How Not to Handle Criticism (Kevin Smith)

I’m always fascinated by how professionals interact with critics, especially when it’s unhealthy. (To be optimistic, sub the phrase “an opportunity to learn valuable lessons” in for that last word.) Case in point: Kevin Smith. He’s got a movie opening this weekend, and apparently, the press screenings have provided much material for drama.

This Chicago Tribune reporter (link no longer available) discusses how Smith can’t not read his press.

He tracks down every review and every story about him, whether written by a nationally known writer or some anonymous schmo on a Web site. Not only does he read the test-screening reviews posted on Ain’t It Cool News but, until recently at least, also has perused the Talkback section. This is kind of masochistic-verging-on-nutso behavior because Talkbacks tend to fill up with obnoxious comments no matter the topic.

Smith also apparently has a long memory.

Almost three years later, when I e-mailed him for comment for a news story I was writing — as I occasionally used to do before my review — he responded by asking if I’d first take back my “Jay and Silent Bob” review.

An LA Weekly reviewer was asked to leave a press screening.

In truth, this teacup tempest had begun to brew the week before, when a different publicist (one I’ve known for years) phoned to coerce/threaten me into assigning someone other than myself to review your film. “Kevin reads everything that’s written about him,” she told me, before going on to explain that apparently certain things I’d written in the past had led you to feel I had some kind of personal bias against your work. I was perplexed: True, movies are like their directors’ children, and when I reviewed your last film, the nauseatingly saccharine Jersey Girl(2004), I went so far as to say, “The blame for this cosmically self-indulgent disaster lies with Kevin Smith, who directs like a proud father who can’t stop showing you pictures of his kids. And here’s the thing: The brats are ugly.” Still, I was hardly that film’s harshest detractor and, what’s more, I’m on record as having been a fan of yours in the past.

When finally invited back, that critic calls Clerks II “the best thing you’ve done in years — the funniest and the most genuine” in his open letter to the filmmaker.

Another critic has a lengthy screed about also being disinvited, although he hasn’t made up with Smith. Last, this is Smith’s take on the whole thing.

13 Responses to “How Not to Handle Criticism (Kevin Smith)”

  1. Matthew Craig Says:


    Let’s hope he doesn’t see my last few comments re: BLACK CAT at Ninth Art, then.


  2. markus Says:

    What’s “how not to handle …” about this? Which specific behaviour by Smith do you find objectionable or worthy of improvement and for what reasons? I can’t tell from the post.

    Personally i think Smith’s relationships to his critics is a more personal and less professional one, but to me that value neutral. There’s enough “professional” stuff that’s just a pointless exercise in speaking in code, timid avoidance of anything that might cause offense and far too much empty praise for subpar work.
    IOW, the number of truly crappy works of fiction and truly bad artistist is certainly matched by the number of truly bad critics.
    And from that, conceiving of the relationship as a somewhat personal one, * I find Smith’s take quite sensible. There is little point in inviting someone to comment on your work when you hold his or her critical abilities in low esteem or have concluded from previous encounters that the person in question is unable to serparate personal dislike from critical evaluation. There are also people whose opinion one simply isn’t interested in hearing.

    Concerning Smith’s “obsession” with reviews, I think the largely personal nature of his works and his closeness to the online nerd community are major factors in there, but even so: (i) who’s to say he isn’t just more candid than others who pay the same amount of attention here and (ii) surely the “optimum” is somewhere between him and “I don’t read”-Bush; if the latter behaviour is acceptable to a majority of voting Americans surely “we” can allow for some latitude in the amount of press one “ought” to read.

    (Which is in itself a pretty stupid notion. Every bit of that stuff _is_ about Smith and his work. Trying to determine from outside how much attention he ought to pay to stuff being written about him is like trying to determine how much attention he ought to pay to his garden, the architecture along his way to work and the decoration of his living room.)

    * mere conjecture/ interpretation. Treat as “If.. then” where necessary.

  3. Dwight Williams Says:

    Smith’s not the only one playing “Little Brother” re: his reviews, I’ve been finding. If no less than the BBC does the same sort of thing as a Rule of Operations, then he can arguably make a legitimate claim to conduct himself in like fashion…

  4. Lyle Says:

    Markus, at the very least, holding a grudge against a reporter for not liking your previous work is ungraceful and counter-productive (since they can still write articles about your without talking to you and now have incentive to give a negative spin to it all).

    I think it’s fine that Smith reads plenty of reviews, if taken with the right attidute, which is hard to do considering the kind of attention-seeking loudmouths you can find online. It’s tough to do, but if you’re going to venture into those waters you have to be able to take the negativity with a grain of salt and try to find the points that you can actually learn from.

  5. Chris Galdieri Says:

    Last week, critic and blogger David Poland featured his own sordid tale of running afoul of Kevin Smith:

    I find his behavior mystifying, frankly; if I ever achieve my creative and professional goals to the degree Smith has, I hope I manage to be gracious about it.

  6. James Schee Says:

    In a similar, but more interesting to me, vein. I enjoyed reading recently how a critic in EW, responded to a critic of his negative review of the new Pirates movie.

  7. James Schee Says:

    Er by more interesting I meant in terms of how he handled himself, not that reading about Smith’s behavior isn’t interesting too.

  8. markus Says:

    What do you mean by “ungraceful”, “counter-productive” and “right attitude”? It kind of begs the question in that it presupposes there is a correct (graceful, productive) way of going about these things. This in turn implies that the relationship at hand is a purely professional one.
    As mentioned in my initial post, there’s good reasons to reject both of these notions (said reasons may or may not apply to Smith).

    Once you drop the normative angle, the problem/incongruity disappears. Yes, it can have negative consequences to “hold a grudge”* but there are situations in life where you either can’t help yourself in that regard or consider it worth the consequences.

    * in itself a problematic phrase in that it suggests it’s something one ought not to do. While that attitude is recommendably positive about the capacity for change in humans it is by no means always right. For instance, there’s good reason for “holding a grudge” if one’s spouse turns abusive.

  9. Lyle Says:

    markus, what I meant by counter-productive was explained in the comment where I used the word, immediately I after the word.

    And, I believe there is a fairly specific meaning to receiving criticism with grace.

  10. Johanna Says:

    Markus, I think it\’s unhealthy for someone who takes everything personally to read every piece of press. Moderation would be more advisable; as you say, there is a place between all and none that would be better.

    Also, I think trying to tell major papers who they\’re allowed to send to your signings… to the point of tossing people out after they\’ve already arrived… is immature and unprofessional. I agree that Smith has a more personal interaction with his work and audience than many others, but I still think there are behavioral expectations that all in the field should live up to.

    One might have a few sources one finds useless, but that Smith is feuding with so many people suggests the flaw is with him, not with others. Thanks for the thoughtful questions.

  11. Dave Lartigue Says:

    The Onion’s review of Clerks 2 was, I think, spot on: “First, the good news: Clerks II is everything Smith’s fans could hope it would be. Now the bad news: Clerks II is everything Smith’s fans could hope it would be.” I don’t begrudge Smith his fans, nor do I begrudge his fans Smith. But why does their little circle-jerk have to include others as well?

  12. hcduvall Says:

    We’re mostly from New Jersey, and we outnumber most other states. You’re all mostly collateral damage, honestly.

    I wish he’d learn how to direct though…

  13. Anime Diet » Beginner Anime Says:

    […] no knowledge of musical theory. Film critics have similarly gone on about things for so long that Kevin Smith released Jersey Girls with a disclaimer that it was “not for critics.” (While this was an […]




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