A monologue on the subject of Kevin Smith...  

rm_smosmof2 68M
963 posts
5/13/2006 10:52 am

Last Read:
7/13/2006 7:00 am

A monologue on the subject of Kevin Smith...

I have received a comment, and I've been getting the essay together in my head anyway...

About 13 or 14 years ago, a would-be film maker named Kevin Smith sold off his comic book collection for about $40,000. With the proceeds of this sale, he proceeded to make a movie called Clerks, which he writes, directs, and acts in, in a minor (?) role. I remember having read a very favorable review of the film when it first came out, but with a few exceptions, I'm not one of those people who has to go see a film as soon as it hits the theaters so I never got around to checking it out then. A year or two later, another Kevin Smith film called Mallrats got a lot of advertising in comics, (partially because it contained a special appearance by Stan Lee, the head honcho of Marvel comics as himself) but the reviews of Smith's second film were not as enthusiatic as those of his first. Another year or two later, Chasing Amy hit the big screens, getting the best reviews yet. Then around '98 or '99, Dogma appeared, getting even better reviews than Amy although there were some misgivings about some of the content, subject matter, and language. I was impressed enough with the review that I really wanted to see the film, but once again, never got around to it...

Fast forward to 2001. I've moved out of the house, seperated myself from a marriage that had lasted 23 years, and moved to within a 5 mile drive from work, having spent the previous 8 years commuting 100 miles a day. The new girl friend is interested in seeing some of my favorite films, so an inexpensive dvd player is purchase, and I start renting things from Blockbuster and buying others off of Amazon, when something looks like "my kind of film". Ultimately, the experiment of sharing my favorite stuff with her, because the films I like the best, ones that challenge the limitations of the medium or are excercises in different kinds of storytelling, "give [her] a headache".

But while I'm renting things to check them out, I grab Dogma. Omigod. I'm blown away.

The main plot line (if your call it that) in Dogma concerns two angels (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) who've been sentenced to exile on earth. It seems that when Lucifer started his revolt, these guys were somehow involved, but didn't take sides. After Lucifer and his minions were condemned to Hell for having revolted, these two were exiled to Michigan. But it seems that a Catholic bishop (George Carlin) who is attempting a new campaign to bring in fresh souls to the church, has declared that anyone who walks through the portals of his new church, is guaranteed a place in heaven. The two angels see this as their chance to go home, and start a road trip to New Jersey, the site of the new church.
Presently, a young lady (Linda Fiorantino) is interrupted one night by the appearance of the voice of God (Alan Rickman) who sends her on a quest to stop the angels, because if they succeed in going back to heaven, the will of God will have been thwarted, and all reality will cease to exist. He tells her that she will be joined by two prophets, who will assist her in her quest....

Not exactly willingly, she is convinced to take on the assignment, and begins to head to New Jersey. On her way, she is joined by a couple of slackers who call themselves Jay and Silent Bob (Kevin Mewes and Kevin Smith). Silent Bob is, well, silent. Never says a word, not that he could get one in anyway, because Jay never stops talking. Jays language is blue enough that even Lenny Bruce might have been impressed. He seems to be incapable of meeting a woman without immediately propositioning her, in vivid terms. The band continues to grow, as they add the 13th disciple of Christ (Chris Rock) and a muse (Salma Hayek). There is an effort made to interfere with their quest by Azrael (Jason Lee) and a couple of sub-demons.

More plot than you probably want to know, but it gives you a flavor of the outrageous imagination at work. This movie takes numerous shots at religion, Catholicism in particular, but it's clear that the writer knows his subject well, and even has a kind of affection for Catholicism, even while he's satirizing it. And it's not like religion is the only thing targeted. As a matter of fact, if you can't find something to be offended by in this film, you either aren't paying attention, or are on so many drugs that nothing penetrates. Smith is an equal opportunity shooter...

If you can live with Jay's language, and the irreverence of the subject matter (not all people are capable of either one or the other) I can pretty well guarantee that you'll be highly amused by this film. I highly recommend the dvd version, because there's a monologue near the end of the film that was cut where Azrael explains why he's trying to clear the way for the angels to cross the threshold. The film would have to stop dead for this monologue to be left in, at a point where the action is quickly rising to a boiling point, but it's a shame that it's been omitted, because it's a wonderful piece of writing. Jason Lee has had major roles in every Smith film since Mallrats, and I'm delighted to see that the rest of the world has discovered him as Earl, in the NBC comedy that premiered last September.

I enjoyed the film so much, I had to go back to find the first three, and watch them in order (there is a continuity, however tenuous, from each film to the next).

Clerks was clearly a low budget film. Shot in black and white, with very few sets, it's Smith indicting himself for being a directionless slacker, before he decided to pursue his calling. What story there is involves two clerks, one of whom is called in to work in a Quik-Stop food store on his day off, the other mans (the term works would be inappropriate) the tape rental store next door. Dante (the Quik-Stop clerk) is clearly a cleaned up, slimmed down verion of Smith, himself. Randall, the video guy, is one of the biggest pains in the ass you'd ever want to meet. Jay and Silent Bob hang out outside the stores, selling drugs. The dialogue sounds real, the situations are funny, when they aren't being painful to watch, and the conflicting emotions Dante is going through trying to deal with certain relationships will probably seem familiar to most people on this site.

Smith seems to have made a sufficient impression on someone that they gave him a much bigger budget and let him do another film. Mallrats isn't a bad film, it's just a disapointment. It isn't quite a remake of Clerks but mostly it just covers the same ground, only this time in color, with some real actors (Shannen Doherty and Ben Affleck) and a couple of extravagent set pieces for Jay and Silent Bob to clown around in. Oh, and this is the film that introduced Jason Lee.

Chasing Amy is a whole 'nother kettle of fish. It's a very personal story about a comic book writer/artist (Affleck, again) who falls in love with another writer/artist (Joey Lauren Adams) who is a lesbian. Even though most of the sexual activity occurs off screen, this is one of the most sex-filled movies ever, as the characters never stop talking about it. Jay and Silent Bob are again supporting characters, and an early piece of dialogue demonstrates that Affleck's character knows some of the characters from Clerks. Jason Lee is the inker of Afflecks comic, and steals the picture in any number of ways. Jay and Silent Bob are again supporting characters. The behind the scenes stuff about how comics are done, and what comics conventions are like struck me as way too close to the truth. The biggest weakness to the film is that Smith seems to have been as enamored of Adams as Affleck's character is of her's, and she just isn't up to the task of making that strong an attraction feel justified.

Dogma was Smith's fourth film, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back his fifth. The supporting characters from the previous four films move to the forefront of this film, another take-shots-at-anything-that-moves comedy. The primary target is Hollywood, but again, no one gets off easy. This film ties up a number of loose ends from the previous films, and has a number of wonderfully funny sequences. Again, one's ability to tolerate Jay's runaway blue monologues is important to not get too put off of the better parts of the film. Just about everyone who appeared in any previous Smith film makes at least a cameo appearance in this one.

Smith has completed one more film, Jersey Girl, featuring Affleck, Carlin, and Liv Tyler in a story about a hot shot advertising guy who has to give up the high profile life after his wife dies and he has to move in with his father so that someone can take care of his 10 year old daughter. This one is more subdued than Smith's other films, as he was trying to reach a mainstream audience. Didn't work. My favorite piece of the film is the act that the father and daughter work out for the girl's schools talent show. Everyone else is doing versions of "Memories" and Affleck and daughter do a scene from Sweeney Todd. Funny stuff. It's also nice to see Carlin given more screen time.

Well, any readers who haven't fallen asleep by now will have hopefully decided that they'd like to check out any or all of these films in the near future. I hope my summaries will aid you in deciding which might be more suitable to your individual taste. Or watch them in order, and see Smith grow as a writer and director.

Kaliedascope61 43M
4084 posts
5/13/2006 12:23 pm

These movies are classics in my opinion with chasing amy being my favorite. I could watch them over and over and over again and never lose interest...wait I have.

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