October 26, 2004

10 Years With Kevin Smith

The sacred promise of the indie filmmaking scene from the '90s was that this rarified artistic and commercial product could be made by any shmo with some credit cards to max out, a semester or so of film school, former employment at a video store and a dream. No one in our current glutted category of "American Auteurs" typifies this as well as Kevin Smith. Sitting down with the three disc anniversary edition of Clerks this weekend, Cinecultist got to thinking about our long and tumultuous love affair with the films of Mr. Smith and generally the last ten years of indie films. Sure that's a dauntingly large topic, perhaps the stuff for a book, but here's a few stabs at it by way of Kevin Smith fandom.

The news that Smith plans to make a sequel to Clerks, titled The Passion of the Clerks, isn't really such a surprise what with the nostalgia overload kicking in on the DVD. What made Smith's persona and whole back story so damn appealing initially was his every guyness, and the DVD extras really celebrate that aspect of the film. Here's a chubby fellow in a trench coat from a small town in Jersey who spends one semester in film school and then spends a year writing and making a movie about what he knows dead end jobs in backwater Jersey as told by sex and pop culture obsessed buddies. Everyone loves these formation stories, how the young filmmaker came to be (see the current buzz about Tarnation). Especially when they can report on how he made the movie with but a ball of twine for a budget, the sweat from his ass as film stock and his five best buddies from pre-school as the cast.

Despite the ease with which it was tout Smith for his humble beginnings, he still had such an accessibility and was a vocal proponent for it that CC always forgave him. When Smith came onto the scene he was like that guy you knew from high school who was always so funny, but spent a few semesters in community college, still lives at home with his folks and doesn't seem to be going anywhere in particular. CC knew loads of people like that growing up in the 'burbs and Smith's subject matter plus his rise to fame made him their poster boy of what could be.

What's interesting on the DVD's documentary, "Snowball Effect: The Making of Clerks" is how much Smith seemed himself to be in awe of those who'd gone before him (like Richard Linklater's Slacker) and how important it was to him to give back once he succeeded. From the docu, you'd think Smith funded every pipe dream and half-baked movie project his buddies ever had. And goodness do they love him for it. The other thing abundantly clear on listening to the commentary track while watching the original version screened at the IFFM at the Angelika in '93, is that Smith has to go back to doing low budget, talky comedies. The film looks like crap, even he jokes that his most innovated shot formation is a two shot, but still it's so compelling.

Any idiot could have made Jersey Girl, all formula and no substance. That's the problem with indie cinema, in that it became the establishment and morphed into something completely overblown. Kevin, we beg of you, go back to writing what you know. And here's a suggestion that maybe you don't want to hear you're a writer, a pretty good writer, but you're not really a director. Let someone else imagine where to put the camera while you come up with the dialogue and the scenarios.

Then you could have something even more lasting on screen, beyond the fading schtick of Jay and Silent Bob. Cinecultist thinks he has it in him, do you? Leave it in the comments.

Posted by karen at October 26, 2004 8:35 AM

That would compromise the auteur vision of a movie. He should keep directing, he just has to improve. Unless he finds someone with a precise affinity to his aeshtetics. For instance, I can't separate Kaufman from Jonze.

Posted by: Alex at October 26, 2004 2:37 PM

The most important comment in your post is that Smith is a "pretty good writer, but you're not a director." I've been saying that about him since "Chasing Amy," which I even liked. But it's true -- he has a talent for situations and deadpan dialogue, but WOW is he an awful director. Every one of his films would be dramatically better with someone else at the helm. His style, eye and overall talents haven't changed since CLERKS, yet they were part of what gave CLERKS its character. He really must stop.

Posted by: Aaron at October 26, 2004 3:55 PM

I just find his visual style disappointing at best. Especially when he lets the ball drop on the whole story and dialogue thing. What do you have then? You have Jersey Girl, my friends. And it ain't pretty. I like Kevin, and I want to problem solve for him. I'd hate to think he's gone too establishment to go back to what he does well, but I fear the worst. I am hopeful but sceptical about this Clerks sequel. We shall see, I guess.

Posted by: karen at October 26, 2004 4:55 PM