Maybe it's his self-deprecating humour (a hallmark in us lapsed Catholics) or maybe it's because he wears his pop culture influences literally on his sleeves, head and chest but in my mind Kevin Smith doesn't get enough credit for his work. So you wanna smirk when I pitch the idea that Smith is not just a cinematic auteur but a cultural one?
Let's go back to 1994. Redbank, New Jersey. The Quik Stop no less and the semi-biographic, and fully erect comedy Clerks. It's true that most first works are biographical in nature. Self aware and raw certainly, but twenty-two years on Clerks still gives amazing insight into the man behind Silent Bob. It's not just that Dante works in the Quik Stop (Smith's old stomping ground), or that he plays hockey, or that his word hole is perpetually filled with more words than most people use in a week of conversation. There's a down-to-earth realness that Clerks typifies and the remainder of his work either has or eludes to it.
|Just because they serve you, doesn't mean they like you.|
Mallrats is a cultural milestone for thirty-something cinephiles like myself. Yo, when'd you first watch Mallrats? is a question I have been asked; and answered. It's not just that he uses a lot of the same actors as Clerks, along with drafting in repeat collaborators Ben Affleck, Jason Lee and one-time girlfriend Joey Lauren Adams. Smith is a self-admitted comic book nerd. Mallrats is many things but at the core, where Clerks was a love letter to his beginnings, it's an homage to comic books. To Batman, and Walter Flanagan for reintroducing him to the Caped Crusader. It's a life long obsession with superheroes' junk and reproductive problems. It's also the tale of a man trying to take the step to become that man but being trapped in the lost generation of comfort, convenience and the universal expectation that all young men should be at college; where previously all young men were expected to be in the military.
|Don't you think he looks like the guy from Phantoms? That shit was the bomb, yo!|
Many of us Smith fans were of a certain age when Chasing Amy arrived. It spoke to us in language that allowed serious, emotional issues to be discussed without our macho facades being pierced. At it's heart Chasing Amy is a film about insecurities. They're the ticking clock in any relationship and Smith transforms his into a film... not a movie, but a film. Does it resonate linguistically like a Antonioni film? Or a Goddard film? No, but it doesn't have it. It's his voice. Humour is his shield for most things, and when you get him talking about his talent it's never more evident. We're given a glimpse of a more mature Smith, a man who has found his manhood (fnar) but now has to confront the fragile edges of that manhood as he searches for love. It's beautiful, and the fact that it's populated with dick jokes and comic books doesn't make it any less of a piece of art.
|He's a cool guy, just don't look him in the eye and don't fuckin' mention Reindeer Games.|
It's somewhat fitting that the two most controversial movies of recent years (from the point of view of the Vatican) were made by Roman Catholics; The Passion of the Christ and Dogma. The two directors couldn't be further apart on the personality spectrum, but they're bound together by their religion. One is a literal interpretation of the big guy's book, the other is a soul-searching introspective comedy projected out into the world in order to pose questions about idols, culture and where we as a species have gone wrong. Smith is a braver man than is given credit for being; perhaps even braver than he realises. Wearing your religious school badge in Hollywood can prove kiss or death. I mean, sure it doesn't hurt the weirdo sci-fi religions, or the Jewish performers but ask Jim Caviezel how he went from hot shit to cold diarrhea almost overnight. It's to his credit that Smith made, released, and weathered the Dogma storm without ever losing sight of himself. It would be easy for the knocks to change you. To make you a more guarded, private film-maker but if anything Smith has gone the other way. Comic Book Men, numerous podcasts and all the presenting work he's been doing for DC/Warner is testament to the fact that Smith's life, like his movies, are filled with good humour, hockey and holy rosaries.
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