ReelThoughts: March 12, 2004

"Kevin Smith Strikes Back"

Commentary by James Berardinelli


Live and learn, I suppose. Relying on a quote from the book Down and Dirty Pictures proved to be a bad idea. The quote in question, found on page 204 and attributed to Kevin Smith, is as follows: "[The Brothers McMullen] had as much edge as vanilla ice cream, no name brand. Everyone wanted to get a Brothers McMullen underway. 'Cause everyone wanted that cheap but softshell picture that fuckin' reaches into the warm and fuzzies of the fuckin' average multiplex moviegoer while still being able to call it an independent... It made me heartsick for a year."

After reading this quote, I teed off on Smith, believing his words to be at odds with what's on screen in his new motion picture, Jersey Girl. In retrospect, it was an unfair attack, in large part because I didn't know the story behind the quote or the circumstances in which it was delivered. So, although I'm not about to apologize for my opinion of the film, I will apologize for the negativity I expressed about Smith based on a statement that should not have been taken at face value.

Kevin Smith has filled in the blanks as far as the quote is concerned. The words are his, but Biskind misrepresents the time frame in which they were given, presenting them as if they are from a recent interview. Smith has the following to say: "What the book lacks is my follow-up feelings from years later, when I decided I was over-reacting in my early twenties... I made that statement YEARS ago... And Biskind didn't see fit to include my qualifying follow-up, so it's hardly even an accurate quote. A guy's outlook changes over the course of a few years (although I'll maintain 'til I'm in the grave that Brothers was no different than most studio flicks, and was not what I define an 'indie' flick to be). However, saying what I said about Brothers and making Jersey Girl almost ten years later is not what I'd call hypocritical - especially when I'm not out there maintaining Jersey Girl as an indie flick... I'm not selling Jersey Girl as anything more than what it is: a sweet film about being a father, and having a father."

So, considering the circumstances, I retract my statement about Smith being hypocritical. And, while I view Jersey Girl as a softball melodrama, there's no debating that it's something very close to Smith's heart, and an attempt to move in a different, more mature direction. (Incidentally, I expect the film to do reasonably well at the box office. Gigli not withstanding - and the failure of that movie should not be held against Jersey Girl - this is a crowd pleaser.)

But there's a troubling issue here that needs to be addressed, and it has to do with the possible lack of journalistic integrity in Biskind's book. Smith is just the latest subject to debate it's accuracy. Roger Ebert, Christine Vachon, and Ben Affleck have all called Biskind's representation of events into question. And, in an era when journalists are smarting from the antics of Jason Blair and Stephen Glass, a whiff of quote doctoring or misrepresentation can devalue an entire project. More on that later, once I have finished Biskind's book. But as I read each quote in Down and Dirty Pictures, I find myself asking, "Is that what he really said?" or "What else did he say that wasn't included."


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