Stop reading right now and listen to a back episode of Kevin Smith’s “Smodcast” podcast entitled “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”
Assuming you actually listen (and you should, since aside from the Emo Kev and Teddy Bear Picnic episodes it’s one of the best on record.) you’ll get to actually hear the creative genesis of a film in real time. When the credits roll on Tusk, Smith’s third “last film,” fans will have watched a movie undergo every stage of its metamorphoses, from its inception, to its production, to its release, with the finished product itself serving as the journey’s climax. This brings the way we’ve been consuming film since pop-culture moved online to its logical conclusion. Our Tusk experience doesn’t begin with the first teaser, or with a leak of the screenplay, or with a filmwatch.com rumor about the casting of Quentin Tarantino and Michael Parks. It starts with Kevin Smith, high off his ass, cracking jokes with his friend and longtime producer Scott Mosier, riffing on some weird shit they found online. Am I crazy, or does Kev keep just keep wandering into new artistic frontiers in the course of doing whatever the hell he wants?
It’s actually sort of baffling. How does he host weekly podcast devoted to how awesome Batman is and still have time to live the dream that Stephen Soderbergh, director of Sex, Lies and Videotape and Contagion, so eloquently postulated was dead?
If you didn’t listen to the podcast, here’s a brief breakdown: Kev and Scott are chatting about what essentially amounts to a Craigslist ad. An older gentlemen, who claims to have spent the happiest days of his life on an island with only a beloved pet walrus for company, is looking for a lodger, no down payment or rent required. There’s only one catch: The landlord requires that his lodger “wear a realistic walrus costume” and “catch and eat the fish and crabs that I will occasionally throw… whilst you are being the walrus.” They read through the ad, piecing together a scenario in which the landlord-lodger relationship takes a dark turn, culminating in mutilation and murder. They’re laughing hilariously at the ludicrous improbability of it all, but by the time the show’s end theme plays, they’ve created a record of what amounts to a treatment for a horror movie.
Within a week or so, it was announced on the very same Podcast that the screenplay for Tusk, a horror film about a down on his luck young man being sewn into a walrus suit was finished. Pre-production was slated to begin in September. This was (and is) happening, and it’s all because Smith got bored waiting to work on Hit Somebody, his first “last movie,” and Clerks III, his most recent “last movie” before The Walrus and the Carpenter. Smith’s Soderbergh-esque reasons for leaving film are legitimate, but they just don’t seem to be enough to tear him away from the medium.
“Cinema is a specificity of vision.” Soderbergh says, bemoaning an era in which Pacific Rim is praised for its originality. “It’s the polar opposite of generic or arbitrary and the result is as unique as a signature or a fingerprint… It isn’t made by a committee, and it isn’t made by a company, and it isn’t made by the audience. It means that if this filmmaker didn’t do it, it either wouldn’t exist at all, or it wouldn’t exist in anything like this form.” By this definition, Tusk is the first rabidly anticipated piece of cinema in a while. (It’s hard to imagine a group of profit-minded executives coming up with this shit.) Soderbergh probably had something more intellectually lofty than walrus based torture porn in mind, granted, but it would still be fascinating to hear what he thinks of all this this. After all, now that the Fast and Furious, Batman and Star Wars sequels are starting to look like a multi-car pileup, even something with the grindhouse appeal of Tusk feels like a drink of cool water, a breath of fresh air.
Kevin Smith tried to be a superhero guy with The Green Hornet, a project he abandoned, and he tried to be a studio system guy with Copout, a project that inspired him to write a book about Bruce Willis being a pain in the ass. But he keeps coming back to these little projects, the Clerks and the Red States we so adore. And he keeps including his friends, the people who keep him down to earth and honest, in the process of making them. (It’s pretty widely known that the recent Jay and Silent Bob cartoon movie exists largely because Jay Mewes himself wanted to go on a publicity tour.) The man isn’t trying to be a revolutionary, but damnit, I can barely think of another director who operates with this sort of independence. The guy consistently chooses the lower, freer path, and it has once again led him, and all of us fans, somewhere brand new.
So don’t be surprised if the Walrus and the Carpenter podcast ends up required listening in film schools one day. You can choose to believe that we’re on the cusp of cinema’s death or its next era, but either way, we’ll need more people like Kevin Smith to keep the medium moving forward in the coming years. And, hopefully, they’ll bring something a little more substantial to the table than Tusk.
Not that I won’t be the first motherfucker lined up when that movie premiers, homemade walrus suit and all. #walrusyes