Jean Claude Van Damme: Behind Closed Doors, 2011.
Directed by Jared White.
Starring Jean Claude Van Damme.
Narrated by Jason Flemyng.
A reality show giving unprecedented access into the life of action star Jean Claude Van Damme.
In the mid-80’s, 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. Jean C has starred in many cult favourites amongst genre enthusiasts, in particular his breakout movie Bloodsport 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 wasn’t 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 he’s fallen into some of the pitfalls that come with such a glamorous lifestyle, notably drug addiction.
In Behind Closed Doors, 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. Van Damme is a truly fascinating guy. A bipolar sufferer, Jean Claude’s 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. He’s a guy whose mind is an explosion of thoughts and ideas (okay that might seem hard to believe to some). He’s always analysing, be it himself, his surroundings or philosophical ponderings. Not only is he deeply thoughtful, but he’s also incredibly passionate at times. Notable is his love of dogs. 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 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 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. There’s not much structure during the shows, if only because there’s not too much structure in Van Damme’s life. It’s frantic and full on and he jet-sets like a mad-man. The idea of one time World Champ, 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 don’t build up to the actual fight as a finale. In fact it’s structureless nature means that each episode doesn’t require the one previous or following on. From episode one, right through to eight, this doesn’t build up to anything. It’s merely a chunk of Van Damme’s life.
Amongst pondering the nature of humanity and the environment, 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 all…he cries. Boy does he cry! Jean Claude is quite the softy it seems. Highlights of the show include 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 daughter’s boyfriend, or suffering a severe case of the grumps during a birthday party in his honour. Then there’s 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 he’s 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. It’s very poignant, as is his relationship with wife Gladys, who has been through the mill having been twice married to Van Damme following dark years apart in the mid 90’s because of his playing away and drug abuse. At times she acts like his mother, but there’s real heartfelt regret from Van Damme regarding his behaviour in the past towards Gladys, and he’s whole-heartedly grateful she’s with him.
As for the rest of the family, son Kristopher could easily be the missing Brady. He’s 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 they’ve grown up outside of the real world and in Jean Claude world. Regardless of that, they’ve 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 Bloodsport 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 isn’t 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 Seagal’s fly on the wall offering, Lawman, this show is far more interesting. It feels far more genuine and less put on than Seagal’s show, whilst there’s also a sense with Seagal that he’s got a constant guard up and a continual front. I never felt I’d 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 it’s not an earth shatteringly important documentary, and very much in the light entertainment field, casual viewers will possibly appreciate Van Damme’s emotional soul baring. Then again, as Van Damme himself states during the show, “People are gonna love me or hate me.” His constant mood and attitude shifts make for interesting viewing, but perhaps alienate some audience from standing in his corner. One second he’ll talk about how much he loves his wife, and the next he’s ogling models 25 years his junior. Or he’ll 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, that’s Jean Claude Van Damme for you.
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