ICK meets DOGMA
Thu Dec 02 10:16:07 1999
"God's instrument of wrath and revenge against crappy movies...along with some pretty good movies that don't deserve it."
Issue # 3 - "If I can't be Kevin Smith, I'll just have to criticize him."
Under attack this month: DOGMA
Media-ready pull quote: "Kevin Smith's new comedy does for Christianity what Mallrats did for pretzels!"
~Warning: Contains open discussion of the plots of raunchy teen comedies and/or God's Holy Writ ~
There's an old joke: "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." In other words, some of us think we're steering ourselves down our own chosen paths, while some regularly ask for divine guidance to show us the proper direction; yet all the while, the joke suggests, we are passengers on a big bus, and half of us are busily pretending the seat in front of us is a steering wheel, while the rest are busy harrassing the driver.
These generalizations aren't supposed to apply to artists, however, since (from a religious standpoint) artists are either inspired, spending their hours scribbling down God's mandate, or profane, deeply offending the Creator of The Universe by doing this or that with paint or chalk or poop or whatever's handy.
And the latest mortal to deeply horrify Almighty God with a few costumes and dick jokes is Kevin Smith, director of CHASING AMY, which pissed off lots of lesbians, most of whom hadn't seen the film, and CLERKS, which pissed off a lot of filmmakers, most of whom had never had a film released. (Or even completed.) So how does Smith's latest low-budget swear party perform?
Well, Dogma is a mess...it's sortof a story about two naughty angels and the human commanded by God to confront them, but neither of the above manages to be the center of the story; the angels (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) have a completely different agenda in every scene, sometimes performing God's dirty work obediently, sometimes mourning their exiled state and plotting their revenge, and never reconciling the two desires into recognizable characters; and the human (Linda Fiorentino) never drops the sarcasm long enough to be truly affected by anything that happens to her, which robs us of the opportunity to take her seriously, which the occasional dramatic scene expects us to do. We never really know what any of the characters want in the long run...scenes of great dramatic weight do abound, sometimes balanced with clever punch lines that complement the action, more often knocking it over just as it was getting somewhere...and then there are the stray characters from unrelated mythologies, the poop jokes, and the incessant dogmatic lectures from every character that make it clear Kevin Smith's religious ideals are much more intelligently thought-out than his movie scripts tend to be. I'm still not sure if it's a sign of Smith's intelligence that his characters are forced to spend fully half their time wordily explaining the plot.
In the end, Dogma is a big pile of puzzle pieces, from several different puzzles...some pieces hinting at a sublime spiritual drama, some making raunchy fun of stiff, stuffy religions that have long begged for raunchy fun to be made of them...and many of the puzzle pieces looking more like stray crumbs of garbage that fell into the box months ago and have now been forced into any blank space. Dogma is unfocused, confused, occasionally thrilling, occasionally hilarious, sometimes insulting, and often disappointing.
In other words, it's an accurate metaphorical depiction of the state of religion in America as we begin the new millenium.
Somehow, this is a very important movie.
I don't know if it would have turned out better or worse if it hadn't had to spend so much time defending itself from possible misunderstanding, taking itself seriously when it should have cut loose and making a joke when it should have taken itself seriously. It probably couldn't have come out much different than it did...but in the end, the disappointment is that the film wasn't more shocking, more moving. To make a film about - and *starring* - God *without* making a "statement" seems, at first, more insulting than just about anything one might actually "say".
In Biblical epics, it has been a popular practice to cast the various strata of society with actors from different nations; hence, the rulers and slavemasters spoke with British Accents, while the underdog heroes were Americans. Kevin Smith has followed a similar formula, with a twist: the holier and more powerful a character is, the more likely that character is to be portrayed by someone who can actually act. Hence, God's spokesman is wonderfully played by Alan Rickman, the Angel of Death is brilliantly portrayed by Matt Damon, who I thought I was sick of...Silent Bob's friend Jay is great, as the prophet who can't stop saying "fuck"...and the humans are all schmucks whose every other phrase is "Now, let me get this straight..." The script is overstuffed with extraneous words and conflicting ideas and meandering plot lines that should have been cut out long ago, and the characters ramble on in language far too thick and overwrought to represent genuine human conversation - Hey! Kinda like the Bible - and in the end, it adds up to a huge pile of sometimes fantastic ideas that don't add up to much.
And yet...it does add up to something. Almost all Hollywood films have the faceless look of art created by a committee...which they all were, with market testing and project analysis to iron out all the atypical problems and iron in all the typical ones. Kevin Smith's movies always feel homemade, full of risks and thought and truly awkward mistakes, more like the heartfelt voice of one human being than the impersonal voice of a formula. His movies are a testament to the glory and folly of struggling against the odds, of following one's own divine guidance instead of doing things in the typical, safe way. And with their low budgets and "who cares?" production values, they are a much-needed kick in the pants to anyone who thinks their own ideas are worthless, their own efforts a waste of time. The important thing about Kevin Smith's movies is not that they are made flawlessly; it's that they are made. And with Dogma, Smith's wordy characters repeatedly state that faith should be a celebration, a joy...just like the flawed, confused, richly expressive, ultimately humble art that each of us is fully capable of making.
In other words, if you want to make God laugh...show him your script.
Copyright 1999 Martin Azevedo