Monday, September 17, 2012

An Askew View 2: The Films of Kevin Smith and Laughing Along with an Indie Film Director: A Book Review

*full disclosure: a review copy of this book was provided by Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.

An Askew View 2: The Films of Kevin Smith was produced by author John Muir ten years after the original. In this time, director Kevin Smith has created several more features since his original, Clerks (1994). Muir makes notes of Smith's highlights such as Clerks, Chasing Amy (1997), Zack and Miri Make a Porno and Red State (2011). He also notes Smith's less dazzling productions like Mallrats (1995), and Jersey Girl (2004). Smith has had a wild ride during his career and it would be best to focus on his career highlights in this book review, rather than the missteps.

As mentioned, Kevin Smith's career began with the indie hit Clerks. After dropping out of film school, this would be the first film to introduce the recurring characters Jay (Jason Mewes), Silent Bob (Smith), Dante (Brian O'Halloran), and Randal (Jeff Anderson). Smith scraped together as much money as he could by maxing out his credit cards and borrowing from his parents to finance this feature. The final budget for Clerks was approximately 26K.

Shot in black and white, Clerks focused on quick dialogue and comedy. Muir notes: "Smith's hallmark [became]...witty and ribald (obscene) dialogue." After re-watching Clerks, this reviewer was reminded of Smith's knack for highlighting and poking fun at the ridiculous. A scene involving Dante and his girlfriend begins contrite, but then turns to the subject of blowjobs and promiscuity. This scene truly is hilarious to watch onscreen, again.

In the end, Clerks would catapult Smith's career to the less well received Mallrats. This early project also created opportunities for Smith by introducing this director to distributors at Miramax Films like Harvey Weinstein.

Another film of great note is Chasing Amy. Again, Smith would work with familiar actors like Ben Affleck (Mallrats), Joey Lauren Adams (Mallrats), and Brian O'Halloran. Chasing Amy plays out in a softer fashion as noted by Muir: "funny and tender, touching and sharp, Chasing Amy was the movie that changed everything for Kevin Smith." Smith's career changed after this film because he was able to show his versatility in genre. Smith could write comedy, but he could also write romance and later he would show talent in horror and thrillers. However, Chasing Amy is arguably the pinnacle of Smith's career as he transitioned from an indie career into larger productions.

While reading this book, this film fan re-watched Clerks II and immediately Smith's ability to create real and interesting relationships was remembered. Clerks II revisits several characters from the original including Dante (O'Halloran) and Randal (Anderson). Silent Bob and Jay are still here, but they are often on the periphery. Base in its nature, one film reviewer stated "It was foul and mean and repulsive...I wasn't ready for this kind of smut" (Joel Siegel). This film does include a scene of bestiality, so the material is more for fans of gross-out humour. And, that humour seems to be the focal point of Smith's career.

There are many other works of note mentioned in An Askew View 2: The Films of Kevin Smith. Kevin Smith trivia fans might be surprised to learn that there was a six episode cartoon based on the characters from Clerks. The characters Jay and Silent Bob would get their own movie in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001). Smith would also shift to one Hollywood blockbuster starring Bruce Willis called Cop Out (2010). Most recently, Smith self-distributed his smallish horror title Red State. All of this material is unified by Smith's use of clever dialogue and realistic or interesting characters.

An Askew View 2: The Films of Kevin Smith follows Smith's career from bust to boom. The highlights, challenges and difficulties of working in the indie film market are covered. And, Muir notes the poor grosses or small returns from Smith's many features. Apparently, it is not easy to make it in showbiz. All of this material is covered in a concise and sometimes overly enthusiastic fashion. After all, Smith is compared to William Shakespeare and Samuel Beckett ("Waiting for Godot"). These comparisons are hard to swallow, but Muir makes a good case between these earlier works and some of Smith's films.

This book is recommended for fans of Kevin Smith. Cinephiles or burgeoning filmmakers will also want to find this title in bookstores. Full of backstories, An Askew View 2: The Films of Kevin Smith is both an excellent and entertaining read. After all, where else can you find great comedic material involving romance on the set of a fictional porno' shoot?

Overall: 7.75 (well written, full of facts, well organized).

*released August 28th in paperback.

An Askew View 2 at Hal Leonard Books

An Askew View 2 at Hal Leonard Books

Another review of this book at Cinema Senries (Greg Barbrick):

An Askew View 2 Book Review at Cinema Sentries

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