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A Look at the Career of Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith, an American filmmaker, comic book writer and everything in between, has had a pretty amazing career. Since the release of his first comedy, Clerks, in 1994, he hasn’t stopped. He’s written everything from The Green Arrow and Batman comics to autobiographies such as My Boring-Ass Life: The Uncomfortably Candid Diary of Kevin Smith, Shootin’ the Sh*t with Kevin Smith, and Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good. And he’s also known for his wildly popular podcast, SModcast.

Kevin Smith

Aside from Clerks, Kevin has written and directed other movies such as Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Cop Outand his latest movie, Yoga Hosers, which releases this year. He has also made guest appearances in Scream 3, Degrassi: The Next Generation and much more.

Kevin Smith attended Vancouver Film School for a few months in the early ’90s before leaving to save money for his first film. Although he has continued to write and direct films, his real passion is in podcasting. In 2007, he started SModcast, which was at first free for listeners and paid for by sponsors. Later, he offered paid podcasts that included extra material the free ones didn’t come with. His podcast grew so much that he now has his own network, SModcast Internet Radio, which has about 13 active podcasts and over 20 archived ones.

He also has a Youtube channel which is “All about what [his] mom wants to see,” and a website, JayandSilentBob, where you can buy all kinds of Kevin Smith merchandise including the well-known “Fat Man” jersey.

Needless to say, Kevin’s made a name for himself over the past 20 years, and it’s all thanks to Richard Linklater’s comedy Slacker which inspired him to “get off his ass.”

Now, a deeper look into his work:

Chasing Amy

Chasing Amy group photo with Kevin Smith

With Clerks and Mallrats, Smith established himself as a dorky vulgarian who represented the juvenile, contrarian side of Generation X. Though his movies had attempts at heart, it was the abrasive humor and materialistic malaise that stuck with viewers. Smith wanted to channel his talents into making something that was deeper and more complicated than the slacker comedies he’d created so far.

Enter Chasing Amy: a talky romance set in the world of comic book creators. Holden (Ben Affleck) falls for Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) but soon discovers that she’s gay. He tries to be her friend and figure out his feelings for her, but his best friend and partner, Banky (Jason Lee), complicates things every step of the way.

At the time, the frank discussion of sexual identity felt courageous and trailblazing. Almost 20 years later, however, it comes off as passé. There’s a tangible “I’m trying!” attitude that permeates throughout Chasing Amy. This leads to the most fleshed out characters in Smith’s filmography, but it’s all in service of such whiny white people ennui. Thankfully, the humor shines through; the early scene with Hooper X (Dwight Ewell) promoting his new comic, White Hating Coon, is one of Smith’s funniest.

It’s tough to rag on a movie that wears its heart on its sleeve, but Chasing Amy is a little too twee for its own good. There is solid acting and character work, but it never quite gels together into anything special. [Drew Dietsch]

Clerks

22 years later, it’s hard to talk about Clerks with any new insight. While being one of the pinnacles of the early Miramax wave, this indie flick for the masses was sort of a Pandora’s Box. American film had been a weirdly exclusive art form that only lent itself to outsiders making bizarre art pieces. Sure, H.G. Lewis and others had penetrated the field with extreme tales of horror. But, what does a guy do when he wants to make a workplace comedy?

Kevin Smith showed the world that if the script is solid enough, it pays to run up credit cards and lean on the kindness of strangers. The end result is a film so groundbreaking for its time that every other outlet couldn’t imitate it. Hell, Smith had great difficulty following it up with Mallrats. But, why did Clerks work?
Well, Clerks worked because it was honest. Creating a black & white dreary look at the mediocrity of retail existence rang true with many Americans coming out of the early 1990s recession. Whether it was crushed college dreams, watching a few friends move past you or just trying to live…things seemed quite difficult. The film relied on jokes about oral sex and mild necrophilia to keep the audience entertained, but there was a ton going on in the subtext.

Look at Randal and his quest to go somewhere else to rent better movies. While he works in a video store, he’s well aware of his lack of options and the general disarray of his environment. Dante is content to follow routine as it doesn’t challenge the niche he has carved out in his life. But, Randal wants something better. Randal wants high-grade specialty porn. The conflict of the lower and middle classes has never been so well-defined in cinema. [Troy Anderson]

Tusk

justin-long-tusk-kevin-smith-movie

It’s safe to assume we all know that Tusk isn’t good. It is, at best, an odd curio in Smith’s filmography. But despite its unevenness, it serves as a showcase for a wide spectrum of acting. The good, the wacky, the awful — it’s all there.

Justin Long gives the performance of his career as Wallace Bryton, the unfortunate podcaster who crosses paths with Michael Parks’s kooky old villain. Parks alternates between chilling and daffy, putting in way more effort than the role ever deserved. Long and Parks share a scene across a dining table, and it slowly unfolds into one of the best things Smith has ever directed.

Then, Johnny Depp shows up as detective Guy LaPointe: the weirdest cop in all of the Great White North. LaPointe is a mind-melting riff on a bad Mike Myers character, complete with hideous prosthetics and an accent that could only be extraterrestrial. Shortly after LaPointe’s introduction, Smith treats us to a stunningly stupid flashback, in which LaPointe meets Howard Howe (Michael Parks). The two men spend minutes — MINUTES — jabbering at each other like idiots about a spider in an outhouse. It’s bad, but it’s also weird enough that it might warrant seeing Tusk. That’s not a bad summation of Tusk, really: weird enough to recommend, and bad enough to leave an impression. [Travis Newton]

Dogma

kevin-smith-film-dogma-cast

Dogma was controversial when it came out in 1999, attracting the ire of Catholic groups around the world. The film, which tells the tale of two fallen angels trying to get back into heaven, is at once blasphemous and reverent. There’s plenty for people to be offended over – George Carlin as a corrupt cardinal, a stripper angel, a poop demon, and loads of swearing.

Despite Smith’s usual mix of scatological humor and gay jokes, there’s something special at the core of Dogma. The movie’s heart is in the right place, preaching kindness to others, above all.

The star-studded cast is amazing. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon inject humanity into renegade angels Bartleby and Loki. Alan Rickman is perfectly dry as Archangel Metatron. Salma Hayek is adorable and well-spoken as muse-turned-stripper, Serendipity. Linda Fiorentino plays protagonist Bethany, who is having a serious crisis of faith, with a good mix of incredulousness and sarcasm. Even Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith are good as Jay and Silent Bob, who serve as prophets of a sort.

The movie has the right mix of humor and heart, which is difficult to pull off in such a violent and crass film. One of the movie’s best moments features Bartleby and Bethany getting drunk together on a train, unaware of one another’s identities. The way they bond over how they believe God has wronged them is easy to identify with. The characters are all flawed and relatable (save Jason Lee’s Azrael, but he’s the villain anyway). Dogma has a special place in the heart of this fallen Catholic and is worth watching at least once. [Danielle Ryan]

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

Jay-and-Silent-Bob-Strike-Back-Kevin-Smith-Jason-Mewes

It’s weird to realize that Kevin Smith was once a major Hollywood player. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is the swan song to that phase of Smith’s career, and in a truly bizarre way, it might be the film that best represents him.

Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) discover that a movie is being made about their comic book personas, Bluntman and Chronic. So, the dynamic duo set off on a trip to stop the production to make sure the movie doesn’t tarnish their reputation with the ladies.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is Kevin Smith’s childish id set loose upon a Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker-style spoof film, but with none of the subtlety or finesse of those pictures. There are gratuitous and self-aware cameos, gleeful satires about the current Hollywood landscape, and more lowbrow humor than you’d find in a hundred National Lampoon DTV movies. It’s the movie every 13-year-old boy has ever wanted to see.

As annoyingly crass as it is, there’s a warped charm to Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Smith drops any semblance of pretension and just has wanton fun. If you can’t stand his comedic viewpoint, it’s the equivalent of a cinematic lobotomy. However, if you can regress into your moronic teenage state of mind, it’s an absolute blast. Definitely for the young at fart… I mean, heart. (Heh heh) [Drew Dietsch]

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Zack and Miri Make a Porno is Smith doing Bergman by way of Apatow. Zack and Miri came out nearly 15 years after Clerks. Following up the mild success of Clerks II offered up something interesting for Smith in this outing. Kevin Smith had the chance to revisit his initial entry into the film world and comment on the process. Colored by the shade of nostalgia, Smith could fictionalize the struggle and celebrate art triumphing in the end.

Then, it became a knock-off Apatow film. Many have argued that the similarities between the two filmmakers were unintentional. Then, those clickbait stories turned into detailing fights between Smith and the Weinsteins over marketing the film. Who made the casting changes and what altered history is for a longer piece. What we have is the final film that started Smith’s current campaign of bombing into limited release deep indie features.

The push for nostalgia through a studio-friendly filter creates a film that seems schizophrenic. Am I supposed to be impressed by the inclusion of retired porn stars Katie Morgan and Traci Lords? Especially when Brandon Routh and Justin Long blow them off the screen with two scenes earlier in the film? It’s sad when the Mac Guy plays a far more convincing porn star than the ladies that put in the field hours. Such is life.

A filmmaker looking back on their origins through a fictional narrative isn’t new. Neither is selling out. So much of the film borrows from Lucas, Romero, and Apatow that it lacks any direct input from Smith. Well, we get that making movies is a hard process and you need your friends. But, doing it through the filter of other directors kills your connection to the material. If a personal story can’t be told with any personal connections, then I’m going to gravitate back and not forward with a director. [Troy Anderson]


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