Recently, at Sundance, Kevin Smith was back in the news due to the uproar over his upcoming release of his first ever non-comedy, Red State. Read all about the controversy at Slashfilm, including details on his new distribution model, and his imminent retirement as a director.
I used to be a big Kevin Smith fan. I became aware of him around 2001 with the release of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, which had a lot of kids in my high school loving the filthy humor and Star Wars references.* I wasn’t so impressed (probably because that movie makes a lot more sense after seeing Smith’s four previous films). After seeing the rest of Smith’s filmography, I became enamored with him. I may have, at one point, cited him as my favorite director. The combination of fun pop culture-laden dialogue with a frank and heartfelt discussion of relationships is something I have always relished, and I continued to love Smith well into college.
And I mean, I was a really big fan. I would force friends to watch his films, try and plan trips to Red Bank to visit his store, display his action figures, and even meet frequent Smith cast member Brian O’Halloran, who signed my copy of the Clerks 10 year anniversary DVD box set. I even liked Jersey Girl (that film is a gem of a different sort, and possibly Smith’s most mature film to date).
However, sometime between Clerks II (2006) and Zack & Miri Make a Porno (2008), something happened. Watching that movie left me extremely disappointed. Wasn’t this a typical Kevin Smith romp? Frank talk (and depictions) of sex, culture, and hockey, with a emotional relationship? One of us had changed since we last met. At first, I thought I had just outgrown Kevin Smith Movies. That now, becoming an emotionally mature adult, I could no longer relate to his loveable loser characters. However, a quick check with the Judd Apatow crew told me this wasn’t the case, as I love Knoecked Up, also starring Seth Rogen.
In reality, Smith changed. He too saw flaws with Zack & Miri (as the DVD box calls it), and two big things came out of his release of his book Silent Bob Speaks, in the fall of 2009. As the New York Post reported, Kevin Smith said Rogen finally turned him onto m—– during the filming of Zack & Miri. The other portion of the article has Smith saying that he no longer knows how to direct the stories he comes up with, and that,”Judd Apatow is way better at being Kevin Smith now than Kevin Smith ever was. So Judd Apatow should do it for a while, and I should figure out something else, and weed has been [bleeping] helpful with that.”
This is very interesting to me. I don’t really judge him for the drug usage itself, plenty of ‘creative types’ have been users over the year, and make amazing work. Since that statement, Kevin Smith has only directed two films, last year’s abysmal-by-all-accounts Cop Out, and horror film Red State, which debuted at Sundance last week.
A large portion of his notoriety wasn’t really based on his filmmaking, but for cultivating a personally cult based on web commenting, podcasting, personal appearances, and more recently, Twitter. His fame may have actually reached its apex in February of last year in his controversy with Southwest Airlines. Here is the news story about the incident, but what really cemented my new view on Smith was his behavior. No matter the behavior of the airline, Smith went overboard in his reaction, marathoning over Twitter, and devoting two podcast sessions and an astounding 24 YouTube videos about this once incident.
This has been a growing trend in his career,and his lashing out at critics over Cop Out, the critics over everything, and film blogs and distributers over Red State makes him feel less like a serious filmmaker and more like a raving mad man angry at what he thinks the world has taken from him. Again, his “distribution auction” stunt and the response to it really being a ruse for him to announce self-distribution and eventual retirement in front of the people who wanted to help him also rings of childishness reeking of an ‘I’m taking my toys and going home because you’re mean’ attitude. For example, on critics and bloggers: “Their game is rigged; why play it? I go to the carnival, I wanna ride the roller-coaster, not waste money on the rigged games of chance, the rewards of which are cheap, empty prizes that don’t seem nearly as cool in the light of day, away from the cotton candy haze.”
When it comes to the bottom line, I want to support filmmakers that have a love for their craft and a vision of what they want to display. I am still intrigued by Red State, as casting Fred Phelps as a horror movie villain is an interesting take, but I refuse to pay the $60-100 to see it on Smith’s roadshow tour. I refuse to line the pockets of someone who is so arrogant that they thing throwing a Twitter-tantrum is the best response to honest movie criticism and career difficulty.
Normally my response to events like this would not be so emotional, but Kevin Smith used to represent the film fan who made it big, even more than Quentin Tarantino. He made is own movie on credit card debt and filming at his retail job, and he made it. He was living the dream. Now, it seems he has become a typical Hollywood elite who can’t deal when he doesn’t get his way.
*. Actually, I did watch the 2 episodes ABC aired of Clerks: The Animated Series, but wouldn’t connect it to Smith for several years.