Kevin Smith: he’s the quintessential adolescent film director; in fact, I haven’t watched him since I was 17—so I went back and watched a few clips on YouTube last night and came away with some opinions. For a start, he’s not a great director or an artist—except in one respect: Smith manages to capture the interstitial period between late adolescence and full adulthood perfectly. His films are all about people who hang out in the mall or work a part-time job in a convenience store before they go to university—or after they’ve come back and don’t know what to do. It’s the 16-24 age range that Smith captures perfectly—that’s his strength.
Unfortunately, he’s also the poor man’s Quentin Tarantino, by which I mean Tarantino spent all his time in video rental stores and his films are all, as we used to say, a “postmodern” homage to the films he watched then. In the same way, Smith represents a man (born in 1970) who grew up cocooned in a mass media environment, with a particular accent on the Star Wars mythology (the film came out when he was seven and clearly exercised a decisive influence on his personality).
What I mean by “media cocoon” is that Smith never seems to have experienced an actual emotion in his life nor does he seem to know how people actually act—a major deficiency in a writer-director. What we see in Smith is an extrapolation of how he thinks people should act based on the media world he’s cocooned in. This is most apparent in his Chasing Amy (1997), a lesbian titillation flick, where a straight man falls in love with a lesbian. I watched a few samples and all the characters spoke as if they had reaction formation, it was painful to watch—it was as if they said, “Yeah, omg, this is just such a sucky situation, like totally fucked-up,” and that was it.
That’s okay for a parody, sometimes I parody that speech pattern—but Smith’s whole film is like that. It’s not unrelated to the left because you often find that leftists online speak as if they only experience everything at a distance through reaction formation, because everything is filtered through the adolescent mask, based off the media, where you ask yourself “what will other people think—is this what ‘good people’ say?”.
It leads to an hysterical engagement with life with lots of insincere swearing, as evident in Chasing Amy, where characters say things like “What the fuck were you thinking, Holden?”. The fact is that people just don’t speak like that in real life, the way Smith has them swear isn’t how people really swear—it’s how you think they are in your head.
It’s not unlike that line in The Simpsons where a woman screams, “Won’t someone please think of the children?”. That’s something you think people would say in a disaster, but it sounds contrived because people don’t actually speak that way during disasters. Smith has a similar contrived style when his characters talk about sex, relationships, and, well, anything.
Indeed, Smith’s only great film is his first film Clerks (1994), precisely because it’s almost just a documentary about working in a convenience store and so has minimal opportunities for Smith to try to be “deep”.
Smith is nominally a comic director, but he isn’t very funny—because Americans aren’t very funny, really. The only funny Americans are the Jews and the blacks—American Americans just aren’t that funny, they tend to be very po-faced and serious (Puritan legacy). Indeed, Hollywood might be run by the Jews but you can hardly get a more English name than Kevin Smith—I mean it’s archetypal, it might as well be “Paul Brown”; and his films are set, in a kind of unintentional cinema véritié style, in New Jersey (old America).
His films are never glamorous and always seem almost documentary in style (perhaps it’s the budget)—but that is part of the charm, because they capture this very unglamorous world of coffee-stained ceiling tiles and box-like store fronts very well. It reminds me of when I was walking in New Jersey and came across this giant cockroach squashed on the pavement, just off Watchung Plaza (with its rather Clerks-like store fronts). That’s classy New Jersey, but it’s not glamorous—and that cockroach was so large (someone had covered it with white powder too; why? Why squash it and poison it?).
Indeed, Smith’s true equivalent is that very English figure Simon Pegg—another “ordinary bloke”, another “Paul Brown”. Pegg’s target audience is similar to the Smith market, it’s a 24 y.o. assistant under-manager at Currys who, among the washing machine display, daydreams about fighting zombies and talks about Star Wars with his best friend (who still lives with his parents) down the pub and moons over his high-school crush. Pegg is funnier than Smith—perhaps because the English never lost their sense of ribaldry; so Shaun of the Dead (2004) is better than any Smith film—because it takes itself less seriously.
Smith definitely feels he has something “deep” and “profound” to say, whether about Catholicism and religion in Dogma (1999) or sex and relationships in Chasing Amy (1997)—but he has “something to say” in the way Mike Myers’s neo-Beat poet Charlie Mackenzie recites his poetry: “Woman...woe-man…whoooa-man. She was a thief, you got to believe, she stole my heart…and my cat.” That’s great parody—but Smith would be liable to write similar lines and take them to be a “deep” statement about love.
Of course, that’s how adolescents think—rather than state the obvious, say what they actually feel (which might be embarrassing), they come up with some pretentious defence mechanism. Nevertheless, as a chronicler of the mundane, of interstitial life, Smith is unsurpassed—and he also exemplifies that very modern malady, to be trapped in the mass media elusion. Now, if y’all excuse me, I have a comic book convention to attend…