On That Whole Kevin Smith Thing

About a year ago, writer/director Kevin Smith premiered the film Red State at the Sundance Film Festival. While I enjoyed the film, the story behind Smith's post-film Q&A was what dominated the headlines. Smith's actions were tantamount to a direct insult to entertainment journalists and film distributors. In fact, Smith had been leading up to this for awhile, with a well-covered rant about press coverage of Cop Out and a refusal to screen Red State for press (or to participate in press events).  Some of my film writer colleagues did not take too kindly to this, with people like Drew McWeeny promising never to write about Smith or any of his films forever.

Last night, a Twitter conversation ensued in which McWeeny and several others reaffirmed this position. You can find that conversation in its near entirety by clicking here.

I've thought about their position for a long time and I'm going to admit: I just don't get it. When I think of industries such as politics or technology, most of the primary players in those industries have an antagonistic relationship with the press. There is almost always a disconnect between how someone wants their story/product to be covered, and how an observer/critic wants to cover it. But I cannot remember many instances in which press figures swore off covering someone because that person was being a dick, not to the journalist specifically, but to the press at large. In what other industry would such behavior by journalists be acceptable?

Kevin Smith is a public figure whose actions and films may or may not have significance for the fields he participates in (e.g. film, podcasting, distribution, etc.). Decide whether or not they do, and then proceed accordingly. But shirking your responsibilities because he's acted dickishly? Because you have a distaste for covering him? Because his neurotic fans make you cringe? That just lessens all of us.

[Side note: I've found Exquisite Tweets to be a useful tool for preserving Twitter conversations. So many interesting things get said every day and vanish forever into the ether. This service helps put a stop to that.]

15 comments :: On That Whole Kevin Smith Thing

  1. Appreciate this Dave. I agree. While one could argue Smith is being childish, I think you could also argue (with all do respect as I DO respect all the journalists on that twitter conversation) that the journalists are acting childish in response.

  2. Agreed with everything except your analogy to political journalists. In a (theoretically functional) society journalists have a responsibility to the community as a whole to cover current event objectively, while enthusiast press have no such responsibility.

  3. Great way to look at this, Dave. In any artistic endeavor, it can be tough to deal with criticism. But it's not like Kevin Smith went and slashed the tires of a bunch of journalists, he just copped a bit of an attitude. I don't think it should be unexpected or judged too harshly.

  4. Good point, Chris. That being said, I do think the "enthusiast press" have a lot of grappling to do with what exactly their role/designation as "journalist" really means, if anything.

  5. I agree. I think its silly that some journalists/bloggers, particularly Drew McWeeny (a man whose work I read and respect a lot) refuse to cover Smith's evolution as an entertainer. If Steven Spielberg or Edgar Wright or another beloved director were to do the same, they'd be covering it like crazy and fighting for interviews. Smith is divisive, but he draws eyeballs. He's a lightning rod for page views, and I'm surprised bloggers would turn down both ad revenue AND the chance to expose readers to an interesting subject simply because Smith supposedly wasted their time with the screening.

  6. To me, the next step in this line of thinking is to not cover a George Clooney or Tom Cruise movie because you don't agree with their political or religious views, respectively. As a journalist/blogger/what have you, your job is to report on movies in a way in which your personal view of the movie is known, but your personal opinion of those behind the scenes should be left exactly there. Save particular blogs/websites that employ a theme to their coverage, the moment you start to draw a line on what can and will be covered, because of personal objections, is the moment you're no longer doing your job to the fullest. Be the bigger person, maintain a "professional approach," and do the right thing for your readers who don't want to choose between you and their favorite director, because you'll never win.

  7. I don't understand why Actors/Directors personal lives/beliefs/attitudes have anything at all to do with the films they partake in unless the film directly reflects these traits.

    If a news tv channel refused to cover a politician I'd just watch a better news channel. There's nothing forcing me to get my film information from McWeeny or the others censoring their sites, so I just find better sites for my film news (i.e:slashfilm).

  8. Well said David. It's insane that a film site would refuse to cover a film because they don't like the man/woman who made it. I don't like Lars Von Trier as a individual, but I wouldn't stop covering his films because of his personal life. It's immature and childish.

  9. I see why these critics are irritated with Smith, but their reactions are unjustifiably extreme IMO. Diggin' this Exquisite Tweets tool. Its a classy way of preserving ephemeral yet significant twitter convos.

  10. If only Red State and Kevin Smith were actually worth the coverage.

  11. I completely agree that the coverage boycott is childish. The bait and switch Smith pulled was obviously deceptive and petty, which is unfortunate because I think his main message was actually very relevant, with many salient points about the nature of advertisement and distribution.

    Almost exactly a year after the Sundance incident, Louis C.K. made his own big self-distribution news with his Live at the Beacon concert film distributed solely through Louisck.com

    At it's core, the news story is the same. Or at least it should have been, if it wasn't clouded by Smith behavior. It's fine if you think he was a dick, but that doesn't make the actual CONTENT of his message any less valid or newsworthy.

    There are a lot of artists working today that have had controversial incidents and others have made the point about not allowing a journalist or critic's personal opinions of the artist to influence the evaluation of their work. But even if that were allowed, what is utterly ridiculous to me is where the line is drawn: Racism, Pedophelia, Rape, Fraud: Fine. Insult bloggers: BOYCOTT!

  12. But Daanish, Louis CK self distributed his film with grace and humor. And he showed real big support for his fans to boot.

    Smith acted like a bigshot when he announced that he was self distributing Red State, and then proceeded to bag on movie critics (who some can argue were his first EVER fans, why back when Clerks premiered at Sundance in the 90's). Honestly, I don't blame the bloggers for acting as they did. It's there sites and, of they don't want to support Smith, that's there choice.

  13. Matthew,

    I completely agree with you, theres a WORLD of difference in the way it was handled (I've been a huge Louis C.K. fan for a long time).

    So I do understand the hate for Smith, and you're right that it's their blog and they can do whatever they want, but I think what Dave is getting at - and I agree- is if you want to be called a journalist, you have to cover items that are newsworthy, and that's pretty much end of story. It shouldn't matter whether her you like the person or not.

    This is definitely where the difference between Blogging and Journalism comes into sharp relief.

  14. My take on it is this: in any given year, it is physically impossible for me to cover every film. I can't even cover every film I'd like to with the full attention I think they deserve. Forget about special projects, retrospective pieces, or pure film theory... just keeping up with what's coming out is difficult, especially when you're juggling other obligations like a family or other work.

    As a result, I often have to pick and choose what gets covered. If Kevin Smith's films were the ONLY FILMS that I wasn't covering, then you'd have a point. But all that happened was I chose to shift priorities. Given a chance to cover a Kevin Smith film or something else screening at the same time, the choice is easier now.

    That's not childish. It's not an overreaction. I just made a decision about what is or isn't a priority for me. Other people will cover his work, and fans of him and his movies will certainly not fail to hear about his work because I didn't mention it.

  15. Drew,

    Everything you said makes perfect sense and I don't think anybody can take issue with prioritizing films and coverage. Roger Ebert does it all the time, sometimes neglecting very relevant films.

    The difference to me is prioritizing films as you go as oppose to making sweeping declarations in advance. Kevin Smith films may not be the only ones you don't cover, but I haven't heard you call out any other filmmaker the way you have with Smith.

    Now, you could argue that to you Kevin Smith has simply lowered to the level of Friedberg and Seltzer, where there's no point in covering their work because their track record has repeatedly shown that they offer nothing worth talking about.

    If that's the case, then that's fine, but the tone of the conversation feels much more personal than that.

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