VOH Filmmaker of the Week – Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith
Now that Kevin Smith‘s latest production, the atrocious AMC reality series Comic Book Men, is no longer airing, we have decided to take a closer look at Kevin Smith as a director. Despite a filmography that includes spectacular critical and financial failures such as Jersey Girl, Mallrats, and Zach and Miri Make a Porno, Smith still retains a cult-like following due to his gregarious personality, self-deprecating sense of humor, and of course the impact of Clerks, one of the pioneering films of the low budget American indie film movement of the 1990’s.

Is Kevin Smith a visionary or a hack?

Late Night Says:

Kevin Smith is not a cinematic artist devoted to crafting beautiful images. His vision is dedicated to de-mystifying film, democratizing the medium and demonstrating to his audience of indy film buffs that they too could be making movies (and getting paid). Smith’s DIY indie ethic informed the look and feel of his heartfelt stories of surburban youth. As a result, his earlier films are not particularly pretty. But the characters are engaging, and Smith gets them to tell the stories he wants to tell.

As his budgets increased, his filmcraft improved in step with competent special effects and pyrotechnics for later films like Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. His most recent film, Red State, is as photographically slick as any other in the slasher/horror genre. What makes this film special is Smith’s willingness to tweak genre conventions to create something uniquely his, combined with strong performances from a game cast. As an independent everyman, Smith is a visionary.

Mr. Ridley Says:

Producer, writer and director, actor (and comic writer) Kevin Smith has been glorified as a hero for the indie film sector, but to date, his filmmaking has come up short. Given his portfolio, it might seem that Smith wants to explore relevant emotional issues through his amusing local Jersey boy lens, but his directing simply lacks the sophistication and nuance needed to pull it off. As a result, while we may be amused by the crude antics and expressions from his characters, when it comes time to explore the “real” emotional issues underneath the broad comedy and venture into the filmmaker’s vision, Smith just can’t deliver.

Admittedly, Clerks was an amusing first outing. However, in Chasing Amy, the filmmaker mistakes his self-absorbed references on pop culture for “dialogue” and his crude language and didactic teachings for “witty” repartee. In addition, Smith’s blunt direction and the shrill delivery from his cast is so on the nose that the filmmaker can’t even begin to engage audiences on the more serious issues presented in the film, such as identity, sexuality and the complexity of relationships.

That’s not to say that Smith’s films aren’t fun, but he is certainly no visionary. Smith is not interested in exploring a personal vision or advancing the art form. Kevin Smith is interested in Kevin Smith. But I don’t believe this assessment would bother Smith in the least… after all, it’s publicity that he’s after. And given his preponderance for self-promotion, Smith is destined to be the consummate Hollywood promoter – the sure sign of a hack.

Hak Snider Says:

Kevin Smith a visionary? You’re having a laugh! A quick glance at Mr. Smith’s filmography provides all of the evidence you need to determine whether or not Smith should be placed in the Pantheon of Visionary Filmmakers, alongside directors such as Martin Scorsese, Akira Kurosawa and Stanley Kubrick.
Silent Bob

After an impressive no-budget debut with his 1994 film Clerks, Smith has churned out a string of moderately successful “indie” films such as Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Dogma. In Clerks, Smith demonstrated his aptitude for writing clever dialogue laced with numerous pop culture references and virtually no grasp of the visual side of directing film. Clerks might as well have been shot using a 7-11 security camera, although the ugliness of the cinematography could perhaps be blamed on the film’s minimal budget. However, Smith has not grown at all as a visual storyteller since then and his once witty dialogue has grown rather tedious, as every character in a Kevin Smith film speaks just like Kevin Smith, whether they are supposed to be a lipstick lesbian or a heavyset male slacker. And is anything hackier than when the writer/director of a film shows up in the pivotal moment in his own film to explain what his film was all about, as Smith did in Chasing Amy? Perhaps Smith was afraid that the point of his story had gotten lost amongst all of the penis jokes and long-winded monologues.

Smith has stayed relevant because his inventive self-promotional tactics have allowed him to cultivate his public persona as an entertainment brand and Smith remains a top draw at San Diego Comic-Con and on the lecture circuit. Unfortunately, the only thing noteworthy Smith has done in recent years was to get kicked off of a Southwest Airlines flight for being too wide for his seat. True, Smith has stayed “indie” through all of this, but was this by choice? He is still young enough to turn his directorial career around, unless it all disappears underneath a cloud of marijuana smoke, but at this point the only thing saving Smith from “hack” status is his own lack of box office success. Still, if you demonstrate a hack’s skill set, you should not be rescued from hackdom by the unpopularity of your films. Hence, Smith earns a rating of “indie” hack in my book.

One comment

  1. Bill Gibson · April 23, 2012

    Favorite movie of Kevin Smith’s is Chasing Amy although I really liked Clerks as well.

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