AN EVENING WITH KEVIN SMITH

Released by Columbia Tri-Star
Directed by J.M. Kenny
Not Rated; 225 minutes


“Silent Bob” is silent no longer, as Kevin Smith makes up for years of absent dialogue by delivering monologues that are candid, informative, unpredictable, and quite funny. He does all of this with his expected trademarks: a reluctant insider’s cynical disdain of Hollywood and its big players, self-deprecating humor, and a sharp skewer for pop culture.

Shot on five different college campuses (Indiana, Clark, Cornell, Kent State, and Wyoming), An Evening With Kevin Smith is almost four hours of the director fielding questions from the guys and girls in the audiences. The footage is well-shot, and while the location (and, thus, Smith’s attire) changes fairly often, the cuts are seamless and unobtrusive. Love Smith or hate him -– and there is definitely some dislike in the audience –- it’s impossible to ignore the fact that he’s an icon of independent film, entrepeneur of an internet cult empire, and that he’s a dashed entertaining speaker.

The topics discussed jump around regularly, since Smith is basically at the mercy of his audience’s whims. A lot of questions are asked about the View Askew movies, Smith’s experiences in Hollywood, a surprising number of inquiries into his personal life, and numerous offers of oral sex. The latter isn’t really surprising, since Smith categorizes himself as someone who makes “dick and fart joke movies,” but it does get tiresome after the first half-dozen or so. At one point, Smith comments, with mock lament, that he’s willing to bet that no one offers to blow Martin Scorsese for $5.00 when he speaks at NYU. I get the feeling he’s right.

Smith fields numerous questions about the making of his movies (for the uninitiated: Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy¸ Dogma, Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, and the upcoming Jersey Girl), occasionally with the assistance of costar Jason Mewes (Jay in all of the above films). Mewes and Smith have an obvious chemistry, though Smith seems to take a perverse delight in belittling his longtime friend for the amusement of the audiences. Some of what they say has been mentioned and reported elsewhere, though Smith was able to provide frank and funny insights into the funding debacles that often accompany his films.

It’s when tackling Hollywood and celebrities, however, that Smith is at his funniest and acerbic best. He details the time he spent working with Warner Bros. on the script for Superman Lives. (For those who may not know, Smith is a comic book enthusiast, with a large collection and numerous writing credits). As if being called back to the offices repeatedly to tell the same things to different people wasn’t bad enough, the project was overseen by Jon Peters, a hairdresser-turned-producer, perhaps best known for the dreadful Wild, Wild West. The reason, says Smith, is that, “in Hollywood, you fail upwards.” Tales of Peters’ strange demands for the script are definitely funny, but in a “Why the hell would he want something like that?” kind of way. It’s like watching an ambulance pull up and chortling at the blood and gore.

As an amusing addendum to the Superman Lives story, Smith tells of his feud with Tim Burton, including a humorous aping of Burton’s mannerisms. Burton came on board to direct the fledgling project after Smith had already submitted a first draft of the script, then decided to bring in his own writing team and start over. The brouhaha started over an innocent if irreverent remark Smith made about Burton’s Planet Of The Apes. Let’s just say that you’ll always remember the value of “Tee-hee!” in your conversations after this.

Also amusing -– uproariously so at times -– is Smith’s lengthy account of his time spent working with Prince. A few years ago, Smith was requested by the Purple One himself to put together a documentary following an album release, despite having no experience with that kind of filmmaking. The troubles he ran into along the way make for good enough material, but it’s Smith’s retelling of his encounters with Prince himself that really make this segment. Smith wears a befuddled expression often when recounting his conversations with Prince, and it’s no wonder why after listening to the stories. For all his considerable musical acumen, Smith paints Prince as a celebrity who is blissfully ignorant of everything around him, who lives in a fantasy world, and who strangely wastes a lot of time and money making videos (and a documentary) that will never be seen by the public.

The story about Dogma and its release is also one of the film’s highlights. Without seeing the movie, many religious groups (including the Catholic League) raised a big fuss about Dogma based on what they’d heard of its content. Smith even received several death threats prior to the film’s release. It’s interesting to hear how the groups slackened off once Disney was removed from the distribution of the film. It’s especially funny to hear how Smith ended up attending a small protest against his own movie, and how he managed to get interview time on the local news under an assumed name.

In all the segments, Smith is as candid as he is funny. At times, I have to wonder if he’s a little too candid. I’m sure Hollywood types have sued for a lot less than Smith said about both Peters and Prince, as well as his feud with Burton. Smith’s redeeming graces in this area must be his unquestionable everyman charisma and generally nonthreatening demeanor. This even carries him through a rather graphic and gruesome account of the first time he and his eventual wife had sex, despite a rather sensitive wound he had that was her fault. Some things are better left unsaid.

If you’re a fan of Smith’s body of work, An Evening With Kevin Smith is an easy recommendation. The two-disc set is quite barebones, with none of the “special” features listed being too special. The 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is flawless, however, and the sound is high-quality 2.0 stereo (not the advertised Dolby 5.1 surround sound). The extras are severely lacking, but the film itself makes up for that, and is definitely worth it. 8/10

Dr. Tom
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