C. Robert Cargill July 19, 2010
With that retweet, and the resounding number that followed, Kevin Smith took his final steps down the road toward irrelevance. While he certainly didn’t go full Mel Gibson, and his career is nowhere near completely over, he put a crack in a relationship that cannot be repaired. Like a man telling his wife of 15 years that he never really loved her, Smith, already mocked in the media for his Southwest Airlines debacle, spat in the face of his staunchest defenders — the critics that had long supported him.
The year was 1994. Those of us in film school or college at the time were experiencing an unbelievable revolution in film. After years of lackluster crap streaming out of the studios, with great films few and far between, a burst of raw talent exploded on the indie scene. Names like Tarantino, Rodriguez, and Lee began to be spoken with reverence, and joining the pack was a convenience store clerk from New Jersey who had hocked his comic book collection and put himself in debt to film a $50,000 black-and-white comedy that would change the way geeks spoke forever. The fans Kevin Smith would make with Clerks would follow him for a decade and a half, eagerly devouring his Jersey Chronicles and even sitting through his lesser works. And when the Web became the place to be, Smith took to it like a fish in water. He blogged, then he podcasted, and finally he tweeted. You could get a little bit of Kevin Smith every day.
Unfortunately for Kevin Smith, a little Kevin goes a long way.
While it was good to hear his witty and well-developed thoughts on a range of topics — from the arcane to the downright topical — events like his infamous Southwest Airlines debacle left a bad taste in some mouths. After all, why live tweet a problem when you can politely speak with a supervisor and get it fixed? Shortly after, Smith released probably the worst film of his career, and the critics tore into him. Admittedly, they were rough, but when Smith rebutted, “Film fandom’s become a nasty bloodsport where cartoonishly rooting for failure gets the hit count up on the ol’ brand-new blog,” he began lumping a whole mess of people together who didn’t deserve to be lumped together. Then he went so far as to say he wanted critics to have to pay to see his movies, intimating that many of us are no longer the fans we started out as.
And frankly, it damaged his brand more than Cop Out ever could have. Guys like me have been in his corner for years, celebrating his successes and feeling genuine disappointment with his failures. While he is still a very capable director, he’s poked the wasp nest after getting a few stings and angered the whole bunch. Never go to war with someone who buys ink by the barrel. His next movie is going to have to be fairly stellar to break away from the gravitational pull of the hate many will be slinging at him in retribution. More importantly, it’s made what he has to say mostly irrelevant. He’s a guy who coasted on the praise of critics for years who turned and asked what good are critics when they didn’t get his back. His dismissive rant just seemed silly and out of touch, including a number of gems that showed how unaware he was of the quality of his film. In the past he was a director who owned up to his mistakes. Now he’s just an angry director yelling at people who didn’t like his film.
As a result, he has to deal with his general inability to pack movie theaters AND the animosity of a critical base. If his next film doesn’t knock the critics on their backsides, he’s going to begin getting M. Night Shyamalan comparisons. And nobody wants that.
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