After rising to prominence upon the release of his 1994 low-budget slacker flick Clerks, Kevin Smith has continued to create feature films, mainly in the comedy or horror genre, something he has achieved alongside acting, presenting, podcasting and even comic book writing. Despite his success as a filmmaker, Smith is widely recognisable for his role as Silent Bob, one half of the fictional duo Jay and Silent Bob, who appear in almost all of Smith’s films that are set in his fictional universe, ‘View Askewniverse’.
Smith’s interest in becoming a filmmaker arose from a viewing of Richard Linklater’s independent comedy Slacker on his 21st birthday. He described seeing the film as a pivotal moment for him: “It was the movie that got me off my ass; it was the movie that lit a fire under me, the movie that made me think, ‘Hey, I could be a filmmaker.’ And I had never seen a movie like that before ever in my life.”
Moving back to New Jersey after dropping out of film school, Smith started working at a convenience store, which inspired him to set his debut film there. Clerks was made from around $27,000 that Smith funded himself through selling his comic book collection and maxing out over a dozen credit cards.
Miraculously, the film got screened at Sundance Film Festival, earning the young director the Filmmaker’s Trophy. After an offer from Harvey Weinstein to buy the film, Clerks ended up making $3.1million upon its release, winning both the Prix de la Jeunesse and the International Critics’ Week Prize at Cannes.
Smith gained greater recognition for his work when he released Chasing Amy, starring Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee, and Ben Affleck. The film was received positively by a lot of critics, with Roger Ebert labelling it as “sharp,” with “ironic dialogue” and “touching insights”. Even Quentin Tarantino referred to the film as “a quantum leap forward” for the filmmaker. However, others were less impressed.
Chasing Amy revolves around a man who falls in love with a lesbian, yet the two become romantically involved. Feminist scholars such as Judith Kegan Gardiner argued that the film featured a “heterosexual conversion narrative […] set in motion by the desire of a heterosexual person for a seemingly unattainable gay person.”
Described as “a film that encapsulated the worst aspects of narcissistic nerd entitlement at its late-nineties peak,” Smith defended the film by stating that he identifies as a pro-LGBT filmmaker, believing that sexuality is a fluid concept that social taboos prevent people from embracing. However, that is not the only time that Smith has landed himself in hot water.
In 1999, Smith released his fourth film, Dogma, starring big names such as Matt Damon, Salma Hayek, Alan Rickman, Alanis Morrissette, Ben Affleck, and Chris Rock. The film revolves around Affleck and Damon’s characters – Bartleby and Loki – who are fallen angels. After being cast from Heaven, the pair attempt to find a way back through a loophole in the Catholic dogma. Fearing that their plan would end humanity, an abortion clinic worker, aided by multiple prophets, must save the universe.
Dogma was boycotted by many Catholic organisations upon its release, with many groups protesting outside of screenings of the film. Despite Smith identifying as a Catholic, the media director of the Catholic League stated that “he doesn’t get a free pass to make an anti-Catholic movie because he happens to be a Catholic.”
The film received fairly good reviews from critics; however, the Catholic League labelled Dogma as “blasphemy”. This is due to the film’s rather lax attitude to Catholicism. For example, God is played by Morrissette – a woman, Rock plays a disciple that was cast from the Bible for being black, and a cardinal (played by George Carlin) proposes a replacement for the crucifix – a winking Jesus complete with a thumbs-up.
However, Smith didn’t seem too phased. In November 1999, the director appeared at a protest against his own film. Infiltrating a group of Catholics, Smith stood alongside them as they recited Hail Marys and waved anti-Dogma signs. What makes the story even funnier is that Smith was interviewed by a news reporter, unknowing of his identity, which made it to air. Holding a ‘Dogma is dog shit’ sign (which the protestors weren’t too pleased about either), Smith was asked his opinion on what the movie stands for, to which he replied, “I don’t know, but I’ve been told, ‘not good.'”