Kevin Smith: Burn in Hell Review

Everyone knows what to expect when they go into one of Kevin Smith’s signature Q&A one-man shows, but no one is quite so sure how they’ll feel once it’s over.

rating: 5

Everyone knows what to expect when they go into one of Kevin Smith€™s signature Q&A one-man shows, but no one is quite so sure how they€™ll feel once it€™s over. Having watched other Smith specials, not all, I had a general expectation to hear some pretty hilarious and well told anecdotes concerning anything from dick and fart jokes to high-minded discussions of the film industry and really anything in between perhaps peppered with some vague advice or helpful recommendations, but Burn in Hell, the fifth installment in the Q&A specials, left me feeling absolutely awe-struck by the deep reverence for life and art and genuinely sage wisdom Smith possesses and shares with his loyal fans. Granted I€™m a fan of Smith and his works (and a fellow New Jersey resident), but one doesn€™t need to be to be affected by his words on stage. Before getting into the meat of the evening€™s talking points, Burn in Hell opens with a couple relative softballs, the first of which was asked with honor by an adorable Juno lookalike whom Smith remarks with equal parts amazement and embarrassment €œYou were just cum,€ when he began his series of talking tours. The question concerns what Batman villains Smith would have used in his version of the film had he been given the opportunity. Smith€™s response is telling and foreshadows a later discussion of his potential retirement from film. Smith comments that were he to helm The Dark Knight Rises, it would €œbe a good death€ because after the amazing job Christopher Nolan has done with the character, running that movie would be something he could hang his hat on and call it a night. Smith continues that although he recognizes Bane as having an especially bad-ass back story, he would not have been his first choice and was equally dismayed by the first images of Anne Hathaway in her Catwoman costume, referring to it as €œweak€ before admitting that once he saw both characters in the trailer for TDKR, he was floored and praised Nolan€™s €œgenius€. He closed his response saying that Poison Ivy would be worth doing as he was disappointed by the character€™s last cinematic appearance and finally offered that he might write himself the role of a lazy Penguin. The next question lobbed at Smith came from a young woman inquiring as to if anyone had ever tried to seduce Smith as a result of his fame to which Smith emphatically answers, €œNo,€ before asking where the young woman was before he was married. Smith continued that he can end her confessed celebrity crush by stating that not only does he have a small dick but he doesn€™t know how to use it €“ just the kind of admirable humility a man can exhibit only when he€™s happily and passionately married to the love of his life, a topic he later touches on, whom also happens to have once modeled for Playboy. If you missed the special you can catch a clip of this segment here. After about fifteen minutes, the third question really kicked things into high gear not because it was such an outrageous question, but simply because it opened the doors to the process behind the camera, the umbrella of filmmaking that was the backdrop to the rest of the evening. A young man asked if Smith would offer his good friend and frequent collaborator, Ben Affleck, any advice now that he€™s on his way to potentially earning the title of auteur after directing Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and this year€™s Argo. Smith again answered with a confident €œNo,€ and goes on to explain that Affleck doesn€™t need it because he knows what he€™s doing and often would try to give Smith advice. Smith makes an interesting point of saying that actors tend to make excellent directors as they€™ve been subconsciously accumulating their own €œbag of tricks€ just by watching others work, an argument which stands to reason, especially considering the news that talented thespian Joseph Gordon-Levitt got back into acting in order to direct his own scripts, a feat he€™ll soon be working on with none other than Scarlett Johansson. This answer led to the story of a correspondence between Smith and Affleck in which it€™s revealed that in lieu of immediately providing a sufficient quote for the Red State poster, Affleck instead €œstole€ much of the cast from Smith€™s latest film, an exchange that€™s a pleasure to hear of because it€™s always nice to witness the evidence of genuine friendship. Mention of Red State initiated its dominance over the rest of the discussions. Almost definitively, the centerpiece of the entire show came from a question about twenty minutes in which asked how Smith knew he really wanted to do Red State, what confirmed for him that this was a project worth pursuing and what follows is what distinguishes Burn in Hell from all the other Kevin Smith one-man specials I€™ve seen. Kevin initially responds with some of the best advice I€™ve ever heard, that one has to be his or her €œown best advocate,€ when pursuing that which they have passion for because as Smith explains, there€™s always going to be a million and one people asking you, €œWhy?€ as in, €œWhy are you doing that?€ So each and every aspiring artist needs to ask €œWhy not?€ and practice what Smith calls, €œreasonable unreasonability€, meaning one needs to, with a head on their shoulders, just say €œfuck it€ and chase down whatever dream or passion one has because as Smith later elaborates, €œyou only get one life.€ Smith then explains how Red State came to be as well as the writing process behind it. I€™m glad this was the main course of the extravagant meal that is Burn in Hell because anyone familiar with Kevin Smith€™s career knows that once he broke out of the View Askewniverse, his films have appeared to lack the consistency he became known for during the first half of his career, Red State appearing to be the biggest departure since the ill-fated Cop Out €“ but more on that movie later. I would caution readers here if I thought what I€™m about to divulge might spoil hearing it straight from Smith himself, but the fact is that even if I were to reproduce a verbatim transcript of Burn in Hell it would still pale in comparison to the real deal and so I have no trepidation about recapping Smith€™s stories. Essentially Red State is the fictional horror story version of Small Town Gay Bar, a documentary by Malcom Ingram which examines what life is like for homosexuals striving to forge a community of acceptance and support in an oppressive environment of the American Deep South. Smith proposes that a true horror story is concerned less with the fictional Jasons, Freddies, and Michael Meyers€™, and more so with the real life monsters such as the infamous Westboro Baptist Church members, i.e., the Phelps clan. For those unfamiliar, this hate group masquerading as a legitimate community of faith and worship is led by family patriarch Fred Phelps who spends his days rallying his family around the evils besetting the Earth which are predominantly of the homosexual variety. To give you a taste of how Christ-like these people actually are, they will frequently show up at funerals for American soldiers not to protest the war, or the soldiers, but homosexuality for causing soldiers€™ deaths while brandishing signs with slogans such as €œGod hates fags€, etc. So yeah, basically fear, hate, and idiocy manifest, otherwise known as evil. Hence Red State follows a group of young people lured with good natured teenage debauchery into a menacing scheme concocted by some religious extremists. Too many viewers misinterpret Red State to be condemning all religion when, like Dogma, it€™s intended to indict those who so obviously pervert systems of belief to manipulate people into supporting intolerance and ignorance. Smith himself is Christian, another potentially surprising fact to many who may unconsciously associate all artists or intellectuals or show business types with godless hedonism. Smith defends his having faith contending, it €œcosts nothing€ to do yet provides much solace. Instead of expanding on the benefits of his own personal faith though, Smith instead recounts possibly the most absurdly one-sided rivalry ever committed between a film maker and a fundamentalist hate group. It€™s not worth explaining in detail here, you have to hear it for yourself, but long story short, the Phelps protested Red State and ended up accidentally giving Smith a trophy he€™ll value far more than any Oscar he might receive, a memento he likens to Batman€™s giant penny in the Batcave. In telling this story, Smith conveys an enlightened attitude toward the anger and frustration most human beings with a soul can€™t help but feel when confronted with such unadulterated hate and stupidity, that as opposed to fighting fire with fire, you have to match absurdity with absurdity, as epitomized by an image of various cosplayers at a ComiCon dressed as storm troopers and elves and the like holding up signs parodying those of the Phelps€™. Another highlight regarding Red State from this segment of the show was Smith€™s description of the original/alternate ending which could not be accomplished due to budgetary and censorship restraints. You can read the description yourself at the Wikipedia article on the movie, but let me assure you, that from that description alone I am absolutely dying to watch Red State. The subsequent and next to last question asked how Smith finds the time to do all the various projects he does to which Smith responds, €œWeed creates time.€ It€™s fascinating how Smith describes how once he gets stoned, he finds relief from the stress of high demands and limited time and is able to comfortably and confidently work creatively. This is where Smith then dives into the story of his father€™s death. It€™s easy to get sympathy from a crowd when describing the death of a loved one, especially one€™s father; however, Smith is such a gifted story teller that hearing this one is an extraordinary experience in and of itself. Seeing Kevin choke up while describing one of the last moments his family was together before his father went to the hospital for the last time is a truly heart wrenching moment and was beautiful because of it. Smith describes his father as a genuinely good man that he looked up to, yet apparently the man died in bed while screaming in agony that he was on fire. This jarring image leads to one of the major tenets of the special and indeed Smith€™s life philosophy that if his father, a good person, could die like that, then we all can and should therefore €œmake the best of it.€ Smith further emphasizes his point saying that the main message he€™s been trying to communicate over his entire 20 year career is that €œanyone can do this,€ and that he simply €œgot lucky.€ Smith doesn€™t mean to suggest he has no skill or talent but instead that there are many talented, hard-working artists out there and that he feels grateful and blessed to be among the few who have gotten the chance to run with it, a very humble and inspiring message to anyone who€™s ever battled with self-doubt in the face of pursuing one€™s passions. The final question of the evening sought to confirm rumors as to whether Smith would retire. It turns out Smith says he has one more film to make before he does indeed retire from filmmaking (a movie called Hit Somebody, a hockey based comedy-drama) although he did make it a point to say that this doesn€™t necessarily mean he€™ll never, ever direct another movie, just that he€™s looking to complete his career, to put a bow on it as it were, to be able to feel proud of his filmography and walk away satisfied. Smith reveals that the beginning of this process was a cutting of ties with critics and essentially a trade-off which entailed directing Cop Out in exchange for the funding to make Red State. Smith confessed the passion he feels for his wife, something he expressed through a metaphor (or true story, can€™t really be sure) of having some intense sex with his wife in the bathroom of a Denny€™s, is just not present in his relationship to filmmaking any more. Smith discusses how auteurs like Tarantino and the Coen brothers were always his idols and that one of his biggest mistakes was ever caring what critics thought. Though I€™ve broken down the mechanics of the questions and answers Burn in Hell is comprised of, I€™ve hardly done justice to the pleasure of actually listening to Smith expound on that which he is truly passionate about, something I look forward to one day being able to do first hand as even if Kevin Smith retires from movie-making to explore other forms of story-telling, he has to continue his talking tours as they are clearly capable of achieving as much greatness as the most profound of his other works.

Fed a steady diet of cartoons, comics, tv and movies as a child, Joe now survives on nothing but endless film and television series, animated or otherwise, as well as novels of the graphic and literary varieties. He can also be seen ingesting copious amounts of sarcasm and absurdity.