Kevin Smith says he's retiring. So does Steven Soderbergh. Former indie wunderkinds, we hardly knew ye!

Kevin-SmithImage Credit: George Pimentel/Getty ImagesAnnouncing that you plan to retire while you’re still in your prime used to be the special province of pop stars. David Bowie did it (his first “retirement” took place in 1973), and so did Jay-Z. Now some pretty famous movie directors are making the same noises. They’re talking about taking that retirement bait — and, more than the pop stars, they sound as if they mean it. On Tuesday, Kevin Smith sat down for a fascinating, soul-searching, at times nearly confessional here’s-why-it-looks-like-I’ve-been-cracking-up interview streamed live on mtv.com. (“Am I having a midlife crisis?” he asked mockingly. “Yes! But it’s an entertaining one!”) Smith was out to answer his critics — not just the film critics, like me, who beat up on Cop Out (he seemed to get that out of his system in his infamous comment-board rants of a year ago — and besides, he gave me a nice shout-out on mtv.com; thanks, Kevin!), but also the bloggers who attacked him for his rambling, half-hour-long “manifesto” after the Sundance premiere of Red State (that’s him at Sundance, above), when he got up on stage and explained, with a gonzo “f— the system” logic, why he planned to distribute the movie himself.

He did a much better job of explaining it here. “I carry a lot of guilt for the indie-film thing,” said Smith. “I was an indie filmmaker for about 10 minutes.” He was referring, of course, to the fact that after Clerks was bought and distributed by Miramax in 1994, his continued relationship with that company made him a quintessential crossover artist, a rude and scrappy independent who got attached, like a foulmouthed barnacle, to the hefty cruise ship of the mainstream. With Red State, he wants to go back to the days when you didn’t have to spend four times as much to advertise a movie as you did to make it, a situation that strikes him as both decadent and deadening. There’s no doubt that a lot of filmmakers would kill for a chance to have that kind of marketing muscle. But as Smith held forth on mtv.com, there was a deep sincerity to his weariness, one that extended to filmmaking itself. “I don’t have the same passion for it I used to,” he said with straight-shooter candor. “I don’t have any stories left to tell.”

With Red State, a film that I have yet to see (here’s Lisa’s Sundance review), he wants to go back to his roots, to screen the movie, city by city, on one of the antic road-show speaking tours that now generate as much income for him as filmmaking does. To some, that may sound like slumming, but to me it sounded like Smith was taking the most direct route possible to injecting some joy back into a process that’s begun to leave him numb. It’s not just the distribution politics, either. “Zack and Miri [Make a Porno],” he said, “is literally me adulterating my own story…the story of how I made Clerks, with porn.” No wonder it felt so secondhand! After Red State, he plans to go out with one last shot of love: his earnest period hockey movie Hit Somebody (not a comedy, he says), which he claims will be his final film. I believe him, sort of.

For a guy who’s a mouthy, slacker hero to the Comic-Con generation, Smith has spewed a lot of venom over the past couple of years. At heart, though, he’s quite the self-deprecating soul, the good Catholic boy who’s still trying to make everything right. A year ago, when he tried to rip several critics (including me) a new one for panning Cop Out, I literally couldn’t figure out why he’d worked himself into such a lather. He kept saying: It’s only a movie! I kept wanting to say back: It’s only a movie review! Besides, I got to know Kevin a little bit back in the late ’90s, around the time of Dogma, and he couldn’t have been a nicer (or sharper) guy.

But now I think I understand what was going on with his Cop Out freak-out. The movie, a routine buddy crime comedy, wasn’t a “sellout” so much as it was a career — and life — experiment: Could Kevin Smith become a filmmaker for hire and still be happy? And I think that he took the experiment on because he honestly hoped that the answer might be “yes.” It would have been a ticket, for him, into a new relationship with movies. And maybe a newly creative one. I think he wanted to restart his engines. Instead, though, he was miserable, and seen in that light, we critics weren’t just panning a movie. We seemed to be cutting off his self-reinvention at the knees.

Smith now sounds as if he’s at peace with the films he no longer plans to make. “At the end of the day,” he said on mtv.com, “I had those movies in me. The ones that I wanted to do. And now I’m done.” That’s the sound of someone who knows himself. Yet a part of me can’t help but feel that Kevin Smith may be selling himself short. He obsessively mocks and trivializes his own talent, calling himself a writer and not a director, saying that Harvey Weinstein pushed him out on the road as a celebrity auteur because “my films were never strong enough to stand up on their own.” At one point, the MTV interviewer, Josh Horowitz, showed Smith a clip of himself as a floppy-haired, rather soft-spoken kid, selling Clerks (on MTV, of course!), and Smith reacted in barely suppressed horror to his younger, more sensitive self. “Look at that emo bitch,” he said. “I hate him!” Actually, I thought that emo bitch looked kind of appealing in his unironic quietude, but the bottom line is that Kevin Smith, at his best (Chasing Amy, Dogma, Clerks II), may have a greater talent than he gives himself credit for. He’s a word man, which is just what movies need right now. His dialogue zings, it cooks, it crackles with zigzaggy brainiac truth. He may be serious about retiring from filmmaking, but on some level I hope that he’s just breaking up with his audience to make up.

* * * *

steven-soderberghImage Credit: Ian West/PA Wire/AP ImagesThe first director I ever heard talk about planning his retirement when he was still young was Quentin Tarantino. In a 2003 profile of QT in The New Yorker, Tarantino explained that he intended to hang up his director’s goggles by the time he reached, say, his early 50s. Making movies, he explained, was a young man’s game, mostly because of the logistics of it. A lot of fans had absolutely no idea how physically draining and consuming it was. That, he said, was one of the main reasons that even great directors decline. At a certain point, they simply don’t have the strength, the stamina, the round-the-clock obsession to get it done their way. And that seems to be the mind-set behind the other recent big news of directorial retirement, which leaked out about Steven Soderbergh.

Actually, Soderbergh, in an Esquire profile two years ago, stated quite explicitly that he planned to retire by the age of 51 (he’s 48 now), which would mark his 25th year as a filmmaker. At the time, though, that merely sounded like the kind of super-rational mad-scientist thing that Steven Soderbergh, with his dry-ice twinkle, would say. But near the end of last year, in an interview with The Los Angeles Times, Matt Damon confirmed and expounded on Soderbergh’s decision. “He’s kind of exhausted with everything that interested him in terms of form,” Damon said. “He’s not interested in telling stories…. He says, ‘If I see another over-the-shoulder shot, I’m going to blow my brains out.'”

On mtv.com, Kevin Smith quoted Soderbergh’s “over-the-shoulder shot” line with a supreme simpatico laugh. I guess you can get tired of doing anything, and it’s not really a surprise that film directing carries its own burnout factor. Both of these artists have other mediums that they’re passionate about pursuing: Smith with his podcasts, and Soderbergh, who says that he wants to become a painter. The history of Hollywood is filled with the careers of directors who kept on working long after they probably should have. So if these two former wunderkinds, these very different pioneer mavericks of the indie revolution, want to get out while they still have some juice, who would argue? Here’s my prediction, though: I think that both Smith and Soderbergh will retire. And mean it. And in the end, I don’t think that either one of them will be able to stay away.

So what do you think is up with Kevin Smith? Steven Soderbergh? Are these young old men, these premature indie-Hollywood retirees-to-be, really serious about quitting the business? Should they be? And who’s next — Richard Linklater? Jane Campion? Vincent Gallo? Which filmmakers should consider retirement, or at least taking a good long furlough?


Comments (89 total) Add your comment
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  • ben

    If it’s real, then this sucks. Traffic was amazing. And Clerks 1 and 2 are classics.

    • LOL

      GOP fears Kevin Smith.

  • iggy

    Isn’t Kevin Smith in pre-production for a hockey movie called “Hit Someone” ?

    • Melanie

      Did you read the article or just the headline. Read the end of the third paragraph.

    • MixMasterMadge

      Yes & it says so in the article

      • KC

        Is he doing a “sieg hiel” in that picture?

      • Stacie

        No, he’s just looking for Kyle

  • yless

    M. Night Shyamalan Please retire already!

    • Beast-Man

      Yes PLEASE!!!

  • “Kevin Smith Says He’s Retiring”

    YAY!

    • UGH

      Really.
      He’s not fit to write/direct for the Comedy Channel.

  • billk

    Can they get Michael Moore to retire too? He hasn’t been good since Canadian Bacon.

  • nadine

    Yes iggy, Kevin will be making Hit Somebody and it CLEARLY states in the story that it will be his last movie. Read the whole damn article before commenting please!

    • chase

      Calm down, Nadine. It’s really not that serious.

    • yolk

      Wow! I am not “iggy” but we all are sooooo sorry to put you out Nadine. Hopefully you can get through life having to deal with us mere mortals, who may or may not always be too bright compared to you.

  • MaxxFisher

    I think Kevin Smith made some great movies tht critics and fans loved. Then he started making bad movies that critics hated and fans only liked out of loyalty. And somehow, not liking those movies suddenly made people mean and cruel in his eyes. He became a 24/7 stoner and now seems to think the entire world should be high all the time so we can embrace his works. I used to be a giant fan of his, now I can’t wait for him to retire.

    • Skukti

      Kevin Smith has always done what he wanted, for better or worse. I think Adam Sandler movies are almost uniformly NOT FUNNY, but he’s Hollywood’s comedy darling.

      Go figure.

  • nick

    How is Keven Smith in his prime wneh he hasn’t released a good movie in over a decade???

    • donknottz

      Clerks 2 was a great movie.

  • Storaro

    Well, to be blunt, most Hollywood directors should retire instead of churning out all the mindnumbing crap they peddle. Then again, it’s mostly the studios fault, caring more for product placement and dollars than art or genuine entertainment.
    Examples of people who whould hide under a big smelly rug until they have an original idea worth exploring in the medium of film:
    Michael Bay
    Brett Ratner
    The gang that makes all the unfunny spoofs.
    There is just so many to mention.
    But Smith And Soderbergh are not two of the. The first one just need to find the way back to his View Askew- universe and the second has been making glorious, but not always that good, experiments with form. We definitely need more directors that are as concerned, or more concerned, with the formal aspects of cinema as the narrative.

    • Storaro

      “should hide”

      • ObviousBoy

        You are clearly one of the vast number of people who apparently just don’t understand that movies and films are both legitimate and necessary pieces of the modern cinematic puzzle. You think every production should be a film, something responsible, message-bearing, filled with subtext or at least “the more formal aspects of cinema.” But without the Michael Bays of the industry pulling in the masses, the “important” films would never get made. You have to have The Dark Knight, X-Men and Transformers (no matter how much the comics purist in you may hate any of those movies, they got butts in seats) in order to be able to screen a Chocolat or a Dogtooth. Movies should be exciting and fun or funny and fun or sad but fun. Fun, more than meaningful, is the key. Films can be as important, insightful, meaningful, and literary as they want, but without movies, films would never get made.

      • Storaro

        Well, thats like saying there is no other alternative than capitalism. Just because it would be immensly difficult, maybe even impossible, to change this effed up world (and in extension the cinema) doesn’t mean one can’t dream of an utopia where all the Bays of the world are extinct. I too enjoy some blockbusters, or movies in your lingo, because I, like all of us, have been conditioned to by a popular medium I’ve grown up with (or in rare cases because they are genuinly entertaining). I work as a movie critic (in my home country) and in some ways we’re promoting the crap by going to the press showings and writing about the stupid movies, even if the bad ones usually get low grades it’s still publicity. I agree that with the current organisation of the “biz” films would be impossible without movies but that doesn’t mean we have to like it or not dream, write and create to try making (haha) the world a better place trough better films and insightful criticism.
        Dogtooth is, by the way, last years best film. Everybody should check it out. Back to rewatching The Beach (have to write an article about Boyle and his overrated 127 hours).

      • Ian

        I’d much rather have hacks like Michael Bay making garbage that’s targeted at someone other than me, than pretentious critics who never even had the chance to make an awful movie and are clearly bitter and broken about it. Listening to douchebags like you attempt to pontificate about the responsibilities of an industry based in a highly interpretive art form. People have different tastes. Along with needing blockbusters to ensure that a wide variety of films are made, we also need films AND movies to fill a wide variety of tastes amongst all people and each person as individuals. The Jerk, Apocalypse Now, 12 Angry Men, The Dark Knight, Clerks, Goodfellas, Toy Story, Citizen Kane, Jackass, Freaks, and Lord of the Rings all have equal merit to the people who enjoyed them, and they all have equal merit in my own collection of films AND movies. Go write a review and tell everyone that the film they never heard of is “the year’s best” simply because you saw it and a lot of other people didn’t. Hating the mainstream as a rule is as dumb as loving the mainstream as a rule. Get over yourself…

  • Neil

    If Soderbergh had made this decision a decade ago, I would have been very disappointed. But after the lame Oceans sequels, the inconsequential indie movies (Bubble? The Girlfriend Experience?) and the remote, interminable Che, it doesn’t seem like such a loss.

    • Rich

      I loved Che. Agree with you on the others.

  • Sven

    Smith talked about the reason for doing “Cop Out” in his documentary/film, “Too Fat For 40″, and also the talk of retirement.

    While “Too Fat…” was pretty bad compared with his other blab fest films (An Evening With Kevin Smith, etc…), there were a few interesting nuggets.

  • ®ustymustdie

    gleiberman is wrong from the get go calling smith in his “prime” Smith piqued at clerks 2. It’s been downhill since. He’s a big bloated baby who should go a jenny craig & sell comics for the rest of his life.

  • Jon

    There’s no fun in bashing Kevin Smith, because he seems like a good guy, but in all honesty he should be happy he kept this charade going as long as he did — and that he made a lot of money doing it. Smith’s fame was a total fluke. “Clerks” got a lot of press because of its backstory (shot for nothing, mirroring the director’s life, selling his comics to do it, etc.) and more so because of the lawsuit they brought against the MPAA about its rating. People don’t talk about that anymore, but if that lawsuit never happened then “Clerks” would have been forgotten about. I have to kind of laugh when Smith says he no longer has stories to tell — he NEVER had stories to tell. After his clerk experiences, porn, ’80s movies and infantile jokes, he had nothing else to say. It was obvious from way back in “Mallrats” the guy had done nothing but watch movies and read comics. He had no life experiences. His attempts at “seriousness” fell flat in “Chasing Amy” and were downright embarrassing in “Jersey Girl.” Smith himself has always been more entertaining than his movies, which is probably why he should have been an actor instead of a writer-director. So the news of his retirement doesn’t really come with sadness, but instead a thought of “what took so long?” His films have gotten worse and worse.

    • Danno

      First of all, you are entitled to your opinion, but bashing Chasing Amy is just downright ignorant. It is by far his best reviewed film (90% on rotten tomatoes). You wanna bash Jersey Girl or Mallrats or Cop Out (which he didn’t even write) then be my guest but by throwing Chasing Amy out there you lose all credibility.

      • JBL

        Without Chasing Amy we wouldn’t have the term “rug munch.” Which is akin to Bevis and Butthead’s “rod munch.”

      • Jon

        So I’m entitled to my opinion, but if my opinion is that I don’t like “Chasing Amy,” then I’m not entitled to my opinion. Listen, Kevin Smith isn’t a good filmmaker. He’s been overrated from the start, and even his often-praised scripts aren’t the trash poetry they’re supposed to be. “Chasing Amy” is his best film, but that’s not saying a whole lot. And I still think that when he tried to be serious, he fell flat. I know most people like it, but it still felt like a kid playing in his father’s suit to me. It was hollow and fake.

      • Ian

        Nobody said you weren’t entitled to your opinion. Just that to that person (and many others), you lost credibility. Even with no credibility, you’re still entitled to your opinion. You’re also still entitled to whine about it when someone questions your credibility.

  • Alek

    I think Soderbergh would be quite happy as a retired painter. Kevin Smith, however, is full of crap. He’ll just take a semi-extended break. He’ll be back.

  • Jenny

    I have seen 3 of Kevin Smith’s Q & A shows, and just as the article stated, he’s a words man. He has great stories to tell. He may not be in a place in his life to write those kinds of stories anymore, but I have enjoyed them. I hope he will continue to tour. I will never get tired of listening to his stories.

    • Cylon Ryder

      If that’s what he wants, cool. He gave us Chasing Amy and I can’t ask for anything else.

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