Jareed, Creative Commons Flickr
I’ve been playing a lot of catch up during this 500 movie challenge that I’ve gotten myself into. This means watching movies that I’ve been meaning to see for sometime but never got around to. This is usually because of dumb excuses. I was waiting to watch it with company, I was never in the mood, that looked good but this looks better… but now those things go right out the window. Now I’m grabbing some of these old titles and saying “I want to watch this, and I have time, why not now?”
One of the films I recently watched was Kevin Smith’s film Red State. I’d been avoiding this one for a specific reason. The movie came out to a great deal of controversy at the Sundance film festival. Kevin Smith, in his usual P.T. Barnum fashion, announced that he was so confident in the film that he would auction off the distribution rights immediately following the premiere screening. This of course got a lot of attention, and a scrum of critics and entertainment reporters made it a point to be in the audience to see things unfold.
Following the film, Smith walked out on stage and announced that there would be no auction, as he had just sold the film rights to himself, for pocket money. Basically getting the message out to the aforementioned scrum of reporters and critics, that he’d be launching his own distribution company. It was a publicity stunt by every definition, and what’s worse is that the reporters missed the money shot that they had come to chronicle.
A wise man once said, “Never ever, ever skimp on the money shot.” (jnissa, Flickr Creative Commons)
From there it was luke-warm reviews for the movie, and bad press from the journalists. Smith not helping matters by taking some critics and reporters to task on twitter, which, to me, seemed childish.
I decided to hold off on seeing Red State until after the kerfuffle died down and I could give it a fair shake. I knew it would probably take years, and it did.
You see, as I have often said, I worshiped at the altar of Kevin Smith for years. When I watched Clerks for the first time, (on VHS, mind you) it spoke directly to me. It was about a couple of Gen-X, minimum-wage schlubs hanging out and being cool while talking frankly about pop culture and even more frankly about blow jobs. Which is exactly what I was. A [latter-day] Gen-X, minimum-wage schlub who liked to hang out, try to be cool, and talk about pop culture and speak frankly of blow jobs (which, in my case, was a strictly theoretical discussion, at the time.)
The 90s. If this guy’s collection was anything like mine, at least one of those labels is code for “porn that I don’t want mom to find.” (Orin Zebest, Creative Commons Flickr)
Years later, but still early enough that I was venomously flying to Smith’s defense around late-night sessions of coffee and cigarettes (Jim Jarmuch reference not-intended), a friend of mine really put it best. “Trevor, we liked those movies because they actually had the balls to say ‘go down on,'” and while I didn’t agree with him at the time, he was right. I liked it because it was what I thought was hip and edgy, but the real honest-to-goodness hip and edgy stuff wasn’t actually carried on the shelves at Blockbuster.
Be that as it may, I enjoyed Smith’s movies. I really liked Clerks, I liked Mallrats, I loved Chasing Amy, I really loved Dogma.
Then, something happened. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was released and it was almost like Star Wars: Episode 1. I thought I liked it. At least, I was really, really trying to convince myself I liked it… but there was a little tiny voice within me that just kept screaming “that wasn’t very good.” I saw the movie again, and again. Bought it on DVD, watched it several more times. But ultimately… I just stopped watching it because, frankly, I didn’t like it.
He was the guy who lived the dream. Kevin Smith. He was the filmmaker with no formal training who went on to have a successful career writing and directing movies I liked, and… he’d let me down. What’s worse is that he really let me down with more of the same. It was still two Gen-X schlubs talking frankly about sex and pop culture.
But even at the beginning of our eventual growing apart, there was one thing that I had always given Smith, and that was he was ridiculously in touch with his fans. He went on College tours, he had an active forum that he and his co-horts posted on regularly. He made announcements on these boards before anyone else had a chance to break the news. The guy talked to his fans when they asked questions, which I’d never experienced before. He was a filmmaker that I looked up to, who was accessible.
But there had been a change during that hey day of View Askew’s internet forum. Smith had made announcements. A lot of announcements. These pertained, specifically, to upcoming projects he had a hand in, specifically: Fletch Won, The Green Hornet, Clerks: The Animated Movie, and a few comic book runs that he had started that just seemed to never get finished (specifically Spider-man & Black Cat and Daredevil Bullseye.) Slowly but surely, each project would go into development hell, or would just sit and wait and nothing would come of it. He did eventually finish his runs on the comics, but Spider-man & Black Cat was really, really bad. So the fans who were excited to see him expand into new frontiers and stretch his wings a bit, kind of got tired of waiting. Suddenly, his best asset became is greatest flaw, as eventually, only the rabid Jay & Silent Bob fans posted to the forums and awaited an audience with Smith. The rest of us moved on.
“Yes, Mr. Smith? We think Jersey Girl was totally lacking in ‘Snootchie’ and ‘Bootchie.’ You should have more of those in your next film.” (allygirl520, Creative Commons Flickr)
After that came an age of mediocrity for Smith. Jersey Girl was kind of “meh.” Zack and Miri Make a Porno was kind of “meh.” Cop Out really dropped the baton and was low-level “meh.” Clerks 2, I admit had a lot of heart and was probably a step above “meh” but it was no Chasing Amy (and, yes. There is a certain irony to criticizing the guy for never leaving formula and then praising him for a sequel to his first film. I’m not a perfect individual, people. I’m flawed.)
Now, I’m not really enchanted with Smith as a filmmaker at all, and that breaks my heart. Because I was SO into him years ago, it almost feels like a waste. I still enjoy his older stuff, so there is that, and I certainly catch myself hoping every time he announces a new project, that it’ll be the one that brings me back into the flock. However, Red State wasn’t that movie. Sadly, I thought it was so “meh” that it probably falls somewhere in the middle of Smith’s other “meh” films, standing out in neither quality or lack thereof. The script seemed half-baked and seemed to suffer from either needing more drafts or needing less. Really, it could go either way. But the performances were good, so the movie wasn’t un-entertaining.
His next project is a kooky concept piece that seems like it’ll at least be creepy or interesting, about a man who is captured and has to live in a guy’s basement dressed as a walrus. I’m told the whole concept came from one of Smith’s podcasts, which people tell me are good, but I just can’t bring myself to care enough to listen to them. Same goes for his last several spoken word specials. My Smith fire is fading, and I miss its warmth, but I need something more substantial than Smith talking about him self to stoke the logs.