[The Week in Geek is a weekly Tuesday column that plunges headfirst into a deep pool of genre geekiness without ever coming up for air.]
Kevin Smith has worked hard over the years to establish himself as our funny buddy who happened to get lucky one day in 1994. It's not the whole truth, but it's his persona, and the payoff is that listening to a Kevin Smith DVD commentary track is like hearing a recording of some rowdy, funny friends, goofing on their own talents and shortcomings. He gets up close and personal with fans every week through his podcast, confiding to thousands about the details of his own sex life and drug use, and routinely sells out auditoriums for his loyal audience to hear what his family's been up to lately. This week, he's even inviting a handful of national critics and bloggers into his home for a special screening of 'Red State.'
Despite all of this, Kevin Smith is not your friend.
I think it's especially important to remember as many people went completely bananas over Smith's recent Sundance shenanigans. By saying he wasn't going to let any press see 'Red State' in advance of its official release (other than the ones he handpicked), his screening ended up being full of eager press, essentially taking him up on a dare. He turned the non-commercial 'Red State' into the fest's must-have hot-ticket auction item (remember, this is a bloodbath about religious zealots starring Michael Parks -- not exactly 'Little Miss Sunshine'), only to reveal he never had any intent of selling it off in the first place. Instead, he's going to distribute it himself, state-to-state, and count on his fans to come out and pay a premium to see Smith introduce his latest movie. The Internet erupted. Twitter in particular was full of a wide range of reactions, some hailing Smith as the revolutionary new messiah of independent film, while others (most?) painted him as an out-of-touch, egotistical con man. And yet, I found it hard to get worked up about either picture of the man.
A little while back, Smith came down hard on film critics because of 'Cop Out' -- a movie that most of America didn't like one bit (not just the critics). I could never figure out why Smith seemed adamant to defend 'Cop Out' in the way that he did (I still can't), while being completely affable and self-deprecating about every other film in his oeuvre. 'Cop Out,' to Smith, remains untouchable. Pick your battles, man.
When he lashed out, I felt personally insulted. How could my filmmaking buddy from Jersey insult my profession so harshly? I'd enjoyed most of his films, read his essays, watched his live monologues, and bought several of his comic books and action figures. Was there a way we could talk this out, even though I despised 'Cop Out?' Why was this stupid movie straining the relationship with my friend Kevin?
Well, duh. Kevin Smith isn't my friend. He never was. I mean, I knew that deep down, but I didn't actually realize how successful Smith had been at promoting his own cult of personality until that moment. Now, when all of this 'Red State' triviality is reaching a fever pitch, I find myself incapable of mustering up any kind of strong reaction to it. I really don't know the guy. He's a businessman (yes, storytelling is a business) with a product to sell, and he has the right to sell it how he chooses. It's my choice as a consumer to buy it or not. This is, and always has been, the nature of our relationship.
If you're a fan, remember this -- you don't owe Kevin Smith anything. He doesn't know who you are. You aren't pals, but he does need your money (and seemingly more than any filmmaker, your love). In return, he will occasionally make an amusing sex comedy, and offer a constant illusion of friendship to the loyal and hardcore. That's the end of it. He doesn't need you to passionately defend him from (valid) criticisms, and he certainly doesn't need you to paint him as a misunderstood genius.
If you aren't a fan, calm down and carry on. He didn't do anything to you, personally, by announcing that he's taking 'Red State' on the road. He's just a filmmaker with an idea he wants to try out for himself. He announced it in a way that he thought would get him some attention, and he was right about that. Any statements he made about indie filmmaking or the state of distribution are from the perspective of a man who has his own remarkable overnight success story. You can't really fault a guy that's been living in a Weinstein bubble for two decades for not knowing how indie filmmakers are currently finding their own measure of success. Let the man re-invent himself, even if it is as a huckster, because what should it matter to you?
You're not Kevin Smith's friend.