By Kevin Redding
I get movie-moody. Every once in a while, usually lasting a month or two at a time, I become obsessed or re-obsessed with certain filmmakers’ work, so much so that I want nothing to do with any other movies except those made by these filmmakers. They’ve strummed a forever-ringing chord (let’s say a D) in me. I don’t just devote nights to their movies. I spend countless hours watching interviews, whatever behind-the scenes clips I can find, and reading up on writer-director biographies.
And as of recently, I’ve been all about the work of the Shakespeare of the rude and crude (granted, with a whole lotta heart thrown in), the D-I-Y badass, and the most productive, self-diagnosed “fat, lazy slob” himself, Mr. Silent Bob: Kevin Smith. The man is truly inspiring. Here’s a guy from New Jersey who had a dream to express himself through film, wore the dream like a badge, and held onto it, knowing full-well that nobody was going to make his dream come true for him, and so he went and wrote, shot, acted in, and edited a little movie at his place of work during closing hours with a bunch of friends. His budget, riding on maxed-out credit cards and money made from selling his comic book collection.
This little movie, as we know, was Clerks, Smith’s grungy, smartass-dialogue-drenched, unabashedly raw 1994 masterpiece about a day in the life of two slackers working in a convenience store. It changed the way people talked in movies, showed that there didn’t really need to be a plot, kicked the door open for a new style of comedy that remains the norm to this day, and launched Smith’s career.
Smith is, excuse the pun, a brilliant wordsmith. The man just drools compelling-emotional-inspiring-hilarious vernacular and can spin a yarn better than just about anybody in the world. And he’s proven he doesn’t need to make a movie to show that. He just needs a microphone and a crowd. Smith’s been touring the world giving talks for just about 20 years now, and he’s built himself an empire, between his podcasts—er, SModcasts—and his Q&A’s. People want to hear him talk, to shoot the shit, to open up and tell great stories. There’s a reason Dante and Randal’s seemingly pointless diatribes are so damn fun and exciting to listen to, because they came from the filthy and gifted mind of Kevin Smith.
The last time I re-familiarized myself with the Jersey Askewniverse was in the spring of 2012, which ended with me shelling out cash for a hockey hat that I could flip backwards to emulate the look of Randal Graves. There’s something I find so damn endearing about the characters of Smith’s flicks, namely Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Clerks II, and Dogma. They’re characters I’ll never get tired of checking back up on. The only way to describe it is that I feel like I know the characters, and know them well. They’re living, breathing, real people to me and, although Jason Lee’s Banky from Chasing Amy would assure me that they’re just “FIGMENTS OF YOUR FUCKING IMAGINATION!”, I hold a special place in my heart for them. Of course, at face-value, movies that include stink-palms, giant poo monsters, snoochie-boochies and dick sucking discussions (say that five times fast) wouldn’t register as touching or beautiful, but I see what’s buried beneath the blue material, and you’ll find it in every one of Smith’s movies. A little piece of himself. Something personal. A heart.
Take Clerks II for instance. The movie is raunchy as all hell. It picks up with Dante and Randal a decade after the events of the first one. The Quick Stop’s been burned down, they’re once again stuck like gum-in-shutters in a dead-end job at fast food joint Mooby’s. Dante’s on the verge of leaving Randal and Jersey forever to go get married to a girl he doesn’t even like in Florida.
There is an equal parts disturbing, gross, repulsive, unsettling and did I mention disturbing? scene in which Randal prepares a going away party for Dante: A full-on donkey sex show between, well, a donkey and a butch biker-looking guy. Shortly thereafter, the pair are thrown in prison overnight, along with Jay and Silent Bob, and here is where Smith the wordsmith truly shines. He pours everything out on the page about friendship and the past and the future and looking back and moving up and captures it all in a single speech, from Randal:
Lump in my throat every time. When it comes to this scene, there’s really very little that keeps me from crying like a little girl with a scraped knee and shit. And forget it, the last montage of Dante and Randal buying the Quick Stop, rebuilding the Quick Stop, and the pull back shot of them standing behind the register: the transition back to black-and-white and the Soul Asylum song cued in? That’s powerful shit to me. Much more powerful than seeing Optimus Prime die in Transformers 8: The Rise of the Floppy Disc Detonator or whatever the hell they’re churning out these days. I love Kevin Smith’s work so much because it’s personal and it’s about people, actual people. Interacting with each other. Saying things that real people actually say. And feeling things that real people actually feel. And without him even knowing it, or knowing who I am at all, he’s speaking to me. He’s speaking right to me. And seemingly only to me. And that’s the greatest thing about art in general.
That’s why you should never, ever, ever discourage an artist, a point Smith makes throughout his talks. If little teenie tiny 20-something-year-old Kevin Smith didn’t say “Fuck it, I’m making my own movie” 20 years ago, then I’d be deprived of an extremely crucial and important voice in my life. Things that may not seem like they’d ever catch on with anybody but yourself, more than likely will, in a big way. When it comes to creating something that’s personal, get rid of the mentality of “eh, it’s not worth it. Who’s gonna care about something the way I care about something?” It’s like in elementary school when you have a question but you’re too afraid to raise your hand and ask it, and then the more confident kid in class asks the same question that you had, and you get that feeling of, “oh, I’m not alone there.” That’s the best: You’re not alone there. That’s why art really does help people. Good writing helps people. Good movies help people. Writers and filmmakers and artists have the gift to be speakers of the people through their chosen mediums. And of all the voices out there, I can say without any doubt that Kevin Smith’s is the one that reflects me the best. He helps me feel not so alone. And he’s inspired me to be the confident kid, to raise my hand and ask my own questions.
Check out Kevin Smith’s most recent project, Tusk, a horror-comedy inspired by an off-the-cuff conversation with friend and producer Scott Mosier, in SModcast, Episode 259: The Walrus and The Carpenter. The film is set for a September theatrical release, and features Michael Parks, Justin Long, and Haley Joel Osment. Below are the official trailer and an edited version of Smith and Mosier’s hilarious original podcast.