Silent Bob Speaks
by Kevin Smith
Published by Miramax Books
325 pages, 2005
Not So Silent Bob
Reviewed by Lincoln Cho
If, as you settle in to read this review, you stop and wonder, "Just who is Kevin Smith?" Or if you think you might know who he is but aren't really sure... in either of those cases, you might as well save a little time and stop reading right now. Silent Bob Speaks is many things and will certainly be so to many people. It is sometimes brilliant, occasionally thought-provoking and quite often gut-wrenchingly funny but it is clearly -- and I mean clearly -- only for hardcore fans. If you're not sure who Kevin Smith is, if you think you can place him but have to think for a bit, just give it up and go read about a different book: one that you might have a hope of liking, because you probably will not like this one.
All of that said -- and despite some very real flaws -- I enjoyed Silent Bob Speaks a great deal. But then, I know who Kevin Smith is and am even something of a fan. And, for one reason or another, I get his sometimes weird humor -- even the stuff involving fecal matter -- and I admire where he's coming from. OK: not necessarily the physical location he actually comes from -- though I'm sure Red Bank, New Jersey is a very nice place (even if Smith himself refers to it as "Purgatorio" against Los Angeles' "Paradiso") -- but the place from which a lot of both his humor and his humanity spring. At heart, Kevin Smith -- the demon responsible for Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back -- is the baldest kind of fanboy.
It's clear, on reading Silent Bob Speaks, that Smith has the highest kind of affection for almost every aspect of the business that he's in. He remembers a time when he was a clerk at a convenience store. Now he's (arguably) a highly respected filmmaker. And it's also clear that he thinks that being a filmmaker is better.
In Silent Bob Speaks, whether Smith is raving enthusiastically about Ben Affleck and David Duchovny or ranting about the actress he refers to as Greasy Reese Witherspoon -- "Greasy (pronounced 'GREE-ZEE') Reese (pronounced 'REE-ZEE') Witherspoon (pronounced accordingly)." -- he very seldom fails to engage completely. (Of Witherspoon, though, he adds that he was horribly disappointed at not being able to convince Selma Blair to tell him where Witherspoon lived so that he could egg her house. "It is," he writes when he doesn't get the address, "the biggest disappointment thus far on the road to Jay and Silent Bob striking back."
Silent Bob Speaks is a lot of fun. It's filled with the sort of insider's insides that fans like me can seriously not get enough of. It's also frequently profane and potentially offensive, which is perhaps not a surprise. What, however, is a surprise -- or, at least, what was to me -- were the parts of the book that are touching or deeply insightful. And, at all times, the prose is just as sharp as you'd expect from this particular writer.
The aforementioned flaws come from the fact that, despite being a newly published book, much of this material is dated by virtue of having been published before. Aside from the introduction, the book is comprised entirely of articles Smith wrote for Arena magazine, Details, New Jersey Monthly, Film Comment and a now defunct Web site called Psycomic. Which would be OK -- lots of writers have published books comprised of previously published essays (Salman Rushdie's Step Across This Line comes to mind, but there are many, many others.) since Smith is such a pop culture driven guy -- and in a business that is the same -- some of the material here feels dated even coming out of the box. For instance, when you're reading a book you know was published in 2005, and you're told how great production is going on Jersey Girl, how much in love Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez are and whether or not the couple will have children, it pulls you out of what you're reading.
Much of this material is so strong, however, that the slight dust that rises is no reason to pass on the book. If, again, you actually like Smith and his work.
And for all the sophomoric ranting (albeit mostly deliciously delivered), for all the crude and lewd moments and the straight up fanboy sections, there are a few passages that make you realize why you're enjoying this book so much: it's because -- in case you hadn't already suspected it -- Smith is a great storyteller, a wonderful writer and, in all probability, actually a pretty nice guy.
This passage, from an essay called "Jen's Painting," seems almost like a poem of love for Smith's wife:
This was my life-partner, and as I drank her in, I realized she was more beautiful than I'd ever suspected. This was my soul-mate fully exposed in such a way that I was able to gain a smidgen of insight into her incredibly complex psyche that I hadn't been privy to before. This was my best friend, the person who would forever define me. This was the mother of my child, and the keeper of all my tomorrows.
Which he follows directly with:
And this was one hot-lit piece of ass who was giving me a boner like you wouldn't believe.
And, somehow, these two paragraphs beautifully summarize both this book and the secret to its author's success. In film after film, Smith has managed to touch us and shock us and make us laugh, sometimes all three at once. The tactic -- and the talent -- don't fail him here. | July 2005
Lincoln Cho is a contributing editor to January Magazine.