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Kevin Smith is a much adored, or much despised, Independent director, producer, writer, and actor, whose films usually spark a great deal of controversy. He is known for being open to the point of vulgarity and profanity in his expressed viewpoints, and yet some of his work is quite significant in its rather skewed version of modern America, what he refers to as his “View Askewniverse,” the fictional place many of his characters inhabit.
Kevin Smith is probably best known for his films Clerks, the Jay and Silent Bob series, Chasing Amy, and for the praised and censured film Dogma, which seems to be played about once a week on the American television station, Comedy Network. The film is significantly changed in television airings since it lacks the extreme profanity of the uncut version.
Kevin Smith is also a quite young director, born in 1970 in New Jersey. Virtually all of his films take place in New Jersey. His first film Clerks, was produced in 1994, and was shot in the convenience store in which Kevin Smith worked. He had to shoot the film after store hours. Clerks is notable for several reasons. It was the first film to garner a NC-17 rating for profanity, though later the film was downgraded to an R rating. The film budget was under 30,000 US dollars (USD). It also introduced the world to the characters of Jay and Silent Bob. Silent Bob is played by Kevin Smith and is significant in that he never speaks.
Clerks brought Kevin Smith much critical acclaim, and later went on to gross over 3 million USD. It has made even more in DVD sales and rentals. The film premiered at Cannes and was awarded both the Award of Youth and the Mercedes Benz Award. At Sundance, Kevin Smith won the Filmmaker’s Trophy for the film. Clerks was also nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards.
Mallrats is another Kevin Smith contribution to his View Askewniverse, featuring Jay and Silent Bob, Jeremy London, Shannen Doherty and Ben Affleck. The film was panned by critics but enjoys a cult following. The 1997 movie, Chasing Amy was a far greater commercial and critical success, with an interesting plot. The main character falls in love with a lesbian, who he clearly cannot attain. The film is again characteristically profane but that did not detract viewers from seeing it, and it earned the 1998 Independent Spirit Award for best screenplay. The film also features brief appearances by Jay and Silent Bob.
In 1999, Dogma, which many consider the finest comedic film of Kevin Smith, brought both acclaim and controversy. The Catholic Church enjoined Catholics not to see the film for its irreverent and some feel offensive take on religion. Others truly enjoyed the film, with especially good performances by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, as well as the traditional appearances by Jay and Silent Bob.
Dogma features some other noteworthy cast members, particularly Selma Hayek, Chris Rock, and Alan Richman. Kevin Smith and other producers of the film received several credible death threats as a result, and it is rumored that the Weinsteins dropped their producing roles in the film because of threats. Despite negative detractors the film enjoyed commercial success and was nominated for several Independent Spirit Awards.
Jersey Girl, which was released in 2004, was panned, but many enjoyed it as a “kinder, gentler,” Kevin Smith film. He had recently married and become a father, and he refers to the film as his “fatherhood film.” It is a departure from Askewniverse films though it does take place in New Jersey. However, those who love the quirkiness of Kevin Smith will not long have to wait for a return to his more traditional style, as the film Clerks II premiers in 2006.