By Sean Gardner
When I first set out to write this article, I thought I could efficiently talk about Kevin Smith in one shot, but because his career now is so completely different that it was when he started, I thought it would behoove me to do it in two parts. So what follows is the first, in a two part series on my thoughts on this eclectic indie legend.
During the 1990s, there was a strong independent film movement that produced some of the most unique films and filmmakers. Indie filmmakers like Quinten Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Spike Lee all made critically and financially successful, low-budget, self-produced feature films like Pulp Fiction, Desperado, and Malcom X to name a few. However, the writer/director that has had the most unique and interesting foray into the world of movies is Kevin Smith.
Smith started his career with the indie hit, Clerks, about his fantastically mundane experiences working at a convenience store in New Jersey. Fittingly, the store in the movie is the exact store where he used to work. He even went back to working at that store after he was done filming. Clerks was highly successful with critics and audiences alike. It ended up going to Sundance almost by accident and was bought and distributed by Miramax, thus commencing Smith’s career.
Clerks was followed by Mall Rats, Chasing Amy (arguably his best film) which was followed by Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and later, my personal favorite, Clerks II. These movies make up what is known as the “Askewnivers” named after his production company, View Askew.
What I like about all of these films is that they seemingly take place in the same location. They are connected by two low level tokers named Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) which appear in every movie and make references to the other movies. This type of “world building” which is so common now thanks to the popularity of super hero movies, was essentially unheard of in the early ’90s. It creates a sense of intimacy with the characters when the setting is always the same. It’s easier to know what to expect because it becomes so familiar.
Smith, who is extremely self critical, will often say he doesn’t know how to write scripts, he just knows how to write dialogue. I can see where he’s coming from, yet I adamantly disagree. True, most of his early movies are of people just standing around talking. Most of what his characters talk about is crass and vain. They are insecure, petty, and immoral. Yet, underneath all the excessive vulgarity are honest people with very human personalities, beliefs, and motivations. This ability to give each character and each film a heart, is a testament to Smith’s tremendous writing ability.
However, his films and his writing kind of took a down turn in the 2000s. The box office failures of Jersey Girl, Zack and Miri, and his tumultuous relationship with Bruce Willis while filming Cop Out, really took a lot out of his confidence. But recently, wth films like Red State, Tusk, and Yoga Hosers, Smith redefined himself as a filmmaker and an artist.
This “Smith-aissance” will be the topic of Part Two of my thoughts on Kevin Smith.