Wednesday, January 10, 2007

An Open Letter to Kevin Smith

Kevin, Kevin, Kevin...

I've been inching towards this opinion for quite some time, and - to mix metaphors - the pot has boiled over.

I watched Clerks II last night.

I saw the original when it first screened in Victoria at the Student Union theatre with my buddy Ray. We really loved it.

Last night Ray wasn't able to make it due to the weather - though we chatted on the phone.

So let's take a capsule look at your other films that I've bothered with.

Mallrats - Well, everyone deserves a certain amount of latitude to fail when it comes to a sophmore effort. I thought this film was so dull that I don't even really remember it. Let's see what I can glean from the title. Hmmm... perhaps it's a cross between Dawn of the Dead and Ben? I don't recall any zombie rodents, but Shannen Doherty was in it, which... forget it, the joke it too easy. I assume Jay and Silent Bob were in it too.

Chasing Amy - I know a number of people who speak (relatively) highly of this film. I shut down the moment Joey Lauren Adams opened her mouth. Ask me if I'm surprised her career tanked like Greg Lougainis with a head injury. Was this the film in which Silent Bob quit being silent? It seems to me that his (your) monologue was the highlight of the film... though that doesn't mean I can remember anything about what it was about.

Dogma - Some interesting, if a bit didactic, ideas in this one... too bad it was sullied by a heap load of purile humour. While this was your best outing since the big 'C', it was also about the time I started to feel like you were never going to impress me again. I buried that feeling and extended as much good faith as I could in your direction for as long as I could.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back - A few of my oldest frineds assured me that this was top notch. I guess 'oldest' does not necessarily equate to 'reliable.' There were moments. I admit. But I can't even remember what they were striking back against. They went to L.A. right? There were hot chicks... and Mark Hamill - pretty much inexplicably, except for the gratuitous gag-factor. I'm going to riff on Jay & S.B. further down, and much of it hinges on this, so I'm moving on for pace... you do understand the concept of pace don't you?

Jersey Girl - Hey, even you don't speak well of this film from what I can tell. So, why would I watch it? Hmmm... perhaps I should be rethinking that. Okay, tell you what I'll watch Jersey Girl - someday when there is nothing left to do but sepuku or watch Jersey Girl - and then I'll do an addendum to this post.

Let's face it. I'd pretty much given up on "Kevin Smith" before this last film came out. But you had another few tricks up your sleeve.

Clerks II - Hmmm. A sequel to the only film of yours that I actually liked. The only one that spoke to me in any fashion. Intriguing.
No. Forget it. There has been far too much detritus since that I simply don't trust you. Not going. Not watching. Not giving you money. Not enabling you to keep doing what you've been doing.

Then a friend - who has never recommended any of your films to me and who has, with the exception of "The (piece of over-hyped crap - you must be familiar with that concept) Blair Witch Project," had very reliable taste in film by my standards - sent me a link to some of your spoken word/Q&A sessions on YouTube.
Damn, Kevin Smith, you are one clever and entertaining guy. Mind you, I know that the more and more you do that kind of thing the better practiced you get at it and the more you can rely on the stair-case wisdom of the past. But still, you DO still have to have the entertaining and funny thoughts in the first place, right?

I began to become confused without even knowing it. I started saying some really complimentary things about you in public. Then I said one of those complimentary things based on my opinion of your spoken-word to one of those 'old but unreliable' friends.
"Have you seen 'Clerks II?'"
Of course the answer was 'no.'
"You really should. I know you liked the first one and this one is really in the spirit of the first. It really is Kevin Smith at his best."

So I did. I figured "Hey, worst case scenario Rosario Dawson is smoking."

Obviously I didn't "Go" - it has long since left the theatre.
Didn't watch... well that was about to get shit-canned, no way around it. If I'm going to see your movie, I'm going to have to watch it. (In the words of Joss Whedon (more on him in a bit) "Does that make me a man of no convictions? Well, yes it does, but let's move on.")
Not giving you money. I downloaded it. Ha! So there. Several pennies of mine you will never see.
Not enabling you. Well, you won't give money - that's a start. And this diatribe - not that you are truly likely to care - is an effort in that direction. In fact I kind of look at it as I look at the advice I was given over my alcoholic ex-fiancee: Let the world know. Draw the short comings to people's attention. Do not let them get away with it any longer. Make them face the consequences of their problem, so they are forced to deal with it directly. Don't take the well-meaning approach of 'helping them cover it up and evade the repercussions' any longer.

Let's go back to 'The Blair Witch Project' for a moment. I saw it opening night. I was looking forward to it. When it was done I stood up in the packed-to-the-rafters theatre and said "What a piece of crap." I was greeted by gasps and abuse. But how many people stand by that film today as anything but a successful example of hype? (The fellow I mentioned above still does stand by it, but I am pretty certain that that is simply a matter of saving face - he was sitting beside me when I publically declared it to be as cinematically appealing as a pap-smear.) I don't claim to be the cause of people coming to their senses on that front. (And to be fair, I am pretty confident that if I could remember your films that I would like them more than TBWP... which sadly I recall far too well.) But I do think that my staunch position and willingness to declare it added to the come-around.

So... Clerks II.

For starters, the funniest bits were all things that I had already heard you say - in your spoken word performances. LoTR - Three films about walking. Hysterical. Already heard you say it. Pillow-pants the Pussy-troll - same. "There is only one 'Trilogy'..." Yeah... yeah. (I do agree with you BTW - but you've said it publically already. It's feeling worn.) Donkey-show - yeah there was something about that mentioned somewhere which took the edge off of it too. Hey... why doesn't Dante tell the story about how he was commissioned to write the new Superman film with no costume, no flying and a giant spider in the third act? Or am I going to be treated to that in Jersey Girl on the last day of my life?

Rosario Dawson.... has never looked better. Thank you so much for the dancing scene.

Beyond that... Too talky. Too sentimental. Too purile. And what really does it say?

And Jay and Silent Bob...
They worked well in the Original. It was fun when they returned once. It was great when Silent Bob broke the silence with a witty and insightful (it was insightful, right - I have forgotten) monologue. But I can't help but think that that should have been the endgame. Or... maybe... just maybe... you could have made them truly central to a film. Which you practically did in Dogma. (I do remember that.) Oh, but then - a film with them TRULY at the centre! Their names are even in the title! But, by now the gag has run it's course, man.
I suppose it was inescapable to have them in the Clerks sequel. I might even go so far as to say I'd be disappointed if they weren't in it. But at the same time... they're done. DONE! It might have been far more interesting to have them not in it - or appear in a way where they had changed. Let's face it, the 'New and Improved' was cheap and served no function. Sigh.

So, here's the thing, Kevin.

You are a smart and clever guy. You wrote and directed a film which managed to speak to a generation, and you haven't truly progressed beyond it. You championed the fat-comic-geek in all of us. Well done.
But the fact is you aren't actually a very interesting film-maker. I really wish you were.
You are a fan, and admirably so.
But you have failed, Superman. You haven’t used your powers for good. You haven’t even used them for evil for fuck sake! You’ve used them for mediocre. (With flashes of inspiration that keep the huddling masses crawling along after in hopes of another divine lightning strike. Which in turn has encouraged Weinstein to let you keep making him money off the same huddled masses.) I’m not doing it anymore. I’m not.

Mews berates you for not watching Firefly. Do, man! It makes me crazy that Firefly gets cancelled while money gets thrown at the pablum you’re putting on the big screen. What really makes me crazy is that I think you could do just as well, if you just applied yourself.
You claim you love Star Wars, and BSG, and Superman and Green Lantern, and, and, and… But you aren’t doing anything that truly demonstrates that – and come on, you could. You fucking well could.
Whedon is so much like you – though apparently he has a much better refined cinematic eye, but I maintain that it’s just a matter of application. And failing that… perhaps the visuals aren’t your thing. Write books, scripts, stand in front of crowds and make them laugh – make ME laugh. If you can’t pickup your game, then change your game. Do what you do best, focus on it, and do it better. And for god-sakes, quit wasting my time. Actually, that is unfair. You won’t be wasting my time with your films anymore. I really have given up. I’m not going to watch Jersey Girl. I’m not. Perhaps I’ll read the script? But I’m not going to give in to the ‘oh but this one is different’ argument that I’ve heard over and over again from my ‘old friends’ – I am done. I should have been done back when Jay and Silent Bob should have been done. I just didn’t notice it until now.

I hope you notice it. I hope your fans notice it.

Maybe. Just maybe. When we’re fifty you’ll make something that sounds like it will talk to me again. (No, I WON’T come to see Clerks Cubed under any circumstances.) Maybe then I’ll give you a chance again. But only if you continue to impress me with the spoken word stuff, maybe a funny book or two, and a few scripts shot by other people that have more to offer than what they bring to it.

Sorry Kevin. I didn’t really know this was in me until last night. I wish I had figured it out sooner. I’m a bit mad, and quite disappointed. Yes, a lot of that is at myself. But I had to go to the trigger and confront it. And I really DO hope that someday I again think you a worthy film-maker, you are. Hmm… Yoda-speak.

But for now, it is over.
We’re done.



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