One of the most unique voices to emerge during the American independent filmmaking renaissance of the 1990s, Kevin Smith was born in New Jersey on August 2, 1970. Smith later attended the New School for Social Research's creative writing program, dropping out after administrators contacted his parents to report that their son had been caught launching water balloons out of his dormitory window. He subsequently enrolled in the Vancouver Film School, but again ended his stay after just four months. Returning home to New Jersey, Smith accepted a job in a local convenience store and began plotting his next move. Inspired by the success of director Richard Linklater's 1991 low-budget hit Slacker, he contacted former film-school comrade Scott Mosier, and together the duo began discussing producing their own feature.
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After rounding up just over 27,000 dollars -- collected from parents, credit-card advances, and the sale of Smith's beloved comic book collection -- they shot Clerks, a hilariously scabrous look at American consumer culture steeped in Smith's own experiences behind the cash register. Shooting each night in the same convenience store where the director worked by day, they completed production in just three weeks and began promoting the feature on the festival circuit. In 1994, Clerks debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, becoming the breakout hit of the event. Suddenly Smith, with his flair for raunchy yet heavily stylized dialogue, colorful characterizations, and keen cultural perceptiveness, was the toast of the indie community, swiftly acquiring Creative Artists Agency representation and a distribution deal with Miramax.
After winning a court battle to replace the often-vulgar movie's NC-17 rating with a more commercially palatable R, Clerks hit the arthouse circuit, where it recouped its initial investment many times over and became a critical smash. Soon Smith was at work on the 1995 comedy Mallrats, the second chapter in his self-described "New Jersey trilogy." Despite reprising a number of characters from the previous film -- including the director's own onscreen alter ego, Silent Bob -- Mallrats was both a commercial and critical disaster, and while members of his avid cult audience remained enthusiastic, he publicly "apologized" for making the movie at the 1995 Independent Spirit Awards ceremony. In 1997, Smith resurfaced with Chasing Amy, the final film in the trilogy and his most mature effort to date. Unlike its predecessor, the film won wide critical acclaim, with many critics praising Smith's insightful exploration of love and loss.
In 1999, Smith was back in the spotlight with Dogma, a film centering on the last living descendent of Jesus Christ, a woman named Bethany (Linda Fiorentino) who works as a clerk in an abortion clinic. Unsurprisingly, the film, which had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, garnered more than its share of controversy even before being released theatrically. Dogma's distributor, the Disney-owned Miramax Pictures, announced that they would not release the picture and intended to sell it to another distributor. They did so, as Smith all the while maintained that the film -- which also starred Alanis Morissette as God -- was about the importance of faith, rather than an attempt to ridicule it.
Scaling down his themes somewhat, Smith dedicated his next film, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, to the stoner duo who appeared on the sidelines in each of his first four efforts. Prepped for a wide, late-August 2001 release, the 20-million-dollar road comedy seemed affable in terms of overall concept, until a sneak preview left representatives of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) up in arms over the film's derogatory language and recurring gay-sex jokes. Stopping short of issuing an apology, Smith again defended his right to portray uncouth characters: Jay and Silent Bob's homophobia, he argued, further illustrated their idiocy. Unconvinced, Smith's detractors compelled him to tack on a closing-credit anti-defamation comment and make a 10,000-dollar goodwill donation to the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Little of this mattered to critics or fans, as JASBSB garnered mixed-to-poor reviews and decent (if precipitous) opening weekend box-office totals, proving that Smith had indeed cultivated a core audience.
After another turn in front of the camera in 2003's Daredevil, Smith returned to directing with 2004's Jersey Girl. The film had plenty of buzz surrounding it because it was one of two films starring über-couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez slated for release. However, when the other film Gigli became a failure of nearly-Ishtarian proportions and the celebrity-duo called off their wedding, that buzz turned into a stigma. Attempting to remove some of the Gigli-residue on the film, Smith retired to the editing room and excised much of Lopez's role in the film. Nonetheless, Jersey Girl was largely panned and became a box-office failure.
In dire need of a hit in the wake of Jersey Girl, Smith returned to the work that ignited his career by turning out a sequel to that opus, Clerks II. Released in July 2006, the movie picks up on the lives of Dante and Randall , the two slackers from the first film, who lose their jobs at the convenience store and video rental when a fire burns the strip mall to ashes. The buddies are forced to don uniforms and man the counters at Mooby's, a fast-food restaurant whose supremely irritating bovine mascot also appeared in Smith's Dogma.
Smith took a supporting role in Catch and Release as the slovenly, yet philosophical roommate of a woman (Jennifer Garner) mourning the loss of her fiancé in 2007, and directed comedy drama Zack and Miri Make a Porno in 2008 The film featured Seth Rogen and Elizabeth banks as a longtime friends who agree to make a pornographic film to get out of debt. Smith took a supporting role in Catch and Release as the slovenly, yet philosophical roommate of a woman (Jennifer Garner) mourning the loss of her fiance.
The director went a different direction for Red State, a horror film with resounding political undertones. Released in 2011, the film followed the aftermath suffered by teens and their families following a kidnapping spearheaded by a fanatical religious group.
~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi