27th Feb2018

Culture Dump #26: 4 Reasons We Should Be Thankful For Kevin Smith

by Simon Bland

The geek world felt a disturbance in the force earlier this week as filmmaker and pop-culture icon Kevin Smith suffered a heart attack following the recording of his debut stand-up special. Luckily, the Director and Comic Book Man came through the experience relatively unscathed, allowing fans to breathe a sigh of relief that Jay wasn’t prematurely torn away from his hetero life mate Silent Bob. It also inspired a great opportunity of reflection on Smith’s lengthy, varied career and the unrivalled influence he’s had on the movie world. A lot is written about Smith and his work but people often forget that…

​He’s The Original New Wave Indie-Kid

​It feels like anyone with an iPhone can make a movie today, mainly because, well, they can. However back in the early 90s, making a fully fledged feature film was a bit harder than whipping out your smartphone and hitting record. In 1993, Smith had to take out (and max out) eight to ten credit cards and sell his extensive comic book collection just to scrape together the modest $28,000 needed to bankroll his debut film Clerks. Shooting nights in the convenience store that he actually worked in certainly helped keep costs down however the whole experience wasn’t cheap or any guarantee of success. Without a back-up plan in place, Smith took a huge financial – and personal – risk bringing Clerks to the screen but if he hadn’t have done, that 90’s new wave indie-scene may never have happened at all.

He Changed Movie Dialogue

Style over substance may have first been introduced by 60s French New Wave films but it didn’t really hit mainstream American audiences until the mid 90s. Quentin Tarantino often receives the lion’s share of praise for revolutionising the ways in which dialogue can be bent, twisted and colloquialized in order to shift a narrative forward but Smith was doing this too in his own equally foul-mouthed way. For every award-winning ‘walk through the shadow of darkness’ speech and shoegazey ‘I don’t believe in tipping’ chatter ala Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, you’ll find just as many (if not more) meta-speeches in Smith’s work. From pondering the manual labour-casualties involved in blowing up the Death Star, to the heartbreaking reality that Jay and Bob won’t get to live like fat cats selling dope in the fictional Shermer, Illinois – Smith may not have won a Palme d’Or for his ability to capture the lexicon of everyday speech but it certainly paved the way for others to follow in his footsteps.

​He Brought Comic Culture Mainstream

It’s hard to imagine a time where a Marvel or DC superhero wasn’t dominating every multiplex, toy store and cereal box and yet back when Smith was starting out, comic book movies were in short supply. Still, that didn’t stop the writer/director and View Askewniverse mastermind from nurturing his passion. In fact, you only have to look as far as his sophomore feature Mallrats – the self-referential celebration of the ink and paper fantasy world we now consider mainstream – to see just how dedicated he was (and still is) to shining a light on the worlds, universes and characters he holds so dear. Critically panned on its release, Mallrats almost derailed Smith’s fledgling career before it had even properly began but cut to 2018 and it feels more relevant than ever. He was even sowing the seeds of a shared-universe long before Marvel Studios suited up. These days Kevin Smith may have the official title of Comic Book Man thanks to the AMC TV show that boasts his name but make no mistake – he earned it. ​

He Speaks To Fans… Literally

Perhaps the key to Smith’s longevity as a popular presence among film fans is his transparency. Unlike your Steven Spielbergs, JJ Abrams and even his own contemporaries like Richard Linklater, Smith and his work felt more tangible than anything that came before it. From his first Clerks post-screening discussions to his debut (and now legendary) Evening With DVD recordings, Smith not only spoke to his fans through his work on screen but if you were lucky enough, he’d actually show up in your town and chat to you in person. Maybe the most refreshing thing about this process is the fact that he doesn’t just talk but listens too. It’s why Twitter feels like such a natural fit for the Director and his chatty character. Kevin Smith just isn’t content with creating his own brand of popular culture, he wants to join the conversation about the wider picture that’s influenced us all and unlike other filmmakers working today, he wants to know what you thought of it as well.

It’s been a difficult week for Kevin Smith but these are just a few (of many) reasons why we should all be thankful he’s still around. Get well soon, Kev!

What’s your favourite Kevin Smith moment? Let me know in the comments section below!

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