A couple weeks ago, Film.com's C. Robert Cargill discussed the long-term fallout that Kevin Smith's Cop Out -- and his subsequent embarrassing anti-critic tirade -- would have on his career. In the process, Cargill said Smith was heading "down the road toward irrelevance." He said that lashing out at critics, whose support for his early films helped make him a success, had "made what he has to say mostly irrelevant."
This made Kevin Smith very angry. He deployed numerous tweets on the subject. We were honored to be the recipients of Smith's outrage, though, to be fair, given how frequently Smith gets publicly outraged about something, it was probably only a matter of time before it was Film.com's turn. Smith didn't like the assertion that his well-documented freak-out over negative Cop Out reviews was a bad move for him. But he REALLY didn't like being called irrelevant. Here are his tweets on the subject, from July 20:
I'm irrelevant, @massawyrm [that's Cargill] asserts. Half a world away, I'm on the verge of selling out Sydney OperaHouse 2nd night in a row. I'm irrelevant.
1 of the highest rated podcasts on the ENTIRE internet & I'm irrelevant. Contracted by EPIX to shoot BDay Q&A for TV & I'm irrelevant.
World's first podcasting theater & I'm irrelevant. 1.67million Twitter-lookers? Irrelevant. Starting my 10th film next month? Irrelevant.
I get it: @massawyrm felt I attacked critics & since he identifies as a critic (the "lamest critic," says his bio), out came the mighty pen.
If it's any consolation, I hadn't been talking about/to you. NOW I am: @massawyrm, YOU really feel comfortable calling ANYONE "irrelevant"?
If you're gonna nakedly covet my "irrelevant" career, how can you credibly posit to an aud that you know anything about the culture's taste? [Ah, yes, the old "you're just jealous of my success!!!!!" response. Always a favorite.]
I'm raising $ for a charity I created to fight child rapists. Besides writing that I'm "irrelevant", what have YOU done today, @massawyrm?
So is Kevin Smith still relevant? What does it even mean to be "relevant"?
First of all, we have to be clear on something. When Cargill said Smith was becoming irrelevant, I'm pretty sure he only meant irrelevant as a filmmaker, not as a human being. Smith's child-rapist-fighting charity work continues to be a valuable contribution to society. It's his movie-making work, or perhaps his overall pop-culture value, that is in question here.
Which brings up another point. If you're looking at the big picture -- the world as a whole, life in general -- almost no one in show business is relevant. The most relevant person in Hollywood, whoever that might be, is completely irrelevant to someone who never goes to the movies or watches TV. We're talking about relevance within a particular field.
According to Box Office Mojo, Smith's nine films have grossed an average of $22.6 million. The most lucrative was Cop Out, at $44.8 million; the smallest was Mallrats, with $2.1 million. Directors with a similar number of films and similar box-office averages include Jean-Jacques Annaud (Seven Years in Tibet, Enemy at the Gates), Michael Caton-Jones (The Jackal, Doc Hollywood), Ken Kwapis (License to Wed, Dunston Checks In), Michael Moore, and Terry Gilliam. Only Moore and Gilliam are as widely known as Smith, and in both cases their extracurricular work adds to their notoriety.
There are directors who have made more films than Smith, and whose films have made a lot more money, who aren't nearly as famous as Smith is. Mike Newell? Peter Hyams? Martin Campbell? You could argue that Smith is currently more "relevant" than any of those three, despite their longer resumes and higher average grosses.
But there's more to being relevant than simply being famous. I mean, those Kardashian people are famous, but not many would consider them "relevant." To be relevant means to have some kind of ongoing impact or influence (again, within the community, not necessarily the world at large). To be relevant means to matter.
That's really what we're asking here: Does Kevin Smith still matter?
Clerks certainly had an impact on the indie world. It inspired other do-it-yourself filmmakers to give it a shot (for better or for worse), and its clever, cheerfully filthy dialogue was a reminder that you don't need special effects or visual panache to make an entertaining movie. His next films, Mallrats and Chasing Amy, were again beloved by the comparatively few people who saw them, and mostly praised by critics. (Chasing Amy has a 91% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes -- the highest of any Kevin Smith film.) Within the film community, Smith definitely mattered at one point.
And now? Now I think he's tilted over into the "famous but not particularly relevant" category. People still know who he is. As he noted, he sells out opera houses and has a million and a half Twitter followers. He can get people talking. (Obviously.) But his films don't have much of an impact anymore. In 1999, Dogma caused controversy and protests. By 2008, when he made Zack and Miri Make a Porno, he'd been replaced on the Raunchy-R-Rated-Sex-and-Weed-Comedy throne by Judd Apatow -- whose films were seen by a lot more people and were the subject of far more "cultural impact" articles in the press. Cop Out, despite being the highest-grossing film of Smith's career, left a smaller dent in pop culture than his earlier, less-lucrative movies did.
In fact, Cop Out has turned out to be just another 2010 disappointment, notable only for the highly negative critical response and Smith's response to that response. When you're making waves not with your work but with your reaction to people's reaction to your work, that's when you've left relevance and moved to mere fame. (He's at it again in this new article at IndieWIRE.) Not that fame is such a bad thing, and not that Smith couldn't still be relevant again. It would help if he'd start making good movies again. Just sayin'.