Fans, fellow professionals, and people who were a little of both poured their hearts out on social media and reached out to Smith in the form of gifts, cards, and (more likely than not) medical marijuana.
If you are not already a fan of Smith's, it may have all seemed a bit much: he is a filmmaker whose highest-grossing movie earned in its entire theatrical run roughly what Black Panther made in its fourth weekend.
And yet, every tweet he makes, every podcast he hosts, everything he does is infotainment, reported by sites like ours and others and enjoyed by a dedicated audience who, in large part, have been with him for the better part of 25 years at this point.
So what makes Kevin Smith so special? Here's our rundown of why we love the filmmaker/comic writer/celebrity geek, and hope he gets better soon.
This is an important thing to remember about Kevin Smith: he is unambiguously "one of us."
Smith sold his comic book collection for the money to make Clerks, his breakout feature film, and within about a year of hitting it big, he enlisted Stan Lee for a not-insignificant role in his second film, Mallrats. The movie was a critical and commercial disappointment after Clerks, but it showed that Smith's pithy, pop-culture-reference-filled dialogue was not something affected simply because one of his first characters was a video store clerk who would presumably have talked about Star Wars ad nauseum.
Smith seems content to just talk about the same stuff you and your friends are. Forever. Even long after that thirty-seventh birthday everyone joked about back in the old days.
It isn't just latching onto whatever is cool at the moment and plopping down on the Talking Dead couch or podcasting about Black Panther: this is a guy who will record commentary tracks for the Schumacher Batman movies or bring honest-to-God comic book artists on his movie podcast to talk about the characters they helped define before the next installment of the big-screen saga.
Even Comic Book Men, the unscripted series which has been occasionally accused of indulging in fan-culture stereotypes, does so in a loving, self-referential way. It is rare that anything Smith has his hands on will go to the tired old trough of the fanboy who can't get laid and can't differentiate between fantasy and reality.
While they still exist, the convention has been largely abandoned since physical media is barely profitable as it is, and adding to the expense just to make the package a little cooler for the hardcore fans who were going to buy it anyway is not an easy sell to studios.
And while not all of Smith's movies feature filmmaker commentary tracks, many of them do, and they are generally incredibly entertaining.
Smith's commentary tracks first came to my attention when Mallrats first came to DVD. I had owned it on VHS, but was told by a friend who had the laserdisc that I needed to get Mallrats on DVD, because the commentary track was "better than the movie itself." As someone who actually enjoyed the film, that may be a bridge too far -- but not by much.
As fans later found out via his podcasting empire, Smith is a natural born storyteller. Even when he is not doing the visual storytelling of making movies and comics, he is expounding at length about things that speak to the sensibilities of his audience.
His commentary tracks, besides featuring his "first drafts" of many of the stories that he would later make famous in public appearances and on his podcasts, were also perfect time capsules of the moment. Joking about Ben Affleck neglecting to thank him at the Oscars or Jason Mewes falling asleep on the microphone next to him made Smith's commentary tracks feel like you were being let into a really cool clubhouse and seeing things not as coporate wanted it presented, but as it really was.
Kevin Smith is not just accessible in the "he's a dude who wears jorts and hangs around at the comic shop" sort of way. He is literally accessible, in that he spends so much time on social media that he interacts with fans in a way that few celebrities this side of James Gunn manage to pull off.
That he also does lengthy speaking tours, comedy shows, and the like, most of which feature Q&As and signing appearances, makes him one of those guys who fans can, literally and figuratively, reach out and touch.
There is something to be said for using social media, convention appearances, and the like as a way to make what often feel like genuine connections with people, rather than just posting links to the latest thing people can buy.
This is a man who routinely bashes his own movies, and his own direction. For years after he was asked to contribute a script for a big-screen Superman film, Smith would routinely tell interviewers that he did not think he was capable of shooting a superhero movie.
This is a man who will tell you, frankly, what he thinks of his previous works, why he likes the ones you hate, and what he would change. That is not unheard-of in Hollywood, but it is rare.
It is doubly rare when, as in Smith's case, he is often taking a chance to critique a film which audiences and critics have already savaged. Rather than being defensive, Smith incorporates the critiques into his own honest assement of his work.
He also generally elects to focus on the hard core fan following which has not only made him a cult icon, but has routinely allowed him to pay the rent and break even -- even on the movies most widely panned.
This extends to other people's work as well, although he tends to be less harsh and more forgiving. Smith podcasts about pop culture and geek culture, and one cannot do that without weighing in on the controversial subjects of the day. Smith never eviscerates someone else's work, but he is also no Stan Lee, smiling and praising virtually everything he is asked about. Instead, Smith brings the jokes, the snark, and an honest critique even of movies that he likes. He will also, as he did with Batman v Superman, re-evaluate his own positions if he sees something different at a later point. That, too, is rare in the "gotcha" internet culture of standing even the least defensible ground.
In his second feature film, Kevin Smith inserted a bit of dialogue that immediately made it clear that while Mallrats featured almost none of the same characters, and was distributed by a different studio entirely, it was still set in the same world as Clerks.
The decision to make the "View Askewniverse" a thing was likely born out of Smith's own love of comics and the idea that, yes, shared universes are just plain fun.
By the time Chasing Amy came around, and the characters were sitting around a table rattling off names and places seen in Clerks and Mallrats, it became clear that this was a world where everybody knew everybody: there is a verisimilitude to it that was really appealing to audiences (more on that in a minute).
Years later, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back would be released, and characters from all four of his previous movies would appear, sharing a space and referencing one another -- sharing a universe with actors who were actually the actors playing the characters, except they were also playing themselves in weirdly meta 4-D in-jokes about a recursive Hollywood system of remakes, sequels, and diminishing returns.
Those gags are likely to feed right back into themselves again when Jay and Silent Bob Reboot comes out in a couple of years.
It would be another 7 years before Samuel L. Jackson strolled onto the set of Iron Man and changed the future of movies. For a while, though, Kevin Smith had the market essentially cornered on the idea of an interconnected and interactive shared universe inspired by the worlds of Marvel and DC.
The movie was nominally "a day in the life" of Dante and Randal, but it was such a comically bad and patently insane day that the idea of this being one of many seemed borderline impossible. Indeed, the fact that decades later they would still be referencing events of that day in later appearances proves that it was anything but.
That said, while the characters were larger than life, the dialogue was exaggerated in a kind of crude twist on Sorkin, and nobody much seemed to suffer the consequences of their actions (unless there was a joke in it), the general tone and tenor of Clerks felt incredibly real. The crushing boredom, the frustration with your lot in life, the utter lack of respect from your supervisor, peers, and customers is something that anyone who has ever worked in retail can relate to -- and there was an element of wish-fulfillment fantasy to Randal, a character who tells everyone off, does what he wants, and lives to fight another day.
Smith managed to craft a shared universe where the rules were loopy and seemed to change from moment to moment, but that never stopped it from feeling so real you could reach out and touch it. It's a world where characters stumble over their words in Clerks, a budgetary necessity since there was only so much film Smith could afford. It's a world where an indie comic about stoner superheroes can get not one but two multimillion-dollar blockbuster movies all without the geek internet finding out that the heroes are based on real guys. It's a world where those things don't seem wildly incompatible.
Kevin Smith as a filmmaker can be a fan favorite, he can be uneven, he can be critiqued and criticize himself.
He is a polarizing figure at times, and his critics and haters are so outspoken that they seem to be half the number but four times as loud.
And yet, as a person, Kevin Smith always comes off as genuine and decent. After years of claiming that his direction was too pedestrian for superhero work, turns on Supergirl and The Flash morphed into semi-permanent gigs after the cast and crew fell in love with his style of direction
As a personal aside, I have seen Smith direct. It is part circus, part tent-revival meeting, and yet he always has a hand on the wheel, and gets what he needs to get; his indie-film beginnings likely keep him honest and frugal even as the big kid in him wants to laugh with superheroes. The energy on his Supergirl set felt like that mythic version of the '60s Marvel bullpen that never really happened except for in the minds of every kid reading Stan Lee's letters from the editor.
Kevin Smith is the kind of person you want your heroes to be. Funny, kind, and emotionally present, Smith is the kind of person who makes it okay to walk out of a movie where your childhood heroes come to life for the first time with tears streaming down your face -- because he does it, too...and if the millionaire stoner indie darling can get away with it, then why the hell can't you?3comments
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