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A Critic's Response to Kevin Smith's Anti-Critic Diatribe

By Dustin Rowles | Industry | March 24, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | Industry | March 24, 2010 |

Somebody posited this to Kevin Smith yesterday on Twitter:

“I gotta say that every day I hate film theory & film students & critics more & more. Where is the fun in movies?”

That, of course, launched an hour long, semi-psychotic Twitter diatribe from Smith. Let me try to put this in a coherent, non-Twiterese fashion that you can read before I respond to it.

Smith writes:

“Sir, sometimes, it’s important to turn off the chatter. Film fandom’s become a nasty bloodsport where cartoonishly rooting for failure gets the hit count up on the ol’ brand-new blog. And if a schmuck like me pays you some attention, score! More eyes means more advertising dollars.

“But when you pull your eye away from the microscope, you can see that shit you’re studying so closely is, in reality, tiny as fuck. You wanna enjoy movies again? Stop reading about them & just go to the movies. It’s improved film/movie appreciation immensely for me. Seriously: so many critics lined-up to pull a sad & embarrassing train on Cop Out like it was Jennifer Jason Leigh in Last Exit to Brooklyn Watching them beat the shit out of it was sad. Like, it’s called Cop Out; that sound like a very ambitious title to you? You REALLY wanna shit in the mouth of a flick that so OBVIOUSLY strived for nothing more than laughs. Was it called Schindler’s Cop Out?

“Writing a nasty review for Cop Out is akin to bullying a retarded kid who was getting a couple chuckles from the normies by singing “Afternoon Delight.” Suddenly, bully-dudes are doing the bad impression of him, using the “retart” voice. The crowd shifts uncomfortably. (If Only Dalton Was Here) And you may impress a couple of low IQ-ers who’re like “Yeah, man! Way to destroy that singing retart!” But, really? All you’ve done is make fun of something that wasn’t doing you any harm and wanted only to give some cats a some fun laughs. Yes. I compared my flick to a retarded kid.

“It was just ridiculous to watch. That was it for me. Realized whole system’s upside down: so we let a bunch of people see it for free and they shit all over it? Meanwhile, people who’d REALLY like to see the flick for free are made to pay? Bullshit: from now on, any flick I’m ever involved with, I conduct critics screenings thusly: you wanna see it early to review it? Fine: pay like you would if you saw it next week. Like, why am I giving an arbitrary 500 people power over what I do at all, let alone for free? Next flick, I’d rather pick 500 randoms from Twitter feed and let THEM see it for free in advance, then post THEIR opinions, good AND bad. Same difference. Why’s their opinion more valid? It’s a backwards system. People are free to talk shit about ANY of my flicks, so long as they paid to see it. “


There was a lot more to the rant, including responding to a lot of Twitter questions about the role of critics, but that above is the gist of it.

And here’s the thing: He’s got some good points. And as Vince over at FilmDrunk and our own Christopher Campbell noted: He may actually be right about critics. As Christopher tweeted, many critics may be “spoiled by free movies, which distances their perspective from ticket buyers.” This is something we’ve argued from the very beginning, which is why we don’t do press screenings. In fact, a couple of years ago, before Zack and Miri opened, Kevin Smith very graciously invited us to see a free screening in advance (I declined, because — as I told him — we don’t do that sort of thing). Prisco nevertheless gave Zack and Miri a glowing review, one which I agreed with (and so did TK, after he saw the film on DVD).

But to take the role of the critic out of the equation, as Kevin Smith has suggested, is absurd. But it’s not because people actually give a lot of weight to a critic’s opinion anymore — we recognize that ourselves, and I like to think that our reviews are 50 percent informative and 50 percent a starting point for a discussion about the movie. It’s because, if you take the critic out of the equation, then what do audiences have to go on? Marketing, advertising, and PR. That’s what. How fucking honest do you actually believe a movie’s marketing campaign is? Is that what Kevin Smith wants? Has he really turned so studio friendly that he wants his audience to make up their mind about seeing a movie based on a studio-driven advertising campaign? Or a fucking cherry-picked trailer with all the funny scenes in it (Cop Out, by the by, had zero funny scenes even in the trailer).

Movie criticism provides a check and balance to a marketing effort. Some people may believe that movie reviews are worthless (and that’s certainly an opinion we hear enough around here from those who disagree with our reviews), but how can you possibly argue that an advertising campaign is not? If it weren’t for advertising, people wouldn’t know about a movie. And some people — particularly those with more discerning tastes in film — like to check those marketing efforts by getting an opinion about a movie from a so-called objective observer before they see it. Those opinions, hopefully, come from someone you trust, because he or she has proven to be like-minded over a long period of time (and maybe because he or she paid for their movie ticket, just like you’ll have to do). Are you more inclined to trust the opinion of 500 random Twitterers that you don’t know, have no long-standing reader relationship with, and who were following Kevin Smith, and so will already be predisposed to liking his films?

Look: Kevin Smith knows this more than anyone, and has spoken to it on several occasions: Movie critics elevated him to where he is. He owes a huge part of his career to Janet Maslin of the NYTimes who raved about Clerks, which provided that low-budget Sundance movie with the exposure that Kevin Smith needed. That made his career, and he’s repaying critics with Cop Out?

Hell, Smith has always played up the importance of critics. When Smith emailed me a few years back after he read my Clerks 2 review, I was flattered. Flattered as fucking hell. But as time passed, and I began to notice that this was part of Kevin Smith’s personal marketing effort (he showed up on a lot of blogs, and I’m sure that he sent 500 emails thanking critics for positive reviews), I began to realize that the flattery was the point. And it began to feel disingenuous. I mean, he said it himself: “If a schmuck like me pays you some attention, score! More eyes means more advertising dollars.” He was playing us — he was playing all of us. If a schmuck like him pays us attention and gives us advertising dollars, then the reverse must be true, too: If a schmucky website like Pajiba pays some attention to Kevin Smith, that means a bigger box-office gross, right? (Of course, clearly Smith doesn’t understand how little power the critics wield. It didn’t matter how much we liked a movie; he couldn’t break that $30 million ceiling. But he makes a shitty fucking movie that appeals to the very type of people he berated in Clerks (you know: the shitty customers), the critics hate it, and his movie makes $45 million.)

Kevin Smith’s Cop Out is to his career what that giant fucking mechanical spider was to Wild Wild West. Kevin Smith used to talk shit about that mechanical spider all the fucking time, but now he’s embraced it. He’s embraced the “retarded kid.” But you know what? The real outrage wasn’t the “retarded kid” movie itself, it was that Kevin Smith decided to make a “retarded kid” movie at all. We expected better than that. Some of us, anyway.

But you know what? I’m still looking forward to Red State. When it comes out, I will pay for a movie ticket, like we always do. And if I like it, I’ll write as much, no matter how much Kevin Smith hates critics.

(Twitter Hat Tips: @Master_Crief, @filmdrunk, @misterpatches, @filmnerdjamie, @thefilmcynic).

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.