I’ve finally had enough of Kevin Smith.
Over the weekend, while discussing how critics yet again, didn’t get his latest film, Yoga Hosers, Smith took to Twitter to explain the meaning of his third act, which he described as a “quasi-apology to critics” for all his fights with critics over films like Cop Out, Red State and Tusk.
The thing that infuriated me, as a critic, is that once again, Kevin Smith is martyring himself. It can’t be that his inability to cogently direct a scene, or write character dialogue that doesn’t feel like his actors are ventriloquist dummies, (as was painfully obvious via Rosario Dawson’s uncomfortably laughable lines in Clerks II) it has to be that critics won’t let him live down his failures, and so he’s compelled, finally, to create a film giving an apology no one asked for.
Instead of becoming a better filmmaker, and growing within his craft, Kevin Smith is still using other people’s money to shelter his fragile ego.
But it didn’t always used to be this way. When it comes to Kevin Smith, I used to be a fan.
A couple months ago, I just finished my day working Awesome Con, a comic / entertainment convention located in the heart of Washington, DC. Never one to miss an opportunity at adulation, Smith was hosting one of his usual “An Evening with Kevin Smith” events. One part pseudo standup, one part Q and A session, Smith spends a little over an hour sharing his life as a geek gone pro, all in front of adulating audiences all there to watch their goblin king gesticulate wildly as he told the same stories to an audience that never seems to get tired of them.
It’s a show I’ve seen a number of times over the years as our paths crossed (mostly unknowingly) at numerous conventions. The only time we ever interacted was for a few moments at a Wizard World convention back in 2001, as he was promoting Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, a film I was anxious to see, but was initially disappointed about (more on that later).
Seeing him and briefly meeting him felt like a personal victory at the time, because 15 years ago I heavily bought into the fact that for the most part, Smith was one of us, and now he’s out there doing the kinds of films we only dreamt of making. He was our avatar into a world that barely understood us without some form of derision. I was in awe.
15 years later, I’m sitting in the back of the upper hall of the Walter E. Washington convention center, doing the same shtick and all I could think about was how much of a fraud he was.
So how did we get to this point?
From his 1994 debut in Clerks, Smith brought to the table a sort of humble fearlessness that we hadn’t seen in film, possibly ever. Now that fearlessness didn’t mean he was a great filmmaker, but he was certainly one that had the potential to be something greater. His voice was fresh and yet it was reminiscent of nights sitting with friends making up insane scenarios we’d like to see on film.
The now classic scene in Clerks where Randal and Dante had a debate about whether or not innocent builders perished on the unfinished Death Star in Return of the Jedi is an example of a sort of self-awareness about film while making film that no other auteur even dared touch. Simple touches like that created a legend in Smith among fans who saw him as their ticket out, even if their drive and ambition only extended to watching more movies and bitching about them on the internet (ahem).
Becoming a media darling for your first film has to bring with it a weight few of us can understand, and thinking about the first time I met Smith, I didn’t see him as someone who let it go to their head, but looking back, especially after seeing Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back later that day, the seeds were there, and it was almost harvest time.
While Mallrats was a take-it-or-leave-it type of film, it certainly had its highlights, and again, this was Smith making a film for people like him, except this time, he wasn’t spending credit card money, he had Universal’s money, and so it’s easy to see how someone could make some missteps.
With Chasing Amy, however, Smith found a home as a filmmaker with a comfort zone, and at this point, he was finding a groove again, and between this and Dogma, we finally had Smith at the height of his power, doing daring work and right on the verge of becoming the great, if not indulgent, director he was absolutely meant to be.
But if one thing was clear, Dogma broke Smith in a way that has yet to be repaired, and by now, I think it may be too late.
See, what Dogma represented was Smith holding a knife to the throat of established beliefs, all while really expressing their importance in how we live our lives. The backlash was relentless, and whether it was critics or the Catholic League or death threats sent from parts unknown, Smith’s already-fragile confidence was under siege, and he did the thing that probably made sense to him, he retreated back into what worked for him: Jay and Silent Bob.
Yes, the duo had been in every film up to that point, but with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Smith was no longer interested or able to tread new ground. You don’t go from a statement film like Dogma and head back into pointless slapstick, but then there was a point, and that point was to lash out at critics, at everyone, doing it in as petulant a way as possible.
By this time, Smith would fight online with whoever he could, trolling the infamous talkback section of Ain't It Cool News as “Magnolia Fan”. Smith wasn’t interest in growth, he was interested in revenge.
During this time, incidentally, Smith started his “talks” causing his fanbase to only grow, developing the same bunker mentality that he had. To View Askew fans, it wasn’t important that Smith was making mediocre films, all he had to do was entertain them with stories about what it was like to be an outsider in Hollywood, as one of them, and his legend would only grow.
Every movie he produced since 2004’s Jersey Girl has been progressively worse. As a filmmaker, Smith’s choices became sloppier and sloppier to the point where his voice no longer really mattered in film.
But his voice still matters to his fans, and in part, that’s the problem, and that’s what brings us to today.
Kevin Smith doesn’t have to be better, because his fanbase is happy just the way things are. Sitting in that convention center back in June listening to Smith go on and on about his experience, namedropping to delighted claps and cackles of laughter felt false at this point, because more than 20 years since Clerks, Smith is about as inside as one can get, without the success, of course.
Because Smith does these travelling salvation shows where his fans allow him the courtesy of a never-ending victory lap, there is literally no impetus for him to grow. That he’s creating films based on audience suggestions from podcasts featuring him and his merry band of friends and hangers on seems cool on the surface, but in reality, it more than a little disappointing, because an artist shouldn’t take direction from fans, an artist, a real one, anyway, should be leading the fans. They should be marveling at what he does, what he accomplishes, not stories that have been recycled over and over and over again.
And as long as Smith has his own personal Juggalo army of View Askew / Smodcast acolytes, he will never need to change or do better. He’s being funded by fans for past glories, and sure, that’s all been great for him, it’s given him a lovely wife and from that a daughter who is now growing into her own within entertainment, but to the outside world, Kevin Smith is still a problem, because he represents what could have been, and he serves as a signpost that other, younger filmmakers could hope to follow down a path that only leads to mediocrity.
Smith is rewarded for being a bad filmmaker in a completely un-ironic way, while pointing the finger at the critics who call him out on it, all while his fans cheer him on. With that sort of deal, why the hell should he bother getting any better?
Nice work if you can find it.