Last week, the guys discussed which Kevin Smith movie reigned supreme, and this week continue the discussion for your reading enjoyment.
Chris: Kevin Smith and I go way back. Well, admittedly not as far back as Kyle and Kevin go, but still a few years at least. In fact, the only reason I know who Kevin Smith is at all is Kyle sitting me down and forcibly showing me Clerks, then Clerks: The Animated Series, and eventually Chasing Amy, which I told him I enjoyed up until the second half where I began hating it relentlessly.
By then the Kevin Smith bug had jumped into my bones and I sought out Mallrats, Dogma, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back all on my own, enjoying two of those three greatly. I’ll let you decide which one was the odd-duck-out. (P.S.: Greg is right that Mallrats is amazing).
Sadly, my last Kevin Smith movie would end up being Clerks II, not because I thought it was a bad movie since I really enjoyed it, but because he stopped making movies I had any real interest in. I’ve heard extremely mixed things about Red State, but I’m willing to give it a shot as it’s not his usual dick and poop jokes, so good on him.
The only real negative I’ve experienced with the big man in the hockey jersey is more recent, and it’s that I can’t find stoner humor and essentially lowbrow for the sake of lowbrow funny anymore. I don’t want to say that I’ve grown up too much, but … well yeah, I guess I’ve grown up too much. The point where I just couldn’t take it anymore actually occurred during a graphic novel. Anyone else read Quiver? It’s all about the Green Arrow, and it’s not bad, but I just couldn’t enjoy much past the first few pages since good ol’ Ollie Queen gets to talk about sex with his girlfriend before just dropping the act and going down on her in the kitchen. Yay comic books?
I would like to point you toward the Smodcast Internet Radio though, if for no other reason than The ABCs of SNL is fabulous beyond words, though that’s due mostly to Jon Lovitz being a truly hilarious individual and a nice guy to boot.
Talking about Kevin Smith is tough for me, but I was really surprised that we weren’t swarmed with comments for this last episode, mostly because I’d have assumed he was another one of The Escapist’s patron saints. I’m still piecing together who’s been granted sainthood. So thus far, George Carlin, definitely a saint. Kevin Smith, not quite yet. Learn something new every day.
Kyle: Opening: Kevin Smith did not make Good Will Hunting.
Let me begin by reiterating that Kevin Smith did not write or direct Good Will Hunting, and Ben Affleck gets entirely too much shit. Honestly? Making a “Butt-Chin Affleck” joke was en vogue about 2004. Let’s make a rule: if someone has already taken their lumps from animated cable shows, the deed has been done. Let well enough alone.
Point 1: Clerks is more universal a story
I maintain that Clerks is the superior movie. And a big part of why is because the central character and conflict is easier to relate to. After all, not everybody grows up with a religious imperative that affects them profoundly. And those who do don’t always have a crisis of faith. And they almost never meet angels and stoners and Our Lord Alanis Morrisette.
But almost everyone can relate to Clerks because we all turn 22 years old and wonder what the hell we’re doing in life. We have all worked a mindless job that makes us feel worthless. It’s a more universal story, and Dante (while whiny and self-important) is a much easier protagonist to identify with.
Point 2: Basic writing issues (writing for a female protagonist, all his characters sound the same, etc.)
And I maintain that I love Kevin Smith’s writing, but it isn’t without flaws, particularly in his earlier films. One such flaw: lots of his characters speak the same way. In fact, male or female, educated or not, cynical or optimistic, Kevin Smith’s characters usually always speak with a bemused and pop-culture infused literary flourish. With a liberal application of profanity, of course.
This is less of a problem in Clerks because the majority of characters are college-age grunge people, all from the same small town in New Jersey. It stands to reason that they would have the same vernacular, or at least the same devil-may-care attitude. In Dogma, you have thirty-something women from Chicago, a 2,000-year-old black man from Heaven, two violent, fire-and-brimstone angels who have spent eons in Wisconsin, a Mexican muse, Jason Mewes, Alan Rickman, etc. When Salma Hayek reads a Kevin Smith line, you are taken out of the story briefly. You become acutely aware that Kevin Smith (a very un-Mexican Generation-X suburban man) wrote that dialogue.
Another of these flaws in writing is the protagonist. While Dante is an easy character for Smith to write (it is essentially him, after all), Bethany is more difficult. She shares Smith’s Catholic upbringing and self-doubt, but she is a different perspective for him. Namely a female perspective. Smith, along with Quentin Tarantino, has a hard time writing women. Bethany might come off flat due to Linda Fiorentino’s performance, but her dialogue was pretty dry to begin with.
But I do like the movie. I like them both. They spoke to me. I think Clerks just spoke louder and way more bluntly.
Dan: I file Kevin Smith in the same mental folder as I do Quentin Tarantino, mainly because they both like to focus on dialogue. The difference is that Quentin mixes his bla bla with action where as Smith mixes in comedy. Now I am sure others might disagree at the mere idea of those two directors sitting at the same table together, but that’s just how their films strike me personally. I like them both, but on the whole I find Smith more approachable to a layman audience. You can enjoy Mallrats without “getting” Kevin Smith, but Jackie Brown is pretty tough jerky to chew if you don’t know who’s sitting behind the wheel.
My two cents out of the way, here’s how and why the points landed where they did.
The first point went to Chris with his excellent observation of the scope of Dogma. Kevin Smith could have done nothing but poop and fart jokes, settling into the same suck that Adam Sandler finds himself recently. Clerks proved that he knew how to direct and write, and that’s all he needed to line his pockets. But, like the true artist and cool guy he is, he decided to write a movie that not only made some wildly funny observations on organized religion, but also left you having serious debates afterwards. It also helped that it had Alan Rickman.
Kyle fights back and snagged a point with the attainability of Clerks. Everyone who’s ever fantasized about making it big in Hollywood thought, “I wonder if I should just go for it, max out my credit cards and take a chance?” Every time we hear a story of someone who took that plunge and succeeded, it gives us hope that we could do it too. Kevin Smith making Clerks was an inspiration due to how meaningful the movie was yet how simple it was to make. “Write what you know” is what we’re all told, and Kevin Smith must know some very intimate truths about us all, because that’s what he wrote.
I considered not giving Kyle the third point simply due to the similarity to the second point, but upon further reflection I decided to split the two. The first one focusing on the achievement on the whole, with a very indie filmmaking vibe, this second point for Kyle focused more about why the movie store and convenience store was simultaneously the only location available to Smith, and the only locations that would ever have worked. Robot Chicken, Family Guy and a plethora of others have shown us that simply mentioning pop culture existed in the past will get you an audience. Smith realized that a movie store would have instant access to infinite references that he could pull upon, and the convenience store could represent a job that was immune from the possibility of being helpful to society. Any hack director could have made references to movies, and then had a plot shoehorned in to fill the time, but Smith was smart. He wrote a story about the type of people who care about film references, really care about them. And in that caring about the non-important, and lamenting the lack of success of the real, Smith touched an entire generation. Heck, the movie holds up because gen Y feels the same way.
Chris snagged another point for his side during the drinking round by having Dogma be the shining example of what an indie filmmaker can do with a serious subject and a bigger budget. It’s true that Clerks was Smith’s first, so there is no way to see any progression in his craft, and that’s a built in weakness. Especially for Smith, who likes to reuse actors, characters and plotlines, Clerks has to start from ground zero. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is pants-on-head hilarious in the parts when it references other movies in Smith’s lineup; Hell, it references Dogma. Clerks can’t reference any other work due to time flowing forwards, and so one of Smith’s best tools was unavailable. Sad panda.
Finally, and for the win, Kyle reminds us that when you turn off the CG, get rid of the larger, better known cast, and cut things down to just conversation in a movie store, you better bring the jokes. Clerks brought the jokes, simple as that. Dogma had the poo monster, flying Ben Affleck, and the like. That’s all budget, and without it I don’t know if Dogma would be as good. You can’t take anything away from [I]Clerks[/i], and that is why it wins.