Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A polarizing element

Not since the likes of people such as Richard Dawkins, Barack Obama, George Lucas or maybe even Adolf Hitler, have I seen a person of celebrity notoriety as polarizing as Kevin Smith. You probably know Kevin Smith. Savant indie film maker, turned low-brow comedy laced-with-underlying-social-commentary movie writer/director/producer, turned twitter icon, turned podcaster, turned podcasting network runner, turned internet radio host. That's without mentioning his comic book work and the hinted at forthcoming television talk show. Kevin Smith, after his two decades in show business, almost has to have made a bleep on any pop-culture aficionado's radar in some kind of context since his indie film project 'Clerks' hit it big back in 1994.

Smith's film work is varied, funny, relatable and speaks to a generation in a way that movies from film makers like John Hughes or Cameron Crowe might have in their heyday. Despite his commercial and critical success, however, Smith seems to divide audiences and critics alike, no matter what area of pop-culture he's trying to tackle. Listen to his morning internet radio show, 'Plus One Per Diem', and there's a good chance you'll hear Smith rile against bloggers, critics or journalists that have personally attacked him, miss-represented the truth, or conducted themselves in a way that warrants Smith himself to publicly tell them that they're 'bad at their jobs'. It seems that Kevin Smith has had a love/hate relationship with writers and journalists, despite a vast and enthusiastic fan base, his whole career. Most of the criticism seems to be focused on his ability as a director, his some might say 'shameless' self-promotion, or that he, somewhere along the line, has 'sold out' as a film maker. Smith seems to, at times, take it all in his stride, at other times he seems to take it all very personally. Never the less, it's interesting to hear a Hollywood film maker address his personal and professional criticisms straight from the horses mouth, as it were.

Enter the January 2011 Sundance Film Festival, held in Park City, Utah. If Smith detractors had some things to say about the man before, they certainly did after his announcements there. Smith's latest film 'Red State' debuted at Sundance, and so did Smith's public plan for the release of the movie. Leading up to the festival Smith had stated that he would auction the rights to his movie to the highest bidding distributor, but following the Sundance screening, Smith announced on stage that he was going to self-distribute the picture, sending opinions and speculation over the whole project into overdrive. 'Kevin Smith was imploding' was one notorious opinion that was circling the internet. Distributors that were at the screening were vocally unhappy, the internet seemed to swell with Smith criticism, and there was a growing opinion that Smith had 'alienated' Hollywood. In all the controversy it was almost easy to forget that Red State itself was a genuinely interesting looking film, it looked like a major departure from everything Smith had previously written and directed, and that there was an excited Kevin Smith and Smodcast fanbase that just wanted to see the movie.

The Red State saga, which is still playing out via Smodcast network podcasts, Kevin Smith blogs and Sir internet radio broadcasts, is interesting to say the least. It would have made pretty amazing documentary fodder if a doco film crew had been there along the way. Smith's self-distribution model is something that hasn't really been seen since the golden age of cinema, when film makers had to take their film's out on the road, touring from city to city, spreading the word like apostolate preachers. Kevin Smith buses all over America and Canada, other parts of the world to follow, showing his film and giving Q & A's afterwards, interacting with his fanbase on a personal level that Hollywood seems to have forgotten somewhere along the way. Smiths mantra is that there is no need to spend millions of dollars promoting a movie through standard channels; tv, billboards, radio et cetera. Instead he uses his podcast network, his websites and fan word of mouth to get promotion for Red State out there.

Personally, I don't really understand the level of criticism that's directed at Smith. It seems like a genuine way for a passionate artist to get his work to the people that want to see it, and I can't remember ever being so interested in the promotion of a film. It's been an entertaining experience in and of itself hearing the Red State saga play out via the Smodcast network. There have been dramas with foreign distributors setting up press screenings despite Smith vowing not to give his movie away to critics for free, creating some genuinely interesting talk from Smith himself. There are instances where Smith has publicly dressed down bloggers and film critics that have attacked him and Red State, something I have never heard a film maker do on the record. I've never even seen Red State but to a movie lover it's been very interesting to be privy to it's birth, adolescence and all the up's and down's along the way. I'm looking forward to when it finally reached maturity and gets a world-wide release so I can see it down here in Oz.

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