Smith LOVES fags

Gay-friendly filmmaker Kevin Smith Phelps-bashes with his  satiric horror film ‘Red State’

THE HORROR | In ‘Red State,’ a family of homophobic, kidnapping maniacs get their comeuppance.

RED STATE
Texas Theatre, 231 W. Jefferson Ave. Sept. 25, 6 p.m. $20.
TheTexasTheatre.com

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Kevin Smith threw fans and critics a curveball with Red State, his horror satire about three teenagers kidnapped by a murderous Fred Phelps-esque religious fundamentalist and his virulently homophobic clan (Melissa Leo plays its matriarch). It represents a major stylistic and genre departure from Smith’s largely comic repertoire including Clerks and Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

Smith confounded the film industry with Red State’s distribution scheme, choosing to take it on a national roadshow tour (with premium ticket prices); it plays, with Smith participating in a live online Q&A, at the Texas Theater on Sunday.

The dependable ally of the LGBT community — “I’ve got a brother who’s been married to the same dude for 20 years, I work in Hollywood so I’m surrounded by the gay community and I’ve always said I’m one cock in the mouth shy of being gay myself,” the bearish Smith has noted — executive produced queer-themed documentaries, Small Town Gay Bar and Bear Nation, and currently spends time interacting with fans of all sexualities via SModcast.com.

— Lawrence Ferber

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Dallas Voice: Why such a dark film, Kevin? What was its genesis?  Kevin Smith: It was a bunch of factors. I saw Michael Parks in From Dusk Till Dawn in 1995 and the dude blew me away. He was onscreen the first five or ten minutes and he’s making choices I’ve never seen any other actor make. He’s the truth. I said, “My God, I’ve got to work with that dude one day.” It took me 15 years to figure out what that would be because I didn’t want to get in touch with him and say, “Hey, man, you want to play Silent Bob’s grandfather?”

Cut to years later, my friend Malcolm Ingram makes Small Town Gay Bar. It’s about a gay bar in Mississippi and how tough it can be in a community where nobody really wants you there. In the midst of it, Malcolm speaks with Fred Phelps. Malcolm sat with the beast, had an hour interview with him and sent me the footage, and he came across as terrifying to me. This dude is a fucking villain. He looks like a grandpa or uncle and speaks with all the homespun gee-shucks-isms, and then the content of what he says … that’s what’s bracing. It’s all hate, divisive, God-hates-this-and- that, and very anti-gay. I don’t think you have to be gay to be offended by that sort of thing, to find someone like Phelps and his backwards fucking family deplorable. And you don’t have to be gay to want to do something about it. I can’t stop them from speaking but I can go out there and do to them what they do to Matthew Shepard’s family and soldiers coming home from Iraq. They essentially stand there holding a sign and make them feel like shit. So this is my version of standing there holding a sign and making the Phelpses feel like shit.

Is there any concern this would inspire the Phelps family to get a cache of weapons together? Oh God, no! I mean, I don’t think those people are violent in the very least. This movie isn’t them. We tee off on them. It’s a satirical take on them. One of their kids told me they pray for the deaths of others, but they would never do that kind of thing.

You had a pretty great counter-protest at Sundance. I saw that one of your group’s signs said Dick Tastes Yummy. That was fun, watching people’s creativity sparked by these animals. A bunch of kids who go to high school there in Park City, Utah, heard about the Phelpses coming to protest us and came out to counter-protest. These kids were holding up signs like God Hates Homework. One dude had a sign that said Why Did They Cancel Pushing Daisies? That one fucking blew my mind. That’s how you shatter a monster’s brain: You hold up a mirror. What they’re doing is ridiculous, dude, so when you show up and counter them with ridiculous shit like Thor Hates Straights and God Hates Rainy Days and Mondays, you defang them. That’s what Red State is. I can’t stop them from saying what they’re gonna say, “Believe” — I can’t and don’t want to; that’s freedom in this country. But if they’re going to make other people’s lives miserable, that’s what Red State is. And whenever they talk about the movie you can tell it bugs them. They stopped digging the fucking attention because we held up a mirror.

I read that you actually provided tickets to some members of the Phelps clan for one of the roadshow’s screenings and they walked out. Yeah, in Kansas City. I’m sitting there watching [the movie with the audience] and seven minutes in I get tapped on my fucking shoulder. I turn around and it’s Megan Phelps [Fred’s 26-year-old granddaughter] and I’m startled because you never want to see a Phelps that close. And she goes, “Oh, Kevin, this is filthy… but we just wanted to give you a gift before we get out of here.” At that moment for a brief second I was waiting for the gun to come flashing out like, “The gift is God’s mighty bullets!” But they handed me two protest posters. One said God Hates Fag Enablers — that’s what they’ve called me many times. The other was a bit more abstract, very fucking strange. They took our title treatment from the Red State poster and put it on a sign and it said simply, Red State Fags, and they all signed it, like they were members of a baseball team or cast in a movie. Megan wrote, “See you in hell… not really because I’m not going there and you are.”

How kind of them! What did you do with it? My wife goes, “You’re throwing that out;” I said, “You’re out of your fucking mind! I worked hard for this, I fought these fucking monsters for a year! This is a trophy, like Batman’s giant penny in the Batcave!” She’s like, “Well, you can’t let the kid see it.” My kid don’t know nothing from hate. We live in L.A. and there’s a hell of a lot of liberalism and tolerance out here. There is no difference between gay and straight, there’s no negativity to her. So we unloaded the bus after we got home from the tour and there it is staring at us in the face, Red State Fags. My kid stares at this poster and my wife is looking at me like, “You fucking idiot, I knew something like this would happen.” And our daughter turns to us and goes, “What is this? The sequel?”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

‘The Fighter:’ ‘Rocky 2.0’

With all the homoeroticism (and lesbian subplot) in The Wrestler two years back, I was hoping The Fighter — with an always-buff Mark Wahlberg, above left, as an aspiring welterweight — might, Rocky III-esque, idealize the male form for gay audiences. No such luck. We have to settle, instead, for a gritty and highly watchable character study set in the world of boxing. I’ll adjust.

In many ways, The Fighter is the obverse of Black Swan: One is about a girl in the arts that lures you in with cliches about ballet films, then turns out the be something totally different; the other is about man in sports that avoids a lot of cliches until, about three-quarters through, turns out to be Rocky in disguise. (Both films also have the hand of Darren Aronofsky in them, who also directed The Wrestler.)

Such misdirection works in the film’s favor, because it allows the story to unfold with the immediacy of a family drama, and this family is full of drama. Mom (a fabulous Melissa Leo) coddles her seven useless harpy daughters while offering up her son Micky (Wahlberg, more heartfelt than ever), the only one with potential, in a series of bad bouts.

Even worse: The entire town of Lowell, Mass., idolizes Micky’s crack-addict brother Dicky (Christian Bale), a has-been who spends more time getting high than helping his little brother achieve what he couldn’t.

That may sound like a familiar plot, and it is familiar — you think of On the Waterfront, and are tempted to call it Rocky 2.0 — but the approach is cattywampus, almost disorienting. You think you know where it’s headed, but it surprises you.

With its cinema verite look and painfully authentic performances — especially by Leo and Bale, who’s gaunt and scary as a tweaked-out loser — conjure up everything that’s frightening about poisonous relationships of all kinds. It’s the season’s most unexpected crowd-pleaser.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Three stars
Now playing at the Angelika Film Center — Mockingbird Station

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens