Filmmaker Kevin Smith talks slack at the Michigan Theater
Though filmmaker Kevin Smith addressed a packed crowd at the Michigan Theater for nearly three hours Saturday night, most of what he said can’t be quoted here.
Why? Because as Smith’s slacker comedies (“Clerks,” “Chasing Amy,” “Zach and Miri Make a Porno,” etc.) make clear, the filmmaker loves to push the envelope in terms of outlandish sexual humor and excessive profanity.
The tendency has kept Smith outside of the mainstream - one of many topics he addressed at length on Saturday - but it’s also spawned a ferociously loyal fan base, as evidenced by the roaring standing ovation Smith received when he appeared on stage at the Michigan.
“I don’t know if you’ve looked around, but most of my fans look like me,” Smith remarked early in his talk, and this seemed on-target. From a Silent Bob lookalike (Smith’s on-screen persona in his films), to hefty guys wearing hockey jerseys or bowling shirts with huge, long shorts (all staples of Smith’s own wardrobe), to fans dressed in Mooby’s uniforms (the fictional fast food restaurant where the two main characters from “Clerks” find work in “Clerks II”), the crowd reflected not only Smith, but the characters that populate his fictional universe.
And indeed, this seemed a special occasion, since the last time Smith had set foot in Ann Arbor was 1997, when he was promoting “Chasing Amy.”
“I wasn’t a known quantity at all at that point, so I’m hanging in the back (of a screening),” he explained. “Two dudes sit in front of me, watch the flick, and the one dude turns to the other dude and says, ‘This blows.’ So I shook the Ann Arbor dust off my feet and shunned this town for more than 10 years.”
Though Smith repeatedly disparaged his work as a director, he keenly noted, “A lot of people like my work because they like me” - and after watching him riff on a broad range of topics, you understand the appeal. Sharply funny, self-deprecating, smart, bracingly candid, and thoughtful, Smith, in many ways, is an ideal speaker - for the rated-R crowd, anyway.
Smith - on stage with nothing but a brown armchair and a small table covered with water bottles - began by talking about his day, which included a visit to Joe Louis Arena with Mitch Albom, with whom Smith will collaborate on his next film.
Based on the song “Hit Somebody,” which Albom co-wrote with Warren Zevon, the film will tell the story of a young Canadian hockey player in the 1970s who loves the game but has no talent for it, so he becomes an enforcer on the ice. Smith hopes to shoot the film in 2010 in Michigan - “If you’re going to shoot a hockey movie, it just makes sense to shoot it in a place like Hockeytown,” he remarked, to cheers and applause - and remarked that the state’s film incentives made this decision even easier.
When Smith invited questions from the crowd, he changed from a New Jersey Devils jacket into a worn, dark bathrobe. This, paired with Smith often draping himself across the armchair, gave the already-casual event a sense of living room intimacy (and made me think of the “Star Wars”-fanatic filmmaker as Kevin Smith Kenobi for the rest of the night).
Smith responded to questions of all stripes - from the humorous (“in a fistfight between Ben Affleck and Jason Lee, who would win?”) to the baffling (“I think you might be my Dad”); from the professional (“Was filming for television tougher then film because of tight time constraints?”) to the personal (his spirituality and belief in God). Smith often went off on tangents before the questioner even finished speaking, but the answers were consistently hilarious.
In one revealing segment, Smith detailed the “nervous breakdown” he suffered after “Zach and Miri” - considered by many to be the vehicle that would finally push Smith into the mainstream spotlight - crashed at the box office. Later, Smith negotiated with an audience member who wanted Smith to sign his arm so he could have the autograph tattooed. Smith quickly made a case for signing the fan’s rear end instead, arguing that it wouldn’t be as visible, and that if he ever had a partner who hated Smith’s movies, she’d think that was the right place for his name.
The fan eventually agreed to this compromise, came up on stage, and bent over the armchair as Smith, still in his robe, signed his name in black marker. "An Evening with Kevin Smith," indeed.
Some additional, printable quotes from Smith: “It costs me nothing to believe in God. But at the same time, it’s not like, without it, I’d hunt people for pleasure.”
“Your priorities shift (as you get older). Once it was, ‘If I don’t make “Clerks,” I’ll die.’ Now it’s more like, ‘If I don’t make this movie, I’ll make another one.’”
“I am all heart and no talent. Just look at my films. A chimp could have made them.”
“With ‘Jersey Girl,’ the compliment I usually get is, ‘It wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone said it was.”
“Bruce (Willis) is undirectable. And I’m not saying that as an insult. I mean that Bruce Willis plays Bruce Willis insanely well. What could I possibly tell Bruce Willis about playing Bruce Willis? I mean, this is a dude who saved the world how many times?
“I had to do my film school publicly. And you see slight growth from film to film.”
“My parents were like, ‘He likes “Star Wars,” but you can’t make a living off of that.’ But I found a way.”
Jenn McKee is a staff digital journalist at AnnArbor.com. Reach her at 734-623-2546 or email@example.com, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.