DVD Review - Jean Claude Van Damme: Behind Closed Doors (2011)
May 15, 2011
A reality show giving unprecedented access into the life of action star Jean Claude Van Damme.
In the mid-80ís, a young, and buffedly (yes, I just invented that word!) goofy looking young Belgian, crossed paths with (somewhat) pioneering action movie producer Menahem Golan. At the time the action flick business was hitting full swing with the likes of Sly, Arnold, Chuck and Charles leading the pack. Jean-Claude Van Damme entered the fray and roundhouse kicked his way firstly into the video market in a big way, then onto the big screen. Van Damme has starred in many cult favourites amongst genre enthusiasts, in particular his breakout movie Blood sport and then the likes of Kickboxer, Lionheart (AWOL), Double Impact, Universal Soldier, Timecop and Hard Target. Oh and Derailed of course, which was, I believe, nominated for six Oscars (it wasnít really, just in case you fell for that). Van Damme has hit the headiest heights, and experienced a lot of lows. Like many in Hollywood heís fallen into some of the pitfalls that come with such a glamorous lifestyle, notably drug addiction.
In Behind Closed Doors, Jean-Claude Van Damme allows a film crew unhindered access to his life for 5 months, spanning from late 2010 to early 2011. He bares his soul here totally, much like he did in his critically acclaimed movie JCVD. Jean-Claude Van Damme is a truly fascinating guy. A bipolar sufferer, Jean Claudeís temperament fluctuates wildly and this documentary illustrates this. His moods shift erratically from bouncingly happy with almost childish glee, to doom and gloom fits of anger and sadness. Heís a guy whose mind is an explosion of thoughts and ideas (okay that might seem hard to believe to some). Heís always analysing, be it himself, his surroundings or philosophical ponderings. Not only is he deeply thoughtful, but heís also incredibly passionate at times. Notable is his love of dogs. Jean-Claude Van Damme seems to have a genuine kinship with K-9 folk. Particularly he admires their ability to love, loyalty and their simplicity. It is with great passion as well as real distress that Jean-Claude Van Damme also talks about the environment on several occasions during the filming. He feels as if the human race is irreversibly damaging the planet.
The main focus here is Jean-Claude Van Damme the family man, and also his decision to step into the ring against a terrifyingly hard as nails Muay Thai kickboxing fighter, 12 years his junior. Thereís not much structure during the shows, if only because thereís not too much structure in Jean-Claude Van Dammeís life. Itís frantic and full on and he jet-sets like a mad-man. The idea of one time World Champ, Jean-Claude Van Damme returning to the ring aged 50, 30 years after his last competitive bout, is interesting, if inconceivable. Some watching this doc, may be disappointed that the shows donít build up to the actual fight as a finale. In fact itís structureless nature means that each episode doesnít require the one previous or following on. From episode one, right through to eight, this doesnít build up to anything. Itís merely a chunk of Jean-Claude Van Dammeís life.
Amongst pondering the nature of humanity and the environment, Jean-Claude Van Damme is seen on movie sets, at fashion shows, at his doggy sanctuary, or at one of his many homes. He parties, he indulges, he pumps iron and above allÖhe cries. Boy does he cry! Jean Claude is quite the softy it seems. Highlights of the show include Jean-Claude Van Damme beating up stunt guys during his film shoots, due to his want to use some contact in his choreographed smackdowns, or meeting his daughterís boyfriend, or suffering a severe case of the grumps during a birthday party in his honour. Then thereís his struggle with self-funded personal film project, The Eagle Path, which JC feels is a failure. At times JC plays up for the cameras, but the show is really at its best when heís at his most vulnerable and we get to see the real man. Certain moments in his life stay with him and haunt him, such as having to leave behind his favourite pets in his youth to move to America with nothing to become a star and returning to find they had died during and in part because of, his time away. Itís very poignant, as is his relationship with wife Gladys, who has been through the mill having been twice married to Jean-Claude Van Damme following dark years apart in the mid 90ís because of his playing away and drug abuse. At times she acts like his mother, but thereís real heartfelt regret from Jean-Claude Van Damme regarding his behaviour in the past towards Gladys, and heís whole-heartedly grateful sheís with him.
As for the rest of the family, son Kristopher could easily be the missing Brady. Heís a cheesy young man indeed, but at the same time comes across as genuinely nice. Daughter Bianca seems to have led a somewhat sheltered life and both kids hold strong values, despite being a little bit detached from reality sometimes, only in the sense that theyíve grown up outside of the real world and in Jean Claude world. Regardless of that, theyíve been well raised by (one would assume, predominantly) Gladys. In addition many of Van Damme's personal friends appear, such as assistant Max, as well as long-time friend, writer/director Sheldon Lettich (Double Impact). Bolo Yeung also makes an appearance too, which for Blood sport and Double Impact fans, is a treat.
The production of the show is fairly routine. Jason Flemyng provides an efficient commentary. Neither inspiring nor overwhelming, he does the job as required. The writing isnít great, nor is the propensity for repetition. The editing is by the numbers, while much like the commentary the material runs over familier ground too often. But on the whole, this does offer enough interesting insight into a genuinely fascinating individual. In comparison to Steven Seagalís fly on the wall offering, Lawman, this show is far more interesting. It feels far more genuine and less put on than Seagalís show, whilst thereís also a sense with Seagal that heís got a constant guard up and a continual front. I never felt Iíd seen enough of himself personally, where-as Van Damme is incredibly open and honest.
Fans will appreciate the insight into their hero, and perhaps his complexity. Though itís not an earth shatteringly important documentary, and very much in the light entertainment field, casual viewers will possibly appreciate Van Dammeís emotional soul baring. Then again, as Van Damme himself states during the show, ďPeople are gonna love me or hate me.Ē His constant mood and attitude shifts make for interesting viewing, but perhaps alienate some audience from standing in his corner. One second heíll talk about how much he loves his wife, and the next heís ogling models 25 years his junior. Or heíll follow up a heartfelt discussion about the nature of man and the environment, by dancing like a clown in a club, drunk as a skunk. But like him or not, thatís Jean-Claude Van Damme for you.
Jean-Claude Van Damme