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Kevin Smith

Written by Matthew Pejkovic

Relationships can develop between a film fan and certain filmmakers.

It is totally segregated, yet intimate at the same time, with the movies themselves acting as a conduit between the filmmaker and those watching his creation.

With film buffs, the relationship hits a whole other level of intimacy. As the year’s progress and we grow into ourselves, so to do the films we see become engorged with our upbringing.

Most won’t like to admit it, but let’s face it: the movies (or music, books, or any other external stimuli) hold as much influence into how we grow into adulthood as our family and friends do.

Many moments in my life can be pinpointed by what I was watching; what song I had on high rotation; and which posters adorned my walls.

Alternatively, we often dictate which films we choose to see based on those other influences in our lives, which form a substantial part of our moral guidelines and personal tastes.

For example, an individual who follows a strict Christian persuasion wouldn’t necessarily be an avid horrorphile, what with the anti-Christian sentiment, gore, and nudity that comes with it.

But then again, that kind of upbringing is practically tailor made for such a genre. I once met a young lady of strict Evangelical stock who (in her teen rebellion), secretly watched horror to spite her parents. They insisted that watching horror would invoke possession by Satan himself. She was more than willing to call their bluff with a diet of Evil Dead and Hellraiser.

Filmmakers can also shape, and be shaped by a generation. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg practically created armies with their pop culture phenoms, most notably Jaws and the Star Wars franchise.

Mine was the era of Tarantino. I distinctly remember when Pulp Fiction was released, and how –for better or worse - it changed the way a whole generation of filmgoer approached the cinema, and how Hollywood itself shifted it gears to cater to a new mob of cinephile who wanted their comedy extra black and violence brutal. “Motherfucker” became the curse word of the time. Unfortunately, along with it was the use of a racial connotation that became the new slang for “brother”.

But as the cult of QT took hold, another filmmaker made his own impact with a film made with an ounce of the budget Pulp Fiction had.

Kevin Smith’s Clerks quickly became the essential film to know and love. Its rapid fire dialogue and sharp wit (laced with a never ending use of expletives) upped the ante in what can be said in a film.

Who in their right mind would structure an argument around the sucking of 37 cocks? Laments about union contractors dying in the destruction of the Death Star; a coffin knocked over at a wake; unintentional necrophilia in a convenience store rest room... all were a part of a movie which shocked, amused, and ultimately moved us with his poignant revelations about maturity and responsibility in a film which was anything but mature and totally irresponsible.

(Not to mention ever so quotable. I used to do a wicked impersonation of both Jay’s “circus seal” spiel, and the Berserker song. However, I have long since retired).

What often caught me in Smith’s best work was the depth on his subject matter. After the misfire which was Mallrats, Smith redeemed himself and caused controversy by delving into a love story between a straight comic book artist (Ben Affleck) and a lesbian writer (Joey Lauren Adams) in the surprising Chasing Amy.       

Yet it was nothing compared to the shit storm which was his next film, the religious parody / fantasy / pro-faith comedy, Dogma.

Smith’s story about a pair of renegade angels (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) who place the universe in jeopardy by exploiting Catholic dogma (as well as other shenanigans) was the one Smith film which hit a much deeper nerve within me, and resonated more than on a generational context.

At the time religion in cinema was non-existent, mainly since the subject didn’t translate to dollars, nor drew public interested as it does today.

While Smith brushes off Dogma as of no deep significance (referring to it as “that” film with a rubber poop monster), it is with no doubt Smith’s most personal work in his career thus far, a living embodiment of one man’s exploration of his faith (Catholic Christian) brought about in what was his best form of expression, filmmaking.

As a then 17 year old of Catholic stock, struggling with my own religious beliefs (agnostic w/ atheist leanings), it was the right film, brought on by the right filmmaker, at the right time.

Consistently immature and ludicrous, without a doubt. But once again Smith brought a depth and maturity to the proceedings: questions were asked of the role of religion in matters to faith in God which I didn’t have the foresight (and maybe even balls) to ask of myself.

Thanking back, Dogma was a film which, odd as it may seem, began an unknowing interest in what my faith really was, what my religion had to offer, and whether I would want to be a part of it. It was a journey which was completed with another cinematic experience from another Catholic filmmaker: Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.    

That Jersey Girl, a drama that showed Smith’s sensitive side, would garner the most controversy in his career was both weird and unexpected.

If there was a filmmaker at that time that needed to shake things up, then Smith was it. His View Askew universe of stoners, slackers, best friends, jilted lovers, and smoking cock had both run its course and found its perfect bookend in 2003s Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back.  

The parallel of Smith’s career trajectory to my own personal maturity was on cue: as Jay & Silent Bob... was released, I celebrated by official turn from adolescent to manhood with my 21st birthday. By the time Jersey Girl was released, I was in the midst of struggling with the banal complications of adulthood.

That Jersey Girl was a bad film should not have been seen as a bad career decision by Smith: he had entered into a new era in his career, and needed to sacrifice a movie or two in order to get his footing.

Sadly, the cries from his legions of fans and the damnation of the critics became too much for Smith, and he made – in my opinion – the worst mistake in his career: he back peddled, stalling the natural progression of his profession.

Clerks 2 wasn’t a bad film. There are indeed many very funny moments, bar a donkey shag or two. It just wasn’t necessary, a film made to please the fans who felt jipped by Jersey Girl. They demanded restitution, and Smith more than complied.

Thus stopped the evolution of Smith the filmmaker, and begun Smith the personality, all dick jokes and Q&A tours, Comic Con appearances and Twitter account.

By now, my interest had begun to wane in Smith the filmmaker. My comic book collecting days were over; Jay & Silent Bob impersonations were not a frequent occurrence, and Judd Apatow offered bigger laughs and better sentimentality than anything Smith had to offer in the past several years (Zack & Miri Make a Porno, Cop Out).

Smith quickly became a man for a select group of people – the fanboy – rather than a pioneering voice of a generation. He pandered rather than continued to break new ground, opting to communicate within a maturity bracket where his jokes about taking a shit can still score a laugh. To take a line from Dazed & Confused, he grew older while they stayed the same age.

That Smith’s main tool of communication is the internet is hardly surprising. As his career grew so did internet technology, and he was one of the first to tap into its vast potential.

How ironic, then, that the fast track world of the net not only gave Smith a platform to express himself, but also provided the biggest noose to hang his credibility with, in his bashing of critics via Twitter, who didn’t take kind to his gun for hire buddy cop movie, Cop Out.

Whatever happened to the guy who cheeringly joined Christian groups in protest against Dogma?

Whoever is in his place was a once great filmmaker, now prone to adolescent spats, selling the same shtick over and over.

I’m getting way too old for that shit.


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