If nerd-as-underdog culture has an icon, it’s probably director Kevin Smith, a common man made good at the pinnacle of Hollywood, aka sleeing over at Skywalker Ranch, even while remaining approachable and utterly knowable. The LA Times has an in-depth, revealing profile of the director which wonders if CLERKS II will “brand him a boy wonder also-ran or a comeback king?”
His notoriously dedicated fan base, feverishly reciting quotes and rabidly buying up his merchandise, sees him as a regular guy made good. Critics, by and large, have come to see him as self-satisfied and lazy. Coming off the critical and commercial implosion of his previous film, “Jersey Girl,” which was a conscious attempt at making a more conventional mainstream movie, Smith finds himself back where he started. Though it may be easy to dismiss the dour reception of “Jersey Girl” as simply a part of the backlash against the tabloid romance of its stars, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, there is certainly more to it than that, as the film exposed cracks in the foundation of Smith’s work.
As if to encapsulate the rather uncertain position Smith now occupies in the Hollywood landscape, HBO’s insider comedy “Entourage” recently dropped Smith’s name (alongside Michael Bay, no less) as shorthand for sloppy, soulless filmmaking. By reviving the characters from his first feature in “Clerks II,” Smith now takes stock of his emotional life in his mid-30s in the same way “Clerks” surveyed his 20s. A freewheeling farce on lack of direction, stillborn ambitions and a life of mindless drudgery has given way to a rueful examination of unfulfilled promises, dashed dreams and the resigned acceptance of one’s lot in life.
The piece also touches on Smith’s sidelines, including the comics:
ASIDE from his role as writer-director of feature films, Smith has also created a number of sideline endeavors for himself. He makes appearances on the college lecture circuit, has done a series of spots for “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” has written comic books, done various guest spots, co-owns comic book and memorabilia stores in New Jersey and Los Angeles and, perhaps most important, has an extremely active and direct role online in a circle of Internet sites. The websites allow him to interact with a broad swath of fans, sell merchandise and, as with the case of “Clerks II,” heavily promote his upcoming releases.
Smith recently co-published the first in a series of graphic novel prequels to Richard Kelly’s feature film “Southland Tales,” a futuristic fable of the apocalypse starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and The Rock. At a recent signing event, Smith showed just how deep his commitment to and connection with his fans goes. He patiently listened as fans told him about themselves, he posed for pictures, he talked to people’s friends on their cellphones, and never hurried a single one. If things are moving toward a niche-oriented, long-tail model of cultural consumption, Smith already has self-created and corralled his piece of the niche.