The 1990s will most likely be remembered as an influential decade in movies. This was where we had the rise of the independents. Miramax suddenly became one of the hottest studios in Hollywood, bringing a multitude of smaller, indie films to the mainstream. Thanks to this rise, we got a mind-blowing twist ending with The Crying Game. Quentin Tarintino re-wrote the crime thriller with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Robert Rodriguez amazed us with his low-budget El Mariachi. The decade opened with Francis Ford Coppola, director of The Godfather films, predicting that, “very soon, the greatest movie in the world will be made by a little girl using nothing but her father’s video camera.” Coppola was almost proved right near the end of the decade with the massive success of The Blair Witch Project. These indie directors, dubbed “artisans” by most because of how they wrote, directed, edited, gave themselves small roles, and baked cookies for the crew, seemed to signal the next wave in Hollywood. And, out of it all, arose the cult following around a director named Kevin Smith.
Why do I enjoy the films of Kevin Smith so much? How have I become one of the main followers of the View Askewniverse? This is something I’ve started to ponder when Smith announced that, next week, he’ll begin filming Clerks 2: The Passion of the Clerks, the sequel to his first film, and a film I know he’s been toying with doing for quite some time. I guess, as with a lot of things, I was first exposed to Kevin Smith in that seedy place of experimentation, university.
Living in Augustana’s freshman dorm was a great way to expose myself to all kinds of cinema. All you have to do is park yourself in the floor lounge some Saturday night, and it won’t be too long before the floor’s resident art student and/or cinema buff comes walking in and says, “Hey, I rented a couple movies. Can I watch them?” I was living in the freshman dorms in the spring of 1996, and, on a typical Saturday night, the art student came in, having rented a little movie called Mallrats.
I remembered a lot of the advertising for Mallrats. They had a 3D picture teaser poster that I stared it for an hour in a movie theatre lobby. It was the first project Shannon Doherty had done after her much publicized departure from Beverly Hills 90210, so it had been hyped up very much as “a Shannon Doherty film.” And having no desire to see a Shannon Doherty film, I passed on it in the theatrical run. I watched the movie anyways, and laughed my ass off. Dude, here was a movie where they made jokes about Star Wars and comic books…my kind of film! The art student told me that it was made by a guy named Kevin Smith, so I went out to learn more.
In the spring of 1996, I’d also just discovered the Internet, and its ability to gather movie gossip. I hopped online and starting seeing what I could learn about this Kevin Smith fellow. Turned out he had made Clerks…I’d heard about the film, Siskel and Ebert talked about it a lot. He was already working on his next film, Chasing Amy, which the movie gossip website described as “a romantic comedy about a man who falls in love with a lesbian.” After what I’d just seen in Mallrats, I knew that sounded like an amazing comedic premise.
It was about two years later when I finally got around to watching those two films. Video Update had just moved Chasing Amy from “new releases” to the regular movies, so I did a double feature night: Clerks and Chasing Amy. I watched them in that order. Clerks was just freakin’ funny. I loved it more than I loved Mallrats. Chasing Amy wasn’t really the comedy I was originally led to believe it was. Granted, it does have its funny moments, but it was a lot more serious and thought-out. I had to e-mail my best friend right away and tell him about this life-altering experience of watching Clerks and Chasing Amy back-to-back. “These films just make me want to make a movie!” I told my friend.
Naturally, I started following Dogma online…never got a chance to see it in the theatres. Dogma is never the movie I expect it to be. From the premise – two angels cast out of heaven try to get back in, only to meet up with resistance from a motley crew of good angels, prophets, apostles and muses – I always expect it to be this over-the-top fantasy/action/comedy. Instead, what you get is these characters sitting around debating the finer points of the Roman Catholic Church. It’s probably my least favourite Smith film.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back I just found to be over-the-top funny. I loved it immensely. My only problem with it is, though, you really have to be a fan to get all the jokes. Good thing I’m a fan.
And then…Jersey Girl. Now, I actually thought Jersey Girl was pretty good. Granted, given its subject matter (single dad raising his little girl), it is a somewhat formulaic plot, but it does manage to rise above the formula and be something special. The only thing that killed it was that leftover Bennifer backlash. And besides, Smith tried to break out and do something different. That’s always got to be applauded.
But why do I like these films? It all goes back to that fateful spring day after I watched Clerks and Chasing Amy. Smith’s films make me believe that I could make a film. I always walk away going, “I can do that! I can make a movie about people working through their angst and making lots of Star Wars jokes along the way!” Moviemaking was always the big, mysterious thing to me. But now, thanks to Smith, I realize that it’s accessible.
Not only that, but once you know the history of Smith and see him in interviews, you realize that really, from what he’s done, he’s a really inspirational story. Here he was, just a guy, who really loved movies. He always tells the story of how he saw a movie called Slacker and thought, “That’s a movie? Hell, I can make a movie!” And he just went out and did it. Sold of his comic books and his laserdiscs to get the cash, but that still wasn’t enough, so he maxed out his credit cards to cover the rest. He cast it with a bunch of friends and actors from the local community theatre circuit, and thus, Clerks was made. The rest, as they say, is history. Here’s a guy who knew what his dream was; what his goal was, and he went out and did it! Who doesn’t want to be that?
Plus, he’s just a really nice guy. In any interview you see with him, he’s always really nice. He’s got this self-depreciating sense of humour which I try to emulate. I’ve got tickets for his lecture when it comes to Edmonton this November, and I can hardly wait to go.
In the end, that’s why I like Kevin Smith so much. He’s a likable guy who likes what he does and has worked hard to achieve his dreams. It’s an inspirational tale perfect for Chicken Soup for the Soul – Dick and Fart Joke Edition. I hope Clerks 2 is a good movie. I hope it is really a continuation of the journey of these characters and not, “Randal and Dante – now in colour!” I will be there first in line, because I am such a fanboy.