Weinberg vs. Kevin Smith on the Value of Film Criticism
For the record, I am a big fan of Kevin Smith's films. Aside from his two most recent offerings (Cop Out and Red State), I'd call Kevin Smith one of the most original and consistently funny voices in the indie film world. I say this as a professional film critic who has reviewed virtually all of his movies, and I offer these honest pieces of praise despite the fact that Kevin Smith himself has become an insufferable crybaby over the last several years.
After his latest anti-film critic tirade at the 2012 Comic-Con, I went on Twitter and openly challenged Mr. Smith to a debate about the value of film criticism. He ignored me. So here's the next best thing.
Below (scroll down) you'll find a nine-minute rant from Kevin Smith in which he is his typically glib, self-effacing, and very entertaining self. I invite you to watch it and then read my specific responses below.
1:15 -- "Every dopey movie has its place." -- Wrong. Some (even many) movies are churned out of the machine with little to nothing in the way of actual care or quality control. Smith cites Juwanna Mann as a lambasted film that he enjoyed, which is great, but what about Epic Movie, Ringmaster, or The Love Guru? Are all films simply deserving of blind praise, simply because they are completed films? This is a push towards conformity that would be scary if it came from anyone other than an indepedent filmmaker who hawks his wares like a used car salesman on speed. "Every f*ckin' movie counts," says Smith. This is one of the most childish things I've ever heard regarding film.
2:13 -- Smith is amazed to learn that Roger Corman started out as a film critic, and this (sort of) makes him reconsider his position for a few seconds. Forgive me for being nasty here, but if a 41-year-old man has just now learned that Roger Corman was once a film critic, I daresay that his knowledge of film criticism is woefully malnourished. I'd also point out that Francois Truffaut, Peter Bogdanovich, Paul Schrader, and Rod Lurie are film critics turned filmmakers, but that would only serve to underline one of Mr. Smith's more insidious -- and erroneous -- claims...
2:30 -- "If you use film criticism to become a filmmaker, then that's OK, but if you actually choose it for a career, and you love it, you're a passive observer who adds nothing to the equation." -- That sure seems to be what Mr. Smith is saying here, so let's clear this up right now, once and for all: FILM CRITICS ARE NOT FAILED FILMMAKERS. Speaking only for myself and a few dozen friends, I can say without fear of contradiction that this is the job we want. We love movies, we're good writers, and we have people who enjoy reading our opinions. Perhaps one day I will finish this witless screenplay I've written, but I do not fancy myself a screenwriter, a director, or any sort of filmmaker. They have their skill sets, and I have mine. Seems that if you want to use the position of film critic to become a director, Smith digs you, but if you actually love your job writing about film, you're a greedy stooge who cannot be trusted.
3:20 -- And here's where Smith tells his adoring audience that ANYTHING THEY MAKE with an iPhone and YouTube qualifies as a film worth watching. But let's take that a step further. What would happen if 2,000 Kevin Smith fans made short films using iPhones and YouTube? You'd need some smart people to help you know which ones were worth watching. Hey, that'd be the film critics. As a person who has sat through hundreds of short films from first-time filmmakers, here's the ugly truth: 80% of them are terrible. I say that with sincere respect for the people who made them, but facts are facts. Not every single piece of filmed entertainment is worthy of your limited life hours.
3:50 -- "If you could make a movie that could save somebody's life, why would you want to sit around and write about someone else's shit?" (paraphrasing) Well, Kevin, it's because I'm not a filmmaker, and I have no real desire to be, but if I found a film that could somehow "save somebody's life," I'd be writing about it every three hours. This is how it works. My colleagues do this all the time.
4:30 -- Right about here is where it struck me how sadly egocentric Kevin Smith's viewpoint is. He's convinced himself that film critics exist to do harm, and if a film finds any success, it's despite our collective efforts to impede the film. Except for this: I know for a fact that my reviews and vocal support of specific films have helped them to A) get into film festivals, B) gain attention from a distributor, C) find its way to a satisfied audience. I have personally helped films get to their audience, and I have helped talented filmmakers to sell their product. That makes me feel proud, and no amount of Kevin Smith's aimless venom will convince me that my colleagues and I are passive, petulant observers.
4:50 -- "It's not enough to comment anymore; you gotta do. Deeds not words." -- Cute Megaforce reference, Kev, but without professional film critics, you're left to the advertisers and the IMDb commenters. I've written thousands of film reviews. some that are fun and others that end up "important" in some small way. I "do" plenty, thanks.
5:50 -- And now we come to the weirdest and most consistent part of Mr. Smith's argument: that film critics don't "have to pay" to see movies. His ugly argument seems to be that critics are "meaner" to a movie if they're seeing it for free, which is not only insipid but insulting as well. I saw Dark Shadows "for free," and I'm thrilled if I convinced one person to avoid that piece of junk. I also saw Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter "for free," and practically begged my fellow horror geeks to go see it. I also saw micro-budget indies Marianne and Midnight Son "for free," and both directors thanked me for helping them land distribution deals. (Not just me; luckily there are other excellent horror sites who support "nobody" filmmakers.) I don't make films, but I have helped at least a dozen movies land video distribution. How many has Kevin Smith helped?
6:30 -- A blustery rant about how, let me make sure I get this right, "Weinberg's opinion of Smith's art is only valid if money changes hands." He's been on this one for years, and man it's really distasteful. I paid to see Clerks, which I still love. I paid to see Mallrats, which I've never liked. I saw Chasing Amy and Jersey Girl for free, and I like both of those, but I didn't like Dogma, despite also seeing that one for free. So where's the logic now? I have no idea, really. I've also purchased more than my share of Kevin Smith DVDs (the man gives great commentary), so does that mean my opinion of Clerks and Chasing Amy is now DOUBLY IMPORTANT? Meh, I give up. It's also in this rant that Smith's disgust for film critics becomes clear: "Who are you? I don't know what you do." Well, Kevin, we're the people who cover films all year for less money than you make in a month.
8:00 -- Todd McCarthy's positive review of Red State "matters" to Smith, but none of the negative ones do. This is how ostriches behave.
9:00 -- After admitting that he loves weed and "sucking" certain things, Smith closes with "I don't put out negativity out there, and I don't want negativity around me." Sounds sweet on paper, but his ignorant attack on the art of film criticism (yes, I said "art") has been nothing BUT smug and petulant negativity. I still like a lot Smith's films, and you'll never convince me that he's not a funny orator, but his simple-minded assault on film critics has got to stop.
The man has his own damn "review" show, after all. Perhaps it's not that film critics desperately want to be filmmakers; maybe it's that Kevin Smith desperately wants to be a film critic.