***/**** Image A Sound B+
directed by J.M. Kenny
by Bill Chambers Love him or hate him, there are simply no two ways around the fact that An Evening with Kevin Smith is one of the most entertaining standup films, if it can indeed be called that, since the heyday of Richard Pryor. Well-shot footage--compiled by J.M. Kenny, showing better comic instincts than he did as producer of the Nancy Pimental mockumentary on The Sweetest Thing's DVD(s)--from Q&As in which the entrepreneurial Smith participated at various college campuses across the United States, this 225-minute presentation opens and closes with Smith discussing his on-screen alter ego Silent Bob, the rare idiot icon made famous by the performer rather than the other way around. (It's why equating himself with such residents of the catchphrase graveyard as Pauly Shore is his least successful routine in An Evening with Kevin Smith--Silent Bob doesn't epitomize Smith's popularity.) Moreover, Smith is anything but bashful; you'll only wish he was speechless as he describes open-sore intercourse with his wife-to-be.
Admittedly, An Evening with Kevin Smith gets off to a rocky start: the parameters of the special have yet to be defined when Smith is asked his first question, and although pre-show interviews with waiting audience members provide a nice segue between the venues (Kent State, Indiana University, Cornell University, Clark University, and the University of Wyoming), it's an editing technique soon discarded in favour of straight, jarring cuts from one auditorium to another and back again. But a certain gracelessness would seem in stylistic harmony with Smith's own modus operandi--he prides himself, here behind the mike and elsewhere in print, on making radio for the movies.
Cursing up a storm, the erstwhile Silent Bob encourages the same of his interrogators, many of whom, being in their late-teens and early-twenties, comprise his second generation of fans. (Should I need to recap, Smith ascended the indie scene in the early-Nineties starting with the New Jersey comedy Clerks, which he financed with credit cards and which turned independent filmmaking, quoth George Washington director David Gordon Green, into "the Special Olympics." (An insensitive but undeniably trenchant remark.) From that mythic gamble grew the multimedia dynasty View Askew.) Smith is asked to give head and accept head and even to fellate himself, and to the latter he complies: A student of the Howard Stern school of cloaking one's righteous vanity in self-deprecation and poop jokes, Smith's saving grace is stage charisma, a gift for which the devout Christian should thank the Lord.
And he'll need it after the release of this lecture video to talk himself out of defamation suits. How bracing is it to hear someone speak as candidly as Smith does about the Hollywood elite--and not in the tabloid style, but with intimacy? There is a 40-minute Prince anecdote that blows the mystique of "His Purpleness" to smithereens, in addition to a fabulous, incredulous account of Smith's time on the Warner clock writing Superman Lives under the supervision of hairdresser-turned-producer Jon Peters, who tells him that they both 'get' Superman because they're "from the streets."
In the words of Clarice Starling, "You see a lot... But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself?" Smith and Pryor come to a fork in the road in that the latter is driven by anger and the former is driven by "anger"--as a suburban teenager Smith, by his own confession, compensated for his excessive weight with attitude. Now that we pay attention to him en masse, it appears he has an Achilles Heel in a fear that what he's preaching isn't the gospel, as illuminated by an encounter with a lesbian non-fan of Chasing Amy he interrupts, takes on a tangent, and dizzies into boredom; Smith's profuse perspiration throughout An Evening with Kevin Smith is pure flopsweat during this mesmerizing sequence. Kudos to he and Kenny for leaving it in; it's the most sincerely exposed Smith's been since Chasing Amy, in fact, and it fits him like a hooded sweatshirt and baggy shorts, redeeming his compulsive need to berate special guest star Jason Mewes ("Jay" of the duo Jay and Silent Bob)--among others (including an oft-mentioned Ben Affleck)--before hundreds of impressionable minds. An Evening with Kevin Smith is great, volatile entertainment.
The bare-bones 2-disc set from Columbia TriStar, packaged in a dual-platter gatefold with a cardboard sleeve, contains a clean and vivacious 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of a digital video source. Sound is supremely clear 2.0 stereo (instead of Dolby Surround as advertised). Also on board are trailers for "Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters, and Marvels", Smith's Dogma, and, according to press notes, Easter eggs galore, but I've had it with hunting for special features. Originally published: December 17, 2002.