Receding into Sequels
There are a few film directors who might get recognized on a consistent basis when out in public. Steven Spielberg, for example; maybe Tim Burton (if only because of his signature goth-pouf hair), or Martin Scorsese (from his ratatat talk-show appearances) could also make the cut. Certainly most directors whose films gross in the same neighborhood as Kevin Smith’s would not be found in this company. P.T. Anderson, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, the Coen Brothers—none are likely to receive murmurs of recognition on the street, much less have fans mimic their fashion choices, as is the case with Smith.
This is due in part to Smith’s accessibility—he presents himself as available to his fans, and never more so than during the kinds of speaking engagements captured in An Evening with Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder. The first disc features a Toronto Q&A; disc two is set in London. There are few extras (a man-on-the-street bit in each city), probably because the whole package is an elaborate, fan-rewarding extra (with a feature film’s price tag, of course).
The format is simple: Smith takes the stage, gives his opening remarks, and turns the rest over to the audience. Or rather, as he puts it himself, he turns it over to the audience so they can turn it back over to him with their questions. They can ask him pretty much whatever they want over the course of two hours or so, with the implicit promise that Smith will respond with pretty much whatever back.
Purely from a public-speaking perspective, Smith is brilliant at this. He’s able to spin out full, free-associative yet thematic answers to the kind of simple, straightforward questions—who’s the biggest jerk in Hollywood, do you have any desire to direct a comic-book movie, how much money do you have, etc.—that might bring out two-sentence answers from less engaged subjects. Smith’s style is a laid-back synthesis of stand-up and improve—his opening remarks included on this DVD’s two sessions resemble a talk-show monologue, and his ongoing dialogue with his audience utilizes improve techniques such as the callback (referring to a seemingly throwaway gag repeatedly throughout the evening).
It’s not that Smith is extraordinarily witty, a comic in director’s clothing. Indeed, over the course of two full presentations, you can see some calculations in his routine that you might not notice live: he’ll make references to the local culture (Canadian and English accents get a workout here), josh with the questioners about their manner or appearance, trot out Jason Mewes at some point for extra shtick, and they’ll be calling each other “sir” incessantly. What makes the whole thing come off—and takes away the stigma of self-involvement—is his serenity. Smith appears absolutely calm on stage, defusing associations with a typical stand-up performer who is hungry for applause (which, of course, he receives in waves).
Once in his comfort zone, he is capable of hilarious stream-of-consciousness flights of geek fancy. The best involve his instant outlining of how he’d make a particular out-of-range movie. In Toronto, responding to a question about The Passion of the Christ, he posits an alternate Jesus movie that he’d like to see: Since everyone knows how the Jesus story ends, Smith’s film would feature the twist of Jesus being rescued from crucifixion at the last minute by ninjas. Over in London on disc two, Smith addresses why he dropped out of directing The Green Hornet, explaining how his version would feature the hero and his sidekick leaning against a car, talking about sex—and only fighting crime off-screen. He pokes better fun at his personal style better than most critics could.
There is a danger, though, of Smith’s ease with his fans overshadowing his actual work. Surely many of those fans prefer the Evening with Kevin Smith series to, say, Jersey Girl—and who could blame them? The problem will rise when and if Smith’s speaking-tour experiences begin to outnumber his writing and filmmaking ones.
When explaining why he chose not to direct that Green Hornet movie, Smith freely cops to laziness; it’s easy, then, to imagine him setting into a public-speaking groove as comfortably as another director might recede into sequels, remakes, or production deals. Smith, having more or less exhausted his (six-film) “Jersey trilogy” characters, is at a career crossroads, and shouldn’t let himself off too easily. The Evening series is not unlike Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back: good for some laughs, but perhaps slightly too complicit in its own limitations.