Kevin Smith is at it again. In case you haven’t kept tabs on the one-time indie wunderkind in recent years, he has been an outspoken voice against film criticism and the whole film rat race in general. In 2010, after a first-class panning of his Bruce Willis/Tracy Morgan buddy-comedy Cop Out, Smith took to Twitter to lambast film criticsm as an institution. Then, at Sundance last year, he announced his retirement from film, opting instead to focus on his own crowd-funded work, his weekly “SModcast Internet Radio” podcast network and Spoilers, his Hulu movie nerd show.
His anti-criticism stance has long been established, but at Comic-Con this past Saturday (the video went live yesterday), he had the opportunity to distill it down to its purest form when a fan asked whether or not there is still room for critical analysis of film. The choicest bit of his eight minute screed comes around the three minute mark:
We live in the age of democratized media where anybody could do it. Like, in 1994 when I did it…weren’t a lot of people doing it so I get to stand out, like, “Hey, I’m one fuckin’ person that tried to make an indie film,” one of a thousand that year. Now, everybody can do it. Everybody in this room could shoot a fucking interesting film—way more interesting than Clerks and better looking—on their iPhone, cut it and upload it to YouTube. And probably have it seen by more people than ever saw Clerks in a fuckin’ movie theater. In that world, where that’s at your fingertips, where you could be a god, you can create characters and life and shape shit; put it out there for the world where people are moved by it, where it does something for them. Where something you’ve created, some story you’ve told has become their favorite movie, maybe that thing that saved them from fuckin’ killing themselves. When you have that ability, why the fuck would you want to sit around and write about someone else’s shit?
And the crowd goes wild!
Make no mistake, Smith is taking a populist “everyone’s an artist” worldview and distorting it in order to shit on criticism, an art form (uh, yeah it is) he later calls “parasitic.” Critics and artists enjoy a symbiotic relationship, sure. Without art, there wouldn’t be criticism, but that cuts the other way as well. Without criticism, there wouldn’t be as much art. There are countless films each year that are raised from relative obscurity by passionate critics who see genius where others see nothing. It’s worth noting that Smith only takes umbrage with negative reviews. Later on, he happily recounts how much he enjoyed a positive review of Red State, his last film, from the prolific critic Todd McCarthy. If he wants to take a hard-lined stance against criticism, he can’t have it both ways.
My opinion of the rant aside, though, he is on to something about “democratized media.” The digital revolution has wrought more filmmakers than the film industry can handle, which has allowed upstarts like Smith to start their own operations without the strictures and hindrances of the old guard. Even though most of the above quote is hot air let out in a rage against those who don’t like his work, there is a lot of truth in his point about how anyone can make a movie. We now live in a golden age of creation, where even professional tools are accessible by the masses. There are more inroads to making art than ever before.
It’s lost on Smith, however, that the only way the interesting films will ever make it to audiences is if people take the time to watch them and subsequently tell others about them. Let’s pretend 1,000 people in the Comic-Con audience went and each made a 1 minute film. That would result in nearly seventeen hours worth of video. We call the people who would actually subject themselves to every second of it film critics, and they are very much a part of the creation process.
As Kevin Smith myopically said after pantomiming smoking pot at the end of this video, “Life’s too short, bitch. Let’s go make some art.” I know a lot of film critics who would agree with that sentiment.
But what do you think? Is criticism a complete waste of time that holds artists back from making new work? Or is there a middle ground where critic and artist can co-exist without all the vitriol? Let us know in the comments.