John Kenneth Muir had the right idea when he decided to update his previous book on Kevin Smith’s work called An Askew View. While the first book covered Smith’s first five films, this sequel extends the coverage to include Smith’s second five films. With the first edition salvaged as the first half of the book, you, as a reader, can compare Muir’s midway feelings and conclusions about Smith’s talent, and see how it fares with a decade of reconsideration and continued body of work. The ten films in question make for a perfect amount of career analysis, with a focus that would be lost with, say, somebody like Woody Allen’s nearly fifty-film oeuvre. Instead of cherry-picking specific titles to make a case, Muir has the advantage of just enough movies to qualify an in-depth understanding of a man and his work.
The first half is more padded than the updated half, making it clear that Muir originally needed to meet a target number of pages that the updated version already satisfied. Perhaps it’s also due to the amount of lore that Smith’s first five films had acquired compared to his second five: there was more to write about, more cultural impact to discuss, more “rise-to-fame” and “career-sustain” events to detail. The second half of Smith’s career is, after all, more “mid-life crisis” than “indie wunderkind”, but Muir never shies away from his adoration for Smith as filmmaker and public personality, no matter which period he’s discussing. The book succeeds by the mere chance that Smith’s tenth film–Red State–was as culturally relevant as his first, providing a nice bookend to the filmography in question.
The writing style is mostly like reading a documentary, with a lot of transitions into quotes. It has a straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth narrative, allowing the people involved with these films to do the talking. As a composite of interview snippets, there’s a mix of perspectives and insights, with Muir filling in the gaps with necessary context. There’s a thorough synopsis of each film, post-scripts connecting each film together, a dictionary of Smithian language, and general trivia and “did you knows?” aplenty. Muir also illustrates the critical reception of each film, and ends each chapter with his own two-cents, where he pointedly articulates his overall opinion of whichever film. In a refreshing change from the norm, Muir defends both Cop Out and Mallrats (the latter he compares to Shakespeare, if you can believe that), with points that are hard to argue against. Since Smith has fashioned a tightknit group of friends and regulars over the years, reading it feels like private access to an exclusive club. Longtime friend and collaborator of Smith’s Scott Mosier particularly provides some extremely useful advice about running a movie set, and the details of the ins-and-outs of the movie industry–from low-budget indie to studio and back to low-budget indie (but with an established reputation)–are a must-read for any aspiring film-anything.
Someone picking this up with a neutral or less-than-positive opinion of Smith’s work might find Muir to be a bit of a sycophant here, but his view is well-informed and astutely stated enough to consider his view, no matter how askew it might seem to some. Anyone who wants to ace a Kevin Smith Jeopardy category would benefit greatly from studying the insane amount of information present in An Askew View 2.
An Askew View 2 is available through Applause Theater & Cinema Books