Saturday, 5 April 2008

Guilty Pleasures of the Cinematic Kind: "We were the customers so we probably deserved it."

In this week's confessional, Joseph Wren admits his honest appreciation for the films of slacker doyenne Kevin Smith. Dudes, for real.

Clerks 2 was the last film that I saw at the cinema in the US in 2006 before moving to the UK, and the film was immediately one of my favourites of that year. A few months later, the sequel managed to follow me across the pond, and I attempted to seize the opportunity to share something I loved with my new mates. I imagined us laughing uncontrollably at the absurdist humour and silently shedding a tear at the heartfelt conclusion. I imagined we would then go have a pint and share war stories of our respective customer-service oriented teenage jobs. It was the perfect way to break some of those social barriers that divide our cultures. Until…

Me (enthusiastically): Hey, anybody fancy going to see Clerks 2 this weekend?!

Highly Intelligent New Friend: Why Joseph, but that would actually involve watching Clerks 2.

My smart new friend then directed me to a review of Clerks 2 by film critic Jonathan Ross. I didn’t know who Ross was at the time, but quickly figured out that he’s perhaps the most highly influential film critic in the UK, who doubles as a hugely successful chat-show host; he’s essentially a British mix of Roger Ebert and Jay Leno, who speaks with a very bizarre speech impediment.

Even by the pitiful standards of films such as Mallrats and Dogma, Mr. Smith's latest work is breathtakingly shoddy. It's a real tribute to the man's shrewd use of the internet, to keep his profile alive, that he has managed to sustain a career in the movie industry, as he has no detectable talent as writer, director, editor, or actor. – Jonathan Ross, Film 2006, BBC

What the? Had I moved to a land that doesn’t appreciate the work of Kevin Smith?? This was a truly shocking revelation. Not only had he slated one of my favourite films of 2006, but Mallrats and Dogma as well?! Those are my formative years that he’s messing with there; I’ve forged some important friendships on the basis of a mutual appreciation for Kevin Smith’s work. But I did not fight the new reality, and like my new British friends, have learned the fine art of feeling ashamed of myself.

"A depressing mess. "– Derek Adams, Time Out London, on Mallrats

During the research for this article, I was forced to confront my new shame. When I walked into the shop to purchase a copy of Mallrats, I made sure to look around and pick it up when there were very few people around. When I brought it to the check out counter, I refused to make eye contact with the man on the other side, not saying a word, and giving him pre-counted exact change. It was like I was buying porn. Even worse, I didn’t feel comfortable showing the film to my girlfriend, who seems to respect my opinions on film. I knew this would surely dent my credibility.

"Not very funny." – Philip French, The Guardian UK, on Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

When I spoke to a relatively unpretentious film academic about my dilemma, he tried to be supportive. He said “well, it’s not so bad, a lot of people like Kevin Smith…I mean as long as you didn’t like that Jay and Silent Bob film…” He was referring to Kevin Smith’s most absurd work, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and just then, old wounds were ripped open. Not being a stoner, moron, or homophobe, my affection for Jay and Silent Bob remains a bit of a mystery, even to myself. And, aside from Jersey Girl, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is the easiest Kevin Smith film to rip on. There’s really no plot, one of the title characters is a mute, and the other one has about a nine-word vocabulary. When I took a girl to see this in 2001, I laughed so hard that I didn’t realize I was the only one in the cinema enjoying the film. Afterwards, there was an uncomfortable period of silence between my close friend and myself. It was like a whole new, socially unacceptable side of me had been revealed, and I didn’t even see it coming.

While I’m more likely to discuss the brilliance of Bergman, Woody, Truffaut, or Tarkovsky, I still am very aware of my roots. As a product of a hugely dysfunctional Staten Island family who has had to endure countless hours of Steven Segal and Chuck Norris films for the sake of father-son bonding, seeing Clerks for the first time let out an incessant roar of laugher from my belly that had been yearning forever to be released. There was something about Smith’s cynical observational humour that connected with me more than anything else ever had at the time. It was like he was saying all the stuff that I had suppressed; all of that petulant man-child sentiment that one feels too ashamed to release – the feelings of insecurity about your partner’s sexual history; the incredibly irresponsible yearnings for the sexy girl over the practical girl; the urge to insult the customer; a contempt for authority; rage against religion, etc. Themes not entirely absent from the work of the cinematic giants, but that are more accessible to the under-class.

In the mid-90s a couple of friends and I skipped school and made a pilgrimage to New Jersey to visit the Quick Stop in Leonardo. We were told we could not use the bathroom. They were out of Gatorade. The video shop next door was closed for no good reason. We also headed over to Red Bank, home of Kevin Smith and his comic book store Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash. Walt Flanagan was the man behind the counter, and from what I remember, he was rather rude and slightly bitter toward us. But then again, we were the customers, so we probably deserved it.

1 comment:

Emma said...

NB: Jonathan Ross is neither influential, nor a film critic. He's just a man on TV.