The problem with Kevin Smith
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What happens when a noted "fanboy director" gets a little too 'fanboy'...
One of the more difficult aspects of being a diehard film fan is that it is almost inevitable that the disassociation from reality one experiences in watching a movie can sometimes carry over past its conclusion. In other words, who among us hasn't come to enjoy a character/film/franchise to the point that you think (or would like to think) that said character or characters aren't so different from their real life players? Would it not be grand if Harrison Ford really was a devilish rogue with deadly whip skills? Or if you peered across a bowling alley and saw Jeff Bridges ordering a White Russian?
Sadly, the truth is often far from the fevered imaginings of obsessed film fans. Film's main artistic goal is to entertain by telling a story; actors are merely the entertainers that guide us through these stories. No matter how many times you watch a movie and marvel at said player's methods at inhabiting his or her character, it is only that - a character. Acting is invariably harder than it looks and it (usually) takes real talent to bring a film from concept to screen. Unfortunately for the awestruck child in all of us, the actor and the character tend to wildly diverge in both personality and likability.
Case in point - Kevin Smith, whose "View Askew-niverse" is a loosely-organized world that I've thoroughly enjoyed. Along with Jay Mewes' 'Jay', Smith's character of 'Silent Bob' begs to be ranked high up on the list of recent iconic cinematic comedy teams. I consider myself a fan of his work, along with the majority of his films: Clerks I & II, Mallrats, Dogma, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, and so on. I find them, barring a couple minor exceptions, funny and quirky, with lively scripts that show originality. Smith's writing may sometimes be stilted and strange, but it rings true in his nearly-patented 'semi-lazy, hyper-observant, 1990s bro-talk' style, while his directing has shown marked improvement and growth after a rocky start. In short, 'Silent Bob' Smith is legendary in his ability to stay calm and relaxed in his films, no matter the circumstances, while 'Behind the Scenes' Smith is a solid scriptwriter and passable helmsman.
So it pains me to have to say that 'Real Life' Kevin Smith is anything but "silent" in our sphere of reality. Instead, Smith has become more and more adept at alerting everyone in the industry to the fact that he is one of the most insufferable, irritating, and loudmouthed actors and directors this side of Uwe Boll.
Smith's latest public freak-out comes courtesy of the Independent Spirit Awards' 2011 nominations, nominations which did not include Smith's latest directing effort, Red State. The religiously-themed thriller, which starred Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, and John Goodman, has received mixed reviews from critics and was released through Kevin Smith's own film studio, Smodcast Pictures. Evidently, Smith believed that his decision to distribute Red State himself and leave it out of the hands of major studios should have made it a shoo-in for consideration for this particular awards show. Admittedly, several films that WERE nominated fell under the banner of Hollywood heavyweights, including Take Shelter (Sony), Like Crazy (Paramount) and The Artist (Weinstein Company). Say what you will about the mild oddity of a Weinstein-distributed film being up for an independent film award... go on, say it. Kevin Smith sure did...
"How the fuck did the @SpiritAwards NOT nominate Michael Parks? Nor John Goodman? Nor Melissa Leo? Fuck your idiotic organization. #FakeIndie"
Of course, by singling out the stars of his film that he felt deserved attention, Smith is also (in a slightly roundabout way) complaining that his film as a whole was not recognized either. Okay, so all of us have lashed out in anger against perceived snubs and mistreatment. No argument there. But the vagaries of the entertainment industry being what they are, it's not always a good idea to say everything you think. At best, it colors you as a guy who talks first and thinks second. At worst, it makes you look like a petulant sore loser who thinks nothing of publicly attacking each and every organization that doesn't heap universal praise upon your creations.
It would only be proper for me and other onlookers to err on the side of caution regarding the above conundrum if Smith wasn't the kind of celebrity to air his dirty laundry on a embarrassingly-consistent basis, but it turns out that, yeah, he is. Just ask his nearly 2-million-strong followers on Twitter.
Who can forget this blowup against Southwest Airlines in February 2010, when the comedian was asked to de-board a flight when the flight attendants deemed him too fat to only occupy one seat? (As a fat dude, I feel your pain on this one, Kevin. But I've been flirting with tres cientos poundages and I still fit in airplane seats just fine. So... I dunno... maybe you should eat a goddamn salad?) The resulting social brouhaha cast a not-so-friendly light on Smith and his propensity for furious diatribes. Granted, Kevin's joke about Southwest taking out a wall of the plane so that he could be removed via forklift was a genuinely-funny, self-deprecating knee-slapper, but finally telling Southwest to "go fuck yourself" is neither funny nor self-deprecating nor particularly clever.
As if to prove that his anger problem was no isolated incident, Smith was soon at it again just a month later when reviews of his buddy flick Cop Out started hitting the interwebs. Film critics were none too kind towards the Tracy Morgan/Bruce Willis flop and Smith turned his "fightsaber" (snort) towards said critics. All critics. Everywhere.
"You wanna enjoy movies again? Stop reading about them and just go to the movies... Watching (critics) beat the shit out of (Cop Out) was sad. Like, it's called Cop Out! That sound like a very ambitious title to you? Was it called Schindler's Cop Out? Writing a nasty review for Cop Out is akin to bullying a retarded kid... It was just ridiculous to watch. That was it for me. Realized whole system's upside down. So we let a bunch of people watch it for free and they shit all over it?"
Smith's rant escalated against every critic that gave Cop Out a negative review until he unleashed this little gem to end the conversation.
"From now on, any flick I'm ever involved with, I conduct critic screenings thusly: you wanna see it early to review it? Fine. Pay like you would if you saw it next week... People are free to talk shit about ANY of my flicks, so long as they paid to see it. Fuck this Animal Farm bullshit."
I'll allow you to conjure your own interesting observation about a multi-millionaire striving so mightily to appear on the level of the 'common man' that he equates a paid professional writer's opinion with that of Cletus Skidmark living in his trailer at 3 Muddy Hog Way. I'm guessing it won't be overly difficult to see the humor.
And now we come to the present day, with Smith aiming f-bombs towards the Independent Spirit Awards for failing to award his righteously-independent Red State with accolades, which is particularly strange if you happen to be familiar with the controversy that fell between "critics are all against me" and "Y Red State no win all teh awards?"...
In January of 2011, Red State made its debut at the auspicious Sundance Film Festival. A short time before, Smith had made an announcement that he would auction off the distributor rights to bidders in the audience after the film's initial screening. Thus perhaps the oddest scene in Smith's rocky media relationship unfolded. Bounding onto stage, Smith seemed confounded by the tepid reaction to the film. After rambling for several minutes, the Red State director abruptly cancelled the auction, announcing that he had decided to sell the distributor rights to himself for $20 and that no further bids would be accepted. The bizarre occasion was described by attendees as "a trainwreck", "dishonest", an "insult", and Kevin Smith publicly "imploding" on stage. Smith later dismissed these comments in an interview with MTV, saying that what he had done was for "entertainment" purposes and chalking up those unhappy with the event to people "looking for something to be mad about".
Four major controversies in a two-year stretch does no wonders for anyone's reputation, no matter their credentials or willingness to participate in public showdowns. The worrying thing about Kevin Smith's propensity to find trouble is the damage to his cultivated image and the ironic embarrassment that has increasingly clung to 'Kevin Smith the person' like so many albatrosses. Nobody with any social awareness can miss the hilarity at the seeming-obliviousness Smith has shown between desperately trotting out a horse-and-pony show to market his film, snatching it out from under prospective buyers, and then later complaining about not being nominated for any independent movie awards. One could certainly label Red State as an 'independent' film now, but it does not appear that self-distributing was EVER Smith's original intent. Rather, it was a single audience's lukewarm interest in his film that seemingly pushed him to make a brash, spur-of-the-moment decision.
Indeed, it would appear that Smith's career, post View Askew, has hardly been anything less than an awkward string of brash decisions. One possible explanation is Smith simply not understanding the power of social media as those of us 'outside looking in' understand it. I have a Twitter account, have made use of it periodically (more recently, to be honest) and have roughly 150 followers. That would leave me with less than .0001% the viewership that Kevin Smith has. It's easy enough to rant and rave in private or let off some steam in the company of a few understanding friends. The danger of self-destruction in these situations is low. But every time Smith writes his 140 characters and presses 'Enter', nearly 2 million people see it immediately. And those numbers rise even further through the myriad network of entertainment news sources that pick up and run with whatever a celebrity happens to say. One must wonder if Mr. Smith truly appreciates the gravity of his reach. People just don't forget and, as the newly-coined phrase goes, the Internet is forever.
Thus, it is with a heavy heart that I am forced to add Kevin Smith to that unfortunate 'talented actor or director, but basically an a-hole' list. Do not weep for him, for he joins elite company: Tom Cruise, Roman Polanski, Will Smith, Katherine Heigl, and so on. In an entertainment era that focuses so heavily on PR and brand, one could make the case that Smith's off-the-cuff remarks are a breath of fresh air. But the pettiness, name-calling, and profane anger towards everyone that doesn't see his films as he sees them shoots that argument down pretty easily. Would I have been mortified for being kicked off an airline flight for being too fat? You bet. Would I be upset if a film that I worked on for months attracted widespread critical disparagement? Sure. But responding to said stressors with a string of expletives to millions is hardly an appropriate reaction.
I used to follow Kevin Smith on Twitter, but I no longer do. Between Smith's constant praise of his fans that flagellate themselves most enthusiastically to his name, his tendency to engage in a blitzkrieg of sustained self-promotion, and the aforementioned bursts of, let's face it, immaturity, I eventually decided that I'd seen enough. Kevin Smith won't miss me amongst his legions of fans, but I won't miss him much either. It didn't take long for me to become less than impressed with a man that I initially assumed would be fun to follow.
And that's my whole point. Assuming that an actor or actress is playing themselves on screen is a fool's hope. More often than not, it's simply a role. In that regard, the problem with Kevin Smith may be how we view him - it's probably as much my fault as Smith's that I don't much like him now that I've come to 'know' him. Films are a powerful tool for prodding imagination. For my generation, Silent Bob and Kevin Smith's 'Jersey' films were "underground cool". What Tarantino did for mobsters, Smith did for slackers. It's an automatic and understandable action to assume that somebody who plays a likable character on screen is likable in person. The sad dichotomy of Smith's fictional laidback slacker appearing to be a front for a nonfictional uptight grouch is something that should be a lesson to many of us. So remember, kids; always remember: it's just a movie. And what happens on the screen stays there.
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