Kevin Smith is the filmmaker and podcaster behind Clerks, Zack and Miri make a Porno, and Red State.
Silent Bob. If you don’t know him by that then chances are you won’t recognise him at all. He is a master of filth, and sticks to making films for himself, rather than an audience. He has not been significantly commercially successful in his career beyond being successful enough to keep making movies.
I hadn’t seen any of his flicks aside from Zack and Miri make a Porno. After that film Smith feared he had killed Seth Rogan’s career, and gave up making movies a few years later. He returned in 2014 with the panned Canadian horror film Tusk. The film flopped but reignited his desire to make movies, and take no notice of critics. That allowed him to make a horror film about a psychopath who kidnaps people and surgically turns them into walruses. Ku ku kachoo! (Trailer below)
I got interested in his work again after happening across his latest Fatman on Batman podcast on YouTube. It was a review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and it was fantastic. So entertaining. I post the link below if you want to check it out.
Smith is a prolific podcaster, and a big talker in general. He often does on-stage q&a sessions which are more like impromptu stand up comedy gigs. He tells wildly funny stories.
After watching a few I got curious to see his filmography, and went right to the beginning with Clerks. Made in 1994 for $27k worth of credit card debt, Clerks went to the Sundance Film Festival back when it was possible to submit an indie flick with a decent shot at being accepted, and make a break into the film industry. Now it is much too saturated. Films with outstanding production value get skipped over so that festivals can screen the non-Hollywood excursions of Hollywood actors.
The great unknown films must break in another way, and many are distributed independently online.
So I watched Clerks. Loved it. I followed it with Clerks 2, and then 1995’s Mallrats. These are the hilarious screwball comedies, where Jay and Silent Bob feature as supporting characters that rightly became cult heroes. The cinematic style is basic (Clerks was shot on grainy black and white 16mm film and the camera was pretty much static the whole time), but the writing is brilliant. Smith said in an interview that the difference between now and then is he got better as a filmmaker, and the style improved hugely, but the content got weaker. Whether the last part is true or not I cannot say, but the first part certainly is.
I went from Mallrats to Smith’s 2011 horror Red State,which is a genre mash-up about an evangelical Christian family modelled on the Westboro Baptist Church, but with murder and an arsenal of automatic weapons thrown in. Jumping fifteen years draws out the contrast between the sides of Smith’s career. Plus I don’t like Ben Affleck and I would have had to endure more of him in Smith’s films Chasing Amy, and Dogma. I’ll get to them eventually.
Red State is a brilliant twist in the road. There are some stellar performances from the cast, which features John Goodman, Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, and Michael Angarano. In particular the first scene Michael Parks as Pastor Cooper is chilling. He delivers a crazed sermon about the evils of homosexuality and the sin of America in the family church, while a gay man they’ve captured is gagged and strapped to the large cross before the altar. The sermon continues while the older adults smile and nod in agreement, and the little children watch on enraptured. It’s chilling. The whole film is worth it for that one scene. The trailer is below.
This doesn’t explain my sudden rush of Smith fever. The reason is simple. He’s the most encouraging person in the film business. He stepped back into filmmaking having decided to ignore the critics and any naysayer from then on and forever, and every chance he gets he encourages people to explore their creativity. No one else has your particular creative insight so it is the only valuable thing that cannot be matched by anyone else. Reinforcing the message is his confession that he is not at all naturally talented, that there are many people considerably more skilled than he is, yet he could still make the art that matters to him. So we all can do it too. Cast your self expression into the world, to use Smith’s language; on the world’s face, neck, and chest.
The following clip was taken from YouTube, during one of Kevin’s q&a nights he was talking about the death of his father. The mood shifted for a few minutes as the crowd listened to an extremely poignant rousing call for people to live their dreams. It has some profanity, but that’s mild compared to the story about anal fissures that followed. Please watch it.
If you are still reading this then maybe you’ve been fondled by the devil of inspiration like I have. I hope so. I am going to give filmmaking another shot, on my own terms this time. Where I am right now is pretty good, a solid job and the beginnings of an independent life, but I am not living my dream. I know exactly what I’ve got to do and if Kevin Smith knew me at all I am sure he would have my back. Sweet encouragement, that is what this world needs more of, and art that’s not pre-calibrated to a particular audience but exists in its own right, for the artist first. Anyone can find it, reject it or embrace it. That freedom is what makes it worth doing.