriend and renting movies. It’s like he stumbled into “Trash Humpers.”
HK: Actually, that part we filmed in nice neighborhoods and stuff.
VK: Every nice neighborhood has an alley. With trash humpers.
HK: Yeah, I guess that crept in there. The point was that you saw what he was like onstage, his performance, so I thought it would be nice to cut between his personal life and his performance. He’s got this girlfriend and they play violent videogames together.
VK: He rides a bicycle but he lives in a mansion. And his girlfriend’s a badass.
Val, while you might not be giving motivational speeches, you have gone through a lot of stages in your career. So do you relate at all to the guy in this short?
VK: Well, the one-man show [in which Kilmer plays Mark Twain] that I’m doing now is about duality and identity. It’s got to be the core of any artist’s preoccupation because you’re trying to get to know what you’re really like and share it or have the courage to stay on that and be revealing about that. So that’s not really going on in this film. I think it has more to do with what Harmony wrote and what’s going on with the audience. It wasn’t about me confronting fame or humiliation — you know, being overweight or being crazy. I’ve worn crazy clothes. One year, I was so proud, I got on one of those 10 worst-dressed lists. My friends were all like, “Where’d you get that purple jumpsuit?” But what Harmony wrote was more important than anything about memyself. I was just playing the character and he’s not involved in that. He’s very confident that what he has to offer is very valuable.
HK: I think he also wants to be entertaining. He just likes these hard-luck cases. A lot of people are troubled and he just likes making them crack up.
EM: The cool thing about what Harmony did is that he really wanted this to be more like an experiment and not fully bake all of the meaning. So the character doesn’t have to express any kind of past. He’s fully in this chapter of his life. With the bike, the girl, and the speaking, there is no hint of the past. But because we recognize Val, we bring all this past to bear. And that’s the fun. Everything about the way it’s shot, the cast, the way he looks into the camera — the audience becomes part of it. It’s a real social film experiment that makes it fun. It is a bit like an interactive game. And this film is an experiment that’s a point of departure for maybe a whole bunch of other versions of the character in this scenario, so stay tuned.