When we put Kevin Smith on our cover in April, the Clerks writer-director was telling the world that he planned to self-distribute his new film, Red State. At the time Smith was in the midst of a tour, charging fans about $70 to see the film, followed by one of the filmmaker-turned–podcasting mogul's patented Q&A sessions. Smith promised the film would have a regular run in regular movie theaters, with regular ticket prices, come October.
At some point, that plan was, uh, revised. “My long-term goal with the ever-evolving Red State experiment is to redefine the theatrical exhibition window,” Smith tweeted last week. Smith is now Twitter-promising that Red State will continue “it's [sic] theatrical run for the next 2 years at Mom & Pop single-screen movie theaters across the country, complete with Q&A.”
But first, in advance of the film's upcoming VOD and DVD releases, he's booked the New Beverly Cinema this week to give Red State an Oscar-qualifying run. (Tickets, which include a Q&A with Smith at most screenings, go for $20 — perhaps a bargain compared to the initial Red State road show, but still significantly more than the New Bev's usual $7 for a double feature.)
Oscar nominations for a Kevin Smith film? It's a long shot, but maybe not as patently ridiculous as you'd think. Red State is an impassioned polemic wrapped in a slow-burn exploitation film, unabashedly villainizing the Christian lunatic right in the name of common-sense humanism, and its key selling point is its performances — particularly from John Goodman, Oscar winner Melissa Leo and character actor Michael Parks, a regular in the films of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Parks, playing a small-town preacher with a cultlike following who stages protests at the funerals of gay teens by day and leads his clan through ritual murders at night, delivers a long, nail-bitingly intense hate sermon that, if in a Tarantino film, likely would lock in an acting nomination on its own.
But Red State is not a Tarantino film, and while Smith the writer has produced the darkest, most serious-minded screenplay of his career, Smith the director doesn't do the material many favors. After two decades of filmmaking, his sense of the frame is still perfunctory at best, which is most problematic in the extended violent standoff that serves as Red State's climax. Of course, when it comes to directorial talent, Smith is his own most vociferous critic; as a podcaster and public speaker, he's evolved into kind of an insult comic whose primary target is himself. It's a shtick that keeps his fans happy; let's be generous and suggest that how the Academy takes to it remains to be seen. —Karina Longworth (Aug. 19-23, New Beverly Cinema)