Lamenting wasted talent

I’m not sure how my DC colleague Todd Stevens does it but he’s got three articles in today’s paper, one of which is a column addressing the not-so-latent anti-intellectualism at work on that wonderful forum of news and commentary, “Fox & Friends.” (I wonder whether anyone involved with said show is familiar with Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s gutter-scraping and unapologetically gay 1975 film “Fox and His Friends”…)

But what I’m really interested in is his review of the new Kevin Smith cop comedy, “Cop Out.” The following passage is worth excerpting:

[…] worse than the painfully awful story is the nearly tragic waste of talent. Smith has gained a well deserved cult following with films like “Clerks” and “Chasing Amy,” but where those films prospered with Smith’s nerd-friendly stylized dialogue, Smith merely took the director’s chair here, and the script feels woefully lifeless as a result. If not for a brief cameo by Smith’s frequent collaborator and bromantic partner Jason Lee, it would be hard to tell this was a Kevin Smith film at all.

Like most other former teenagers, I too was smitten with “Clerks” once upon a time. I haven’t revisited Smith’s first wave of films in a while, but given how obnoxious and casually homophobic “Clerks II” was, it’d be interesting to see whether I need to revise my largely positive memories of them. But I’m not so sure Smith’s contributions to those films as their director deserved much praise in the first place; as Todd says in his review,

[…] it’s still an incredibly sad sight to see a man who once made a generational touchstone like “Clerks” using some friends and a few grand make something as conventionally bland as “Cop Out” just for the payday.

Anyone familiar with les politiques des auteurs would tell ya that great directors find ways to make even lousy material do backflips and cartwheels. Considering the amount of control directors wield over the selection and development of scripts nowadays, the fact that they’re working within a system is shoved into the background, thrown into relief by the supposed immensity of their talent and the authorial authority they possess during pre-production, production and post-production. Stud directors of Hollywood’s bygone eras like Douglas Sirk and Jacques Tourneur could take preposterous scenarios and make from them something irrepressibly interesting; the system necessitated their choices to direct certain scripts but the brilliance of their imaginations and the chemistry of their collaborations ensured that those scripts weren’t transformed into limp, lifeless films.

There’s something to be said for the potency of individual talent, but there’s also something to be said for, as André Bazin put it, “the genius of the system.”

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One Response to “Lamenting wasted talent”

  1. Slane Says:

    He had a comic today too, actually. Pretty much cemented DC contributor of the day status right there.

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