On the night of September 18th, 2014, I watched veteran actor Michael Parks (at his scenery-chewing best) turn Justin Long, quite literally, into a human walrus. As Long, housed inside of a rubbery creature suit that will forever be etched into my brain, waddled across the screen, I honestly couldn’t believe my eyes. Going into my local theater on that night, I knew what the concept of the movie was, but I certainly didn’t expect Kevin Smith to actually go that far with it. It was absurd. It was over the top. But most importantly of all, it was refreshing to see a filmmaker so unhinged.
Watching Tusk, it was incredibly clear to me that while making it, Kevin Smith did not care about entertaining anyone other than Kevin Smith. That was, I can only imagine, the same mindset Smith had when making his debut feature Clerks, but Tusk was something different. It wasn’t the work of an artist finding his voice, but rather reclaiming it. It was the work of a successful Hollywood filmmaker embracing his independent spirit in the most delightfully bonkers way possible, delving so far into the extreme and absurd so as to almost ensure that he would never again be hired by a major studio.
And as crazy as it might have been, that bravery made Tusk kind of, well, beautiful.
As I sit here typing this post, Kevin Smith is at the Sundance Film Festival showing off Yoga Hosers, the second piece in his “True North Trilogy” that began back in 2014 with the aforementioned movie about a human walrus. Last night, while presenting his latest film, Smith said something that ruffled a lot of feathers in the internet film community.
As relayed on Twitter by Slash Film’s Ethan Anderton…
“If you’ve seen Tusk, and after you see Yoga Hosers,” Smith told the festival audience, “you’ll see that I don’t give a shit about the audience anymore.”
And there it is. In his own words, an artist declaring – in case you didn’t get the boldfaced memo he called Tusk – that he’s become wise enough to not really care what anyone thinks about his art. And in a world where so many independent talents have been gobbled up by Hollywood and hired to bring its visions to life – something Smith dealt with while making Cop Out, the only directorial credit on his resume that he didn’t write – there’s something wonderful about Smith’s lack of interest in mass appeal and box office numbers: two things no artist should ever be forced to pay attention to.
Smith’s Sundance comments make it crystal clear that he has discovered a newfound selfishness within himself, and though it may make for an evocative headline to twist his words into a suggestion that he no longer cares about his fans (an absurd interpretation, for anyone who knows the first thing about him), the reality is that being selfish should, by all means, go hand-in-hand with being an artist. The problem in Hollywood is that filmmakers aren’t being given the freedom to be selfish, and by trying too hard to appeal to the ticket-buying masses, they’re creating safe, generic, and boring art.
All Smith is saying is that he has opted out of that machine, and will be dedicating the rest of his career, much the same way he started it, to staying true to himself – and, by proxy, to his like-minded, probably stoned fans. He is, in many ways, the embodiment of the indie spirit, and his career trajectory should be considered an inspiration to all filmmakers – nay, all artists. Smith got to the top of the mountain, but rather than sitting comfortably up there, he instead decided to climb back down and make his weird little movies with his friends and family members. A true independent, all these years later.
Kevin Smith is of course not the only artist who refuses to play by Hollywood’s cookie cutter rules, as Rob Zombie similarly attends Sundance this year with his partially crowd-funded horror film 31, made outside of the system. Much like Yoga Hosers, it’s a movie made for the filmmaker and his fans, rather than the movie critics who are being forced to watch and review it for their respective outlets, so don’t expect to see a lot of praise for either coming out of Sundance. And don’t expect Zombie or Smith to care.
You may hate Tusk. You may hate Lords of Salem. And you may hate Yoga Hosers and 31, when they come out later this year. You may even hate Kevin Smith and/or Rob Zombie on some sort of weird personal level, as if they wronged you in a past life – trust me, you wouldn’t be the only one. But whether you love their art, hate their art, or refuse to even acknowledge their art as actual art, nothing can change the fact that they’re making THEIR ART. And I choose to respect that.
So thank you for not giving a shit about us anymore, Kevin Smith. And please keep being you.
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