Friday, November 04, 2011

Slate--Kevin Smith's Army: how his loyal fans prop up a stunningly mediocre career

I managed to never see a single Kevin Smith film since he began his career and though I have met people who have praised exactly two of his films (Clerks and Chasing Amy) I have never seen the entirety of any of his films.  I only saw a small part of Clerks 2 at the behest of a friend who wanted to show me the only time, in his opinion, Kevin Smith ever made a single cinematic moment that had some kind of art to it.  It was the bit with Rosario Dawson dancing and the technique of color saturation adding more vibrant color to the scene as she danced.  Plus, this friend admitted to me, the art was mainly something Dawson took care of by just looking like Dawson ... so maybe the art wasn't even necessarily Smith's.

But my friend pointed out that when Smith could have had a moment take a natural, emotionally plausible course and explore that cinematically and visually, Smith demurred. My impression was that Kevin Smith was like Rumiko Takahashi, who has made a career out of deliberately avoiding emotional depth in favor of slapstick.  The trouble is that it simply isn't possible for Kevin Smith, so far as I could tell in the few scenes of Clerks 2 I saw, to pull off dumb funny the way Rumiko Takahashi does.  There is a certain kind of humorous stupidity it takes a very clever person to pull off and, as yet, I don't know whether or not Smith has ever been, could be, or will be such a person.  Whatever Clerks may have been it can't be as unhinged as even less memorable stories from Ranma 1/2

Of course I recognize that is an apples to oranges comparison ... or is it?  Consider Kevin Smith's comic book career.  At least he can say he is not as widely villified as Jeph Loeb seems to have become.  Sam Adams' article on Kevin Smith does not even pretend to give Smith any respect or serious consideration.  Suggesting that after 17 years the man has merely honed his cinematic skills up to the level of a Hollywood hack (a la Michael Bay or Brett Ratner, perhaps?) is not even damning with faint praise.

Adams' remark about wondering whether Kevin Smith has ever even watched a movie that was made before he was born is a particularly intriguing shot in the whole fusillade.  Then there's this:

Smith once said he wasn’t particularly interested in how his films looked, which is a little like a novelist saying he doesn’t much care for words

Now years ago I hung out with a friend who declared that Kevin Smith was the most successful and best purveyor of mainstream comedy in American cinema at that time.  Only a Kevin Smith fan could possibly say that.  If Smith was willing to go into debt with a mass of credit cards to make his first film that surely indicates a man committed to his work but it may well be indicative of a broader question and crisis artists of every sort can consider.  What exactly is the patronage system that sustains and encourages the development of any sort of art, at any level?  I don't know if there is some metanarrative implicit in the 17 year history of a director who was willing to max out possibly every credit card he could get ahold of to realize his vision.  On the one hand how can I begrudge a person the desire to make films when I have never sat through even one of his films?  On the other hand decades later, I'm not sure how or why Kevin Smith has ever mattered.  I'm curious as to what could inspire Adams to such a merciless and disdainful summary of a man whose career he describes as only reaching hack levels in directorial skill after 17 years ... but I'm also not at all curious to actually watch Kevin Smith films.

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