The House with a Clock in Its Walls
Black, more than anyone else, should have been the one to wind up The House with a Clock in Its Walls. Too bad he doesn't…
I believe Kevin Smith has said all this before, but now he's got another movie to promote (called "Red State," due in 2011), so he's evidently saying it again. WorstPreviews.com reports that Smith is "taking to Twitter and radio" with this message:
Smith says that he doesn't hate critics, but simply disagrees with the fact that they get to see movies for free in order to write a review. His argument is that critics are just doing their jobs and sometimes don't want to see a certain movie, which means that they probably go into the theater hating it. He adds that he would rather show his movies to 100 fans and let them write reviews even if they don't have a newspaper.
Makes sense to me. Smith would prefer to have his movies reviewed by his fans -- those who've seen his other movies and who are predisposed to like them -- rather than by critics who have seen his other movies and therefore may be predisposed to not like them, so that sounds like a good proposition for him. (And I agree he should let the fans write reviews even if they don't have a newspaper, or a blog or a keyboard or a napkin and a Bic.) Not screening his movies for critics (or making them pay) also sounds like a pretty good deal for the critics who don't want to see or write about his work. They could watch or write about something else instead -- and not have to worry about all the ethical dilemmas involved in paying or not paying to see a Kevin Smith movie. The world would be a cleaner and more orderly place.
Not that I think critics who honestly liked one of Kevin Smith's movies would be hesitant to say so. They certainly haven't been so far. Hell, critics made his career with "Clerks," which was sold as a raw, vulgar, uncensored indie comedy. And it worked. He built his fan empire on that success, and received mostly positive reviews from mainstream critics for "Chasing Amy," "Dogma" and "Clerks II," and mixed-to-positive reviews for "Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back" and "Zack and Miri Make a Porno." He has no one but himself to blame for "Mallrats," "Jersey Girl" and "Cop Out" (even if he didn't write the latter).
But it's true that Smith's is a special kind of fan-world celebrity, combining social media, a network of web properties, podcasts, personal appearances, comic books, t-shirts, bobble-heads, inaction figures and lots and lots more merchandising.... Critics don't treat Smith as if he's their pal or their idol, the way his fans do.
WorstPreviews.com further elaborates:
Smith says that any exposure that critics create for his movies is unnecessary, since he can reach his fans on his own through channels like Twitter. He says that he probably has more readers than most newspapers. [Smith currently has more than 1.7 million followers on Twitter.]
More than anything, Smith would like to see his movies not be screened for critics, but if it's absolutely necessary, to charge critics a ticket price at the door. He says that this comes from his experience on "Cop Out," which was screened for critics, who ended up bashing his movie.
Smith has made almost 20 movies in the last 16 years, so he knows better than this. It's never "necessary" to screen movies for critics -- especially comedies and horror movies (like "Red State"). That's something he simply needs to work out with his distributor and his financial backers. If he doesn't need the publicity, there's no reason he should court it. I will be very disappointed if Smith fails to stand on principle and allows "Red State" to be screened for the press. Review embargoes don't mean a thing these days.
I hope this also means Smith will not attempt to show his films at festivals like Sundance or Slamdance, which would be an open invitation to any dufus with a press pass not only to write a review, but an early review. Better Smith should hold private screenings for his fans.
So, I will do my small part. Should I ever learn about any kind of advance screening of a Kevin Smith movie, for fans or the press or in a film festival, I hereby promise not to attend it. (Come to think of it, I don't think I ever have. Only seen them at public showings.) If I decide to see one of his films in a theater, I will buy a ticket like everyone else, as I previously have, and then decide whether I want to write about it or not (since I'm under no obligation either way).
And I'll be honest: The only Smith movie I've ever seen that I kinda liked is "Dogma," and that was so long ago I don't remember it at all. (I think it had Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Chris Rock, Alanis Morissette and Jesus in it.) I think parts of "Chasing Amy" were funny, too, but I can't be sure. You know, critics are people with experience and expectations, just like everybody else. I know from past encounters with their work (which I've written about extensively over the years) exactly why I am not likely to find movies directed by, say, Alan Parker, Danny Boyle, Christopher Nolan, Henry Jaglom or Kevin Smith to be good work. That's because they are who they are, and they're fairly consistent in the way they make movies. I've also found exceptions that were more interesting or less aesthetically offensive than others ("The Commitments," "Memento," "Dogma").
As a critic (even a semi-inactive one who pretty much does what Smith recommends these days and buys tickets to see what he wants to see), I think it's only fair to be truthful and above-board about my previous exposure to filmmakers' bodies of work. That doesn't pre-determine my response, but none of us views movies in a vacuum, either. In fact, the George W. Bush Rule of Low Expectations may work in the movie's favor, because there's nothing more gratifying than discovering a breakthrough in previously unexpected quarters -- like Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain," Colin Farrell in "In Bruges," Elizabeth Shue in "Leaving Las Vegas"... or "L.A. Confidential" from Curtis Hanson, "Three Kings" from David O. Russell, "Tender Mercies" from Bruce Beresford -- or, heck, "A Christmas Story" from Bob "Porky's" Clark.
But by all means: Kevin Smith and other filmmakers who don't want to show their movies to critics for free at advance screenings, be sure to get your publicists to notify critics and editors that you don't want them to cover your movies. Really. I'm on your side. It might be better for everyone.
P.S. If they do pre-release press screenings for "Red State" we should all realize that they're trying to bribe us with free admission to a soon-to-be-released movie and refuse to attend. It's only fair to Kevin Smith.
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