Tuesday, September 8, 2009

An Introduction to the Films of Kevin Smith

You know what's amazing? The fact that this blog is over a year old. You know what else is amazing? That, in that over-one-year of blogging, I haven't talked about my affinity for the films of writer/director/├╝ber-geek Kevin Smith.

Sure, I've talked a bit about some of Smith's comics writing projects over the past year at DC, and we've had a Link of the Week thrown up there when his latest question-and-answer format DVD came out last fall.

But I've never really gotten into how much I love Smith's films, from Clerks right on down to Zack and Miri. And, while this could very well turn into a long and rambling introduction post, I'll try not to go that route.

Still, a discussion about Kevin Smith's movies, for me at least, will be a pretty personal thing, as you'll soon see.

That said, I have a lot of work to do this morning, and unfortunately, that's going to have to come before writing about the glory that is Mallrats.

However, I will give a brief (I promise!) recounting of how I became a fan of Kevin's work. Like most people, I discovered Smith's films in college. Freshman year, to be exact. I had just gotten home from baseball practice, I was tired, and there was no way that any work was going to be done that night. So, instead, a roommate of mine suggested we watch a movie.

Good plan, I thought, and I even let him pick the movie, figuring that, after nearly five hours of running around like a crazy person, I'd be asleep around ten minutes in.

"Ooh," my roomate replied, "Let's watch Clerks."


To prove my skills of prognostication, I did, indeed, fall asleep about ten minutes into my first-ever viewing of Clerks, this crude, black and white thing with its characters who, apparently, only speak in monologues and hate everyone.

Clerks posterA couple days later, the same roommate suggested we watch Mallrats, Smith's follow-up to Clerks which includes more action and movement. But just about the same amount of dialogue.

So a bunch of us watched Mallrats, and I managed not to fall asleep at any point in the film. I loved the flick, and immediately identified with its characters, even though at the time I didn't read comics at all.

They were all in their early twenties (a bit older than I was at the time I watched the flick, but still) and they were drifting. Their relationships were shattering, their social lives were in a constant state of flux, and they seemed like real, live people.

I loved the conversations, the tempo, and especially the cadence of all that talking. The monologues were almost poetic, and it was like the actors needed to learn a whole new language to properly deliver Smith's screenplay.

Mallrats posterAnd, yes, before I go any further, I fully understand that 'Rats was a complete failure at the box office, and that it is inferior in almost every way to Clerks.

But I dug that flick, man. I really, honestly did, and to this day, I have watched it a countless number of times.

Anyway, after watching Mallrats, I asked if I could borrow Clerks, and maybe try not to fall asleep this time. Clearly, the first viewing was interrupted by the Sandman not because of the film itself, but because of the crazy amount of running I had done earlier in that day, at baseball practice.

So I popped Clerks into the VHS player (remember those, kids?) and fell in love. With a movie, with a world, with a filmmaker. If Mallrats was a movie about intelligent, just-graduated college kids, trying to find their way, then Clerks was the ultimate drifting movie, about twenty-somethings squandering their potential at dead end jobs.

Since I was still only a college freshman, I couldn't relate to the whole "look what I've become" mentality of Dante, the main character. But, being in college, and being too smart for my own good, I could relate to the hyper-cynical and over-the-top rants of the movie's co-lead, Randal.

As it does for many fans, Clerks has stayed with me my entire adult life, from that first viewing in college to several subsequent viewings at different points in my post-college existence. From the dark days of unemployment to the frustrating days of full-time employment, and everywhere in between.

When my baseball life ended, and I realized that any hopes of being drafted into the Minor Leagues was out the door, I tried to throw myself into my schoolwork. Anyone who knows me understands how something like that would never work.

Not being able to do the thing you love the most is tough on anyone, and throw in the fact that there was a chance said thing would become my profession, and all of a sudden, attending college without baseball wasn't very high on my to-do list.

I wasn't happy being where I was--I had gone to the college primarily to play baseball on a scholarship, but staying there, without baseball, never crossed my mind. And then, all of a sudden, that's the exact situation that was staring back at me.

What does any of this have to do with Kevin Smith's movies? Well, let's just say that I started feeling a lot like Dante in Clerks.

Smart guy with potential, drifting to nowhere in particular, and wasting my time at a place where I didn't want to be. During that time, Clerks meant something much different to me than it had only a year earlier.

And I think that's the beauty of Smith's films.

Personally, I ended up transferring schools, and living abroad, and doing a ton of things I would never have even imagined. Do I owe it all to Kevin Smith's movies? No, but I have to imagine that Dante--and his refusal to think out of the box, and his complete fear of failure--is a character that plays constantly in my mind. He's a life lesson about taking chances and not ever (NOT. EVER.) allowing oneself to become complacent.

When making Clerks, Smith famously maxed-out all of his credit cards, and despite having no way to pay them off, he was determined to make a movie. To take a chance, and to do the thing he always wanted to do.

Another life lesson, there.

By making the movie, Kevin Smith was ostensibly the opposite of a Kevin Smith character. He was driven to achieve something, and he did everything possible to attain that goal. And I admire that, and I have great respect for the man.

Smith is a great influence on me, on my writing, and (hopefully) on the way that I am throwing myself into the next phase of my career. We'll see how that pans out. But I know that, always, in the back of my head, there's Dante, sitting behind a counter and complaining about life.

Now, as I approach my (*gasp*) late twenties, Clerks has taken on yet another entirely new meaning for me, and I'm sure that my interpretation of the flick will change as I get older.

I'll just have to wait and see, I guess.


So, just to tie things up here, if you've never seen any of Smith's films, do yourself a favor and start with Clerks. A caveat, though, is that the film is profanity-laden, and when it was being released, there was talk of an X-rating. Not for any violence, or sex, mind you, but because of the conversations the characters have in the film. So if you're easily (or, not-too-easily) offended by such things, be warned.

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