A Skewed View

More than five years ago, I first saw Clerks. The black-and-white comedy, directed by Jersey-native Kevin Smith, was raw, honest, funny, and clumsy in its direction.

It was the first time effort by a young man who never went to film school, never studied acting, and was a great fan of movies and comic books.

It was my sister-in-law who first turned me on to Smith. She had brought home a tape which contained two bootlegged movies, Clerks, and another movie And God Spoke… about two filmmakers producing a film version of the Bible.

I heard very little about Smith’s “big budget” follow up, Mallrats, when it was first released. I recall it was playing at a local theater, but I never went to see it. I eventually caught it on television and thought it was funny (however, it was not until years later that I would finally see it unedited).

Smith’s camera work was mildly improved, but he didn’t appear to do much with the additional money he was given. The story, about two guys trying to get back with their girlfriends, rambled on worse than Clerks, but featured some memorable characters.

It also brought actor Jason Lee into the fold. One of the best young actors, he does not nearly get enough work.

Still, Mallrats had its moments, especially when it used Jay and Silent Bob — quite simply the best thing to come out of Smith. These two characters provided most of the laughs in Mallrats, and stole the show.

But what I liked most of all was how Mallrats was tied into Clerks. Smith began to mold his “universe” at this point, tying characters into one another. It was truly inspired, and had Smith not done this, I would debate that he would not have experienced the kind of fan following he has developed.

Again, Smith’s next film, Chasing Amy, appeared at one of my local theaters. But, again, I was never able to see it. Like Mallrats, I did eventually see this film on television — Cinemax, to be precise.

I can honestly say that I officially became a Kevin Smith fan with Chasing Amy. A wonderful story, funny and intelligent dialogue, and some relatively fine performances. I related with this film and understood what Holden (played by Ben Affleck) was feeling.

It connected with me. I also ate up the idea that it, too, tied in with Clerks. Smith’s universe — or View Askewniverse — was growing.

The film’s camera work was also much improved from Clerks and Mallrats. Not by much, mind you, but it was better.

It wasn’t until years later, however, that I would learn that the film’s basic premise — a man’s inability to accept his girlfriend’s more sexually experienced past — was based on Smith’s own life. Plus, the woman playing the female lead (Joey Lauren Adams) was the girl in question.

This was a very brave thing for Smith to do, to in essence put himself on display like that. I admired it.

When I first heard of Dogma, I was eating lunch while working as an extra at Yankee Stadium for the film, For Love of the Game, starring Kevin Costner. One of the other extras, an actor from Yonkers, told me that he’d read the script online.

He explained the story, and I thought it made for a very interesting and funny film.

When I finally saw the picture, I thought the movie went in a different direction that I had expect. However, it was funny, smart, and offered an honest, real-world look at the Catholic religion.

Sure, the performances weren’t spectacular, but the camera work was again better than his previous film. Smith was improving.

And now, Smith has offered us his final story of the View Askewniverse that he has created. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is without a doubt funnier than Clerks and Mallrats, the camera work is far superior to Chasing Amy, and a lot more entertaining than Dogma.

In my opinion, it’s Smith’s second best film to date — Chasing Amy offers much more than laughs, so it’s still number one.

With Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Smith has finally reached a level, both in writing and in directing, that I think shows that he has perhaps found comfort in his abilities. The dialogue and story is concise, lean and well-told.

I think those who have dismissed him need to take another look. He’s proven to be one of the most popular independent filmmakers in years. I look forward to seeing what he can offer post-View Askewniverse.

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