Spotlight: Kevin Smith

24Nov08

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by The Great White Gypsy

 

“Hello?  What?  No, I don’t work today.  I’m playing hockey at two.”

Dante could have stayed home and played hockey, but with this first line of 1994’s Clerks, he had no idea what was waiting for him.  I’m sure Kevin Smith felt the same way.

It is likely that there was a small pool of disturbed and possibly high individuals who went to see the black and white indie project that promised raunchy, irreverent humor and witty banter between two of America’s elite; a video store clerk and a convenience store clerk.  Most of the reviews I remember from family friends were extremely negative.  “It’s just two guys talking about sex and drugs for two hours, and it’s in black and white.”  The nay-sayers were totally clueless (as nay-sayers usually are) that their criticisms about Kevin Smith’s films are the exact reasons guys like me think he’s a genius.  It was black and white.  It was just two guys talking about sex and drugs for two hours.  But they were guys like me, and my friends.  Sure, I didn’t grow up in New Jersey, but it was so relatable, so real.

I’ve always felt like Kevin Smith is playing the part of the horse in the Animal Farm that is modern cinema.  Not only is he hard working, he speaks for the working stiffs, the underprivileged.  He speaks for everyone who graduated high school, and didn’t stray far from home, didn’t get a degree, didn’t find the love of their life.  He’s not their political advocate, he gives them a place in entertainment; he makes the lives of everyday people interesting.  Not with drama or CGI, but with realism.  Arthur Miller gave salesmen a seat at the table, and Glengarry Glen Ross gave them seconds on turkey.  Smith is no different.

His follow-up, Mallrats (1995) was pretty much the same stuff, but in a mall.  All these characters, trying to figure out life, deal with relationship and sex problems, and stay off the mall cops’ radar.  Who didn’t do that in high school?  I mean, I’m sure there were people who didn’t, but…no one I knew.

Smith made a pretty bold move two years later, when he directed Chasing Amy.  After the disgusting, whimsical tone of his first projects, he made an emotional film about the confusion and pain of love.  It was the only time I felt really bad for Ben Affleck (most of the time I feel like you do for the retarded kid down the street that uses training wheels well into his teens).  It was still real, still witty, but all stops, blocks, and pretenses were pulled out, and Kevin Smith’s tin man found his heart in the hands of lesbian Joey Lauren Adams and bi-curious Jason Lee.  It seems lame in the midst of all his other masterpieces to say that Chasing Amy is my favorite, but everyone feels that way, they just say Mallrats because “Snoochie Boochies” is funny as hell.

I will now make a bold statement:  Dogma (1999) was the pinnacle of Kevin Smith’s career.  Now, I doubt anyone in a crowded room would’ve thrown popcorn at me for that, but your immediate reaction is to go over Smith’s resume and plead the case for Chasing Amy, or Mallrats, or Clerks II.  But here is what I mean:  Dogma was irreverent not only in everyday life, but it was borderline sacrilegious.  It was more fantastical than any of his other films.  But my point is, not only did he maintain his creative directing style, his compelling character development, and his witty, real dialogue, but his humor as directed towards organized religion (essentially dogma itself) didn’t come across as pretentious or hostile, or even that sacrilegious (for those open-minded Christians such as myself).

Many Kevin Smith fans will say that Jersey Girl (2004) is his worst film.  I would tend to agree, but mainly just because I’m not a big Ben Affleck fan (wait, what’s the opposite of fan?), and I do hold it against Smith for encouraging him.  But even in this film, he was trying to gear it a little more towards family values and the domestic dynamic.  There is nothing wrong with that, and in a genre that most people my age won’t admit to supporting, he actually did pretty well.

Like any good leader, Smith is defined just as easily by the company he keeps.  Jason Mewes, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Jason Lee, Scott Mosier, and Brian O’Halloran appear repeatedly in his work, as do Claire Forlani and Joey Lauren Adams.

Now, you could also call him narcissistic, trying the Alfred Hitchock bit about being in all your own films.  But Silent Bob, although many people’s favorite character, is not a dynamic stage-hog.  He says one, maybe two lines in every film, and they’re always great. Stan Lee does the same thing in all the Marvel movies, and no one says anything (he was in Mallrats, too; nerdy, but cool.)

As far as the breadth of a career goes, Kevin Smith’s quality and consistency of work almost demands respect from cult aficionados.  Oliver Stone has politics.  David Fincher has psychological nightmares.  M. Night Shayamalan has…garbage.  And Kevin Smith has New Jersey.  True, no one was really using it, but he took it anyway.  Because he can.  And with his most recent film (Zack and Miri make a porno, the only one not set in New Jersey), he still gives Joe-sixpack words to live by:

“Let us Fuck.”

 

Kevin Smith Filmography

 

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)

Clerks II (2006)

Jersey Girl (2004)

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)

Dogma (1999)

Chasing Amy (1997)

Mallrats (1995)

Clerks (1994)



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