Growing up in New Jersey, with close proximity to New York, gave me a really good look into independent film early on. But, I now realize, New Jersey actually did the same! I also grew up in close proximity to Red Bank, the hometown of independent film pioneer Kevin Smith. As a young kid I remember picking up the book Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes at a local thrift shop, learning what the word dyke meant, and then thumbing through the history of 80s/90s independent cinema, understanding that a film can be made for little money and that making something different can bring you an audience all in the context of the ins and outs of film production/distribution (little did I know!)! The book even had conversations with Kevin Smith about his introduction to filmmaking and how he came to become a superhero in the indie scene.
I remember me & my friends as teenagers with fresh licenses making our first car pilgrimage to the actual convenience store Kevin Smith filmed the movie Clerks in, maxing out his credit cards to realize his dialogue heavy, character driven portrait of New Jersey dirtbags. I went to Red Bank a lot, breezed through Smith's comic book store often, and even stopped on the sidewalk early on a sunny day as a film PA kept me from accidentally walking into a shot of Ben Affleck bro-ing down with another actor on a stoop as he discussed what he was going to do about falling in love with a lesbian in the modern love story Chasing Amy. These Kevin Smith experiences really left a mark on me, physically seeing someone give all they have to make something creative that they believed in was everlasting. I sometimes wonder if I would have been so willing to drastically enter the film barn world of Brent Green if I hadn't seen first hand at a very young age that there are many, many ways to exist and thrive through filmmaking and just as many ways to make a film.
he says penultimate, film Red State. I am often internet soapboxing over here saying that I want a little more from my films and art, that I expect a social message or at least some kind of interesting worldview and this film, even with it's high powered guns, blood and horror tendencies, really did have an unexpected agenda at it's core. Focusing on the fictional story of a fanatical religious cult, Red State depicts a showdown between different versions of authority and the nuance in each. Smith who relies on near monologue writing in all of his films used this technique to advance his social message this time around, capping the film off with John Goodman (who plays a government employee sent to a religious compound after news of gunfire) rather simply explaining his reasoning for his actions throughout the film and in turn what Smith wanted to say with it: people do strange things (like go to war) for what they want or believe to be right, but it is no ones place to judge, harm and take away human rights in any belief system.
Kevin Smith, even in his laziest of filmmaking moments, consistently has tried to deal with progressive issues in some way. Even if it is in a straight up Hollywood love story focused on the topic of gender or the fantasy in faith (Dogma) or, like in his latest film, religious zealotry (pics of strange American church findings during our travels seen here!) and political atrocity, Smith pushed these ideas into a mainstream world. Beginning with barely budgeted ideas and grooming them into bigger budgets with bigger audiences, Smith has made a mark on a widespread group of people, showing on film ways of life he thinks are worth noting. Not to say there is progression in every second of a Kevin Smith film (three boobed psychic in Mallrats I am looking at you...) but like Jane Austen with bathroom humor, he has been able to capture a voice of what it means to be a person now, of the odd, marginalized stereotypes you don't always see a movie about; the New Jerseyian going to the mall, an American terrified of those wanting to take away basic civil rights, of those reading a comic book to escape. So thanks Kevin Smith! Thanks for being an awesome dude making these movies, even if it is just showing a New Jersey kid that comic books exist or changing one person's view of an "outsider" or teaching somebody that indie movies can be a way of life, I am pretty glad you made movies...why stop now? Next up: how Bruce Springsteen changed my life (just kidding, just kidding! Poor New Jersey!)