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November 09, 1995 - Image 21

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1995-11-09

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The Michigan Daily - Weer, et. - Thursday, November 9, 1995 - 7B

{ ..

Director Smith observes middle-class life in convenience stores, malls

By Alexandra Twin
p Daily Arts Editor
S. ,
There are directors and then there are
"filmmakers. Kevin Smith, the 25-year
old creator of last year's brilliant, con-
'venience-store epic "Clerks" and the
recent, under-appreciated"Mallrats" is,
without a doubt, a filmmaker. He doesn't
-hold this title in the pretentious, auterist
w sense of the word, but as a designation
of those who choose to view their art of
visual story-telling as more than a means
of commerce, more than a way to gar-
ner rewards, but ultimately as a mode of
ersonal expression - in short - the
est way that they know how to com-
-~ When this communication comes
through loud and clear, and people re-
spond to the work, the repercussions
are incomparable, regardless of the
work's financial return. When the com-
munication lacks all clarity, and the
response is limp or lackluster, nothing
.can compensate for the feeling of dis-
connection it inspires.
In a recent phone interview on the
afternoon after the national release of
AMallrats," Smith spoke from his life-
long home in New Jersey about art,
commerce and the mystery of that elu-
sive symbol ofAmeri can teen-age hopes
and dreams, the mall. Disheartened and
bewildered by the cold critical response
and even more frigid public response
heaped upon his film at its opening,
Smith proved to be much like his ami-
cable characters:humble, open, friendly,

Kevin Smith (right) directs queen "Malirat" Shannen Doherty in his most recent film.

and wryly sarcastic.
"The last thing that you want to do is
take something like this personally," he
said, in reference to the film's disap-
pointing opening, "but then you've got
to understand, this is what I've spent
my whole year working on. How could
I not be disappointed? I just don't know

where it all went wrong."
He wanted to make a teen comedy au
John Hughes mid-'80s. Like in
"Clerks," the characters would be based
loosely on people whom he had known.
With its biggerbudget, full-color, 32mm
film, young, attractive cast, (which in-
cludes ex-90210-er Shannen Doherty),

biting, inventive dialogue, gleaming,
cartoon-like narrative and birthplace in
American shopping culture, the film
had seemed poised to do for the mall
what "Clerks" did for the Seven-11, but
on an even larger scale. Three weeks
later, the film is not even playing in Ann
Arbor anymore.

"I don't know," he said lightly, "in
the end, it's just a job."
Just a job? It it came from the
plummer, the comment would be, well,
hardly unexpected, but from one of the
most celebrated new American film-
makers of the last two years? In light of
his former, delightfully amateurish glee
at simply being able to make movies at
all, this change of heart is more than a
let-down, it's downright alarming.
What's even more alarming is that it
was one of the milder comments he had
to offer. A more typical one was: "This
experience has definitely dulled my ex-
citement about film," or, "We spent the
better part of last year feeling success-
ful, we'll spend the rest of this one
feeling like failures."
Although with typical, cryptically
humorous aplomb, hewas quickto quip:
"Not that I'm going to now disown the
film or anything, but ... whereas I once
described the term "mallrat" to mean a
guy who hangs out at the mall all day,
I'll now have to describe it as a flop."
Like this fall's "The Brothers
McMullan," last year's"Clerks," Smith's
debut, was shot inblack-and-white 16mm
film and then blown up to the regular size
of32mminthe editingprocess. 'Mallrats'
was shot in color film at the more standard
32mm. "Clerks" featured all unknowns
and went without a distributor until suc-
cessfully wooing the audiences at the
prestigious Sundance Film Festival.
"Mallrats" was backed by Gramercy, a
division ofmajor-leaguerUniversal, right
from the get-go. "Clerks" was made for -
$23,000. "Mallrats" was made for $6
million. 'Clerks' ended up earning more
than 1,000 times its cost. "Mallrats" will
probably do little more than break even.
While, it is impossible not to sympa-
thize with the effects of the "sophomore
slump" that Smith is clearly experienc-
ing, his dilemmadoes shed some interest-
ing light on an equally frequently ex-
plored topic, namely that of creativity vs.
capitalism. It's definitely on his mind.
When asked as to what he was interested
in writing about in the future, he replied
wryly: "Art versus commerce."
For his next project, the aptly-titled
"Dogma," Smith will returnto Miramax,
the company that believed in him in the
first place. In order to prevent other
misshaps, Smith says that he will keep
the upcoming film's budget low.
Smith also wants to stick to his origi-
nal style --inspired by indie film mav-
ericks like Jim Jarmusch and Hal Hartley
- of preominantly dialogue-laden ac-
tion, as opposed to the more standard
"car chase" or "love scene" tactics em-
ployed in most Hollywood films. He

experimented with that in 'Mallrats'
but has no intention of doing it again.
"This whole thing ('Mallrats') was an
experiment to see if we could do it and
we can't. We tried to do the mainstream
thing and we failed."
In addition, "Dogma," a "Christian
mythology road movie" will feature the=
return of the much beloved Jay arid'
Silent Bob. As played by Jason Mewes
and Smith himself, respectively, the
dynamic, stoned, slacker duo was defi-
nitely the highlight of "Mallrats." In
"Dogma," they will play prophets.
Smith tosses aside the notion that his
choice to act in small parts inhis own
films is any sort of nod to heroes like
Spike Lee or Woody Allen, who fre-
quently do the same thing in their films'
As he told it, he became Silent Bob
quite by accident: "I had written the
Randall character (in 'Clerks') for my-
self, which is why he had all the good
lines, but as we got closer to produc-
tion, it was like, 'man, I don't want tb
memorize all these lines,' soI played
Silent Bob, 'cause, obviously, he has'a
lot less lines. Besides, I figured, if this
is the only movie I'll ever make, ,
wanna be in it."
However, it ended up not being the
only movie that Smith was to make. De-
spite its many flaws, and his insistence
that the characters "represent an extrem'-
ity; they're supposed to be like cartoon
characters," Smith's films may be said to
be among the few in recent years to ad-
dress the so-called Generation X age group
by a member of its own.
While "Mallrats" has certainly not
found its audience, Smith, unquestion-
ably, has the makings of finding his.
Later, feeling more reflective, he con
mented: "Working with a studio was
just really different than I'd anticipate&-
But it was a positive experience. I ha-
fun. I'm glad we tried it."
And then, with perfect comic timin
he added, "We failed, but at least we.
"I think, most importantly, the expeZ
rience just made us realize that we be-'
long in independent cinema."
This kind of honesty and humility is.
rare in the arts, let alone in something as
mainstream as film. For someone so
new to the craft to admit to his mistakes
so readily says a lot about that person's
strength of character and potential to
endure as a filmmaker.
Smith cracked up, sighed, realizing
just how much he had said saying that
you're 'not supposed to say in inter-
views. "Wow," he said ruefully, "I think
you've gotten the exclusive interview
that nobody gets: The morning after."'

Old movie scores get new respect in PBS special

The Hartford Courant
Movies can be art.
. And movie directors, especially if
they are foreign and make inscrutable
black-and-white films, can be artists.
But movie music isn't art, and movie
composers are mere hacks. That has
pretty much been the standard aca-
demic position for more than half a
Indeed, for many the term movie
music has come to mean approxi-
mately the same thing as elevator
music or wallpaper music - middle-
brow "shlock."
This harsh judgment has not gener-
ally extended to those "real" compos-
ers in this century who briefly dabbled
in film: Prokofiev, Copland, Virgil
Thomson, Bernstein, Shostakovich,
among others. Rather, it's reserved
for those who had the temerity actu-
-ally to earn their living composing for
the movies.
But like a lot ofold certainties about
popular culture, this one is teetering.
Many younger musicians, particularly
;.Americans, are according film music
respectful and even scholarly atten-
At the center of this revisionism is
conductor John Mauceri. Mauceri is
the featured personality on "The Hol-
lywood Sound," a PBS "Great Perfor-
mances" production.
The 90-minute show is mostly an
introduction to the golden age of sound
pictures - the '30s and into the '40s
- when a truly remarkable group of
composers, mostly European Jewish
refugees fleeing from the Nazis,
settled in Hollywood. These men,
many with impressive classical cre-
dentials, gave the movie industry, and
by extension a good portion of the
Western world, its shared soundtrack.
"These men worked on a consis-
tently high level and were very seri-
ous about what they did," says
Mauceri. "We're still in the process
of gathering and understanding their
work, partly because a lot of the ac-
tual scores were casually thrown away
by the big studios in those days."
"They may have had brilliant train-
ing and early careers," Mauceri says,
"but the moment they came to Holly-
wood, those careers came to a halt
with a screech that could be heard all
the way to Vienna."
One of the reasons for this was
sheer success: Most of the men who
went into the movie business earned
Action SportsWear
ciur a nckt Is

comfortable livings, an unforgivable
act for a serious composer.
Erich Korngold was, in many ways,
the most fascinating film composer of
all. Erich Wolfgang (for Mozart)
Korngold arrived in the United States
from Austria already famous. He had
not only brushed up against the Euro-


.... w


But a quiet re-assessment is clearly
under way. Two recordings of the
"Sinfonietta" have been issued re-
cently, including a new one on the
Dorian label featuring the Dallas Phil-
harmonic, conducted by its enterpris-
ing young American music director,
Andrew Litton.
Litton's regard for the piece is such
that he is including it on the program
later this month when the Dallas Phil-
harmonic performs at Carnegie Hall,
"Unbelievably enough, I think our
performance will be the first New
York performance of the piece in
something like 80 years," he says.
Mauceri recently released an all-
Korngold CD that includes a patched-
together concert suite made from his
music to the 1944 film "Between Two
Worlds." Last year, a recording of
Korngold's Violin Concerto, played
by Gil Shaham, was a critical and
popular success.
"Korngold was the best of the Hol-
lywood composers, an artist in a spe-
cial league," says David Raksin, 83,
himself an admired veteran film com-
poser, best known as the man who

wrote the score for "Laura," includ-
ing its immortal title tune.
"Of course, in those days we didn't
think of art or timelessness in connec-
tion with the music we wrote. We
were just a bunch of guys who went to
work every day. I mean, the talent
was often staggering, and everyone
took their work with the greatest seri-
ousness. But the interest that some
people have in this music now, a half-
century later, is something we
wouldn't have believed possible at
the time."
Why the reluctance to recognize
the legitimacy of these composers?
The reasons are partly historical: In
the desolate aftermath of World War
11, Europe was an inhospitable place
for the blithely affirmative and often
romantic strains written by its exiled,
war-shielded composers.
But there 'was always something
else at work, too.
"Snobbery," says Mauceri. "It'sjust
snobbery and nothing else. We've
been taught to think about this music
in a certain way, and we've accepted

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