The Cult of Kevin Smith
Thursday, April 03, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
The Onion AV Club has updated their "New Cult Canon" series with an article on Clerks. Sufficed to say, if you are a Clerks fan, you won't like this article very much. He excoriates the film, ripping its "dubious sexual politics", dialogue, and lack of plot, among other complaints. He also insists that Kevin Smith's films only helped him - that his works have not led to a renaissance of similar films by other artists (as opposed to, say, Quentin Tarantino). The reviewer had seen Clerks when it was first released and didn't enjoy it then. Upon his re-watch, he found little improvement.

I take umbrage with this article, because I think the author ignores what makes Smith's works so appealing. It's not that the sexual politics are forward-thinking in terms of male/female relations (after all, the film's perspective is undeniably male). But rather, what I found revolutionary at the time was the language used to discuss sexuality so frankly. Yes, the movie's dialogue can come across as crude. However, it can't be that easily dismissed as merely vulgar. It's shocking the first time you hear it, but I think that Smith is really just challenging the cultural taboos about sex. The very casualness of the dialogue is the whole point. It's Smith's way of saying "Hey, it's just sex, people. Why is it on a pedestal? Sex is dirty, sex is weird and it's okay, because we all do it and we need to calm down about it."

There's an intelligence to Smith's writing that I think needs to be given credit. He's not a dumb guy and his characters are more savvy than they first seem as well. Randall's debate about the people working on the Death Star is famous for a reason. It's a goofy subject, but speaks to the fact that these guys aren't just normal fans, who consume entertainment without thinking. Is it unreasonable to think that Smith's statement is that what's important is exercising your brain, even if it's on trivial debates? That the ability to apply logic at all and engage in that sort of discussion is an admirable quality?

I also argue with this particular passage:
But Clerks, with an assist from the Weinsteins, muscled its way into theaters anyway, creating an audience that hadn't existed previously, and challenging people's expectations of what an art film could be. The odd thing about Smith is that unlike Quentin Tarantino—who legitimized genre pictures for arthouse consumption—he's really just opened the door for himself. It's possible that mainstream American comedies have gotten cruder in the Smith era, but it's hard to think of a single Clerks-inspired independent film that has made it past the straight-to-DVD market.
I believe that films like Clerks did open the door for other filmmakers. Most notably, I think it prepared Americans for the arrival of shows like South Park. South Park is arguably one of the most important voices in American social debate today. And it probably wouldn't be possible without the mainstream success of a filmmaker like Kevin Smith. Clerks proved that a work could be irreverent and crude, and yet still display intelligence.

Lastly, what Clerks does is strip away the pretense of the art-house. It says, "Yeah, you're a smart person who can appreciate high art. But at the end of the day, it's still okay to laugh at dick and fart jokes." It gives you permission to enjoy the vulgar, the crude, the blue humor. It's a film for the commoners that still embraces the intellectuals out there too.

Snoogins, my brothers and sisters.
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2 comments:

On 1:14 AM , Brownie said...

I'd have to agree with you. I generally don't agree with the Onion A.V. Club.. They seem unreasonably harsh in their reviews. We're talking about movies not peer review of academic research. Both Clerks & Clerks II have metacritic.com scores above 65, so it seems like most people like theses movies which is really the point especially when discussing cult classics.

 
On 1:03 PM , Mad Typist said...

Yeah, it was a little unfair to have a guy do a review on a movie he's already seen and doesn't like. I could see the argument that Clerks II isn't a great film, but the original is a cult classic for me.