The questions posed to Kevin run the gamut. There are a handful of expected questions about his movies, requests for help breaking into the industry, and oh, oodles of the "wanna get drunk later?" and "can I suck you off for five bucks?" variety. Kevin talks a bit about some of the folks who've become part of his troupe, such as conning Ben Affleck to continue starring in Jersey Girl after he'd been attached to Daredevil or, even better, critiquing a sex tape of Jason Mewes that proved to be so dull that Kevin decided to shift his focus towards a reflection of the MTV Video Music Awards instead. At times, he's almost terrifyingly candid. When asked if the "war wounds" comparisons in Chasing Amy stemmed from any real life encounters, Kevin delves into how he met his wife, entertainment writer Jennifer Schwalbach, and how their painful first sexual experience involved an open sore. There's also a run-in with a lesbian that takes issue with the implication that all a woman really needs is a good dicking, and though Kevin does respond to her comments rather than dismissing them outright, he still manages to toss in a couple of really great barbs, particularly in the form of a tagline he wished he'd had the opportunity to use.
Each of the two discs has lengthy stories about almost surreal collaborations with some of the strangest folks in the entertainment industry. The first, which alone is worth the price of entry, is Kevin's involvement with the aborted Superman Reborn and producer Jon Peters, a former hairdresser who somehow managed to become an indescribably wealthy Hollywood producer. I'll try to spoil as little of the fun as possible, but Peters claims that he and Kevin are the right team to guide Superman's return to the silver screen because they're both "from the streets". He goes onto outline the three things he wants out of the project. First, no flying. Second, ditch the costume. Third, make Superman fight a giant spider. Kevin's asked on disc two about a documentary he helmed, centered around a week of listening parties at Paisley Park for Prince's album "The Rainbow Children". Running right at half an hour, I believe it's the longest story on the set, and it's basically just thirty minutes of Kevin talking about what a nut Prince is. The highlight: Prince's staff buys some of his clothes from the boys department at Nordstrom's.
Much of the appeal of An Evening with Kevin Smith doesn't come just from the stories the filmmaker rattles off on-stage, but also through his interaction with the audience. At one point, Kevin collects tickets from the audience for a group of students stranded outside, and after they're let in, he insists that they dance to properly thank their benefactors. When a student says he got fired (or somewhere in between quitting and being fired, he vaguely explains) for skipping out on work to be at the show, Kevin calls up the kid's boss to put in a good word for him.
An Evening with Kevin Smith is fun. I'm not really sure how else to best describe this set, at least in a way that doesn't involve gushing for a few more paragraphs. It's unerringly entertaining and astonishingly funny, easily outclassing every one of the excellent commentary tracks that accompany the filmmaker's work on Laserdisc and DVD. It probably goes without saying that at least some familiarity with Kevin Smith and his body of work is required to get much out of this two-disc set, but for the View Askew faithful, a purchase ought to be a no-brainer.
Video: An Evening with Kevin Smith isn't just a collection of footage compiled by a random P.A. on consumer-grade video, recording Kevin's echo-riddled comments through a built-in mic. This sharp looking two-disc set was directed by J.M. Kenny, who had previously helmed the Judge Not: In Defense of Dogma documentary. The college Q&As were recorded on digital video using multi-camera setups, and the resulting footage is presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. As there was no celluloid involved in the process, the usual flaws associated with film transfers are noticeably absent. However, one solid purple background consistently looked a bit pixelated and unstable, and noise of some sort was noticeable in a couple of scattered shots of the audience early on in the first disc. I'd imagine these were likely present in the source material, as I didn't spot similar issues elsewhere. Spreading the material across two discs gives the bit budget room to breathe, and accordingly, there are no signs of overcompression or filtering of the image to ease compression. Quite nice.
Audio: Viewers hoping to have their internal organs liquified by low-frequency bursts or immersed in split-surround effects are obviously looking in the wrong place. The Dolby stereo soundtrack does precisely what it needs to do, and the sessions sound about as good as they look. The audiences' questions and Kevin's responses are clear and easily discernable. The inclusion of subtitles in English and Spanish is a welcome surprise. The English subs predictably aren't a word-for-word transcription given how rapid some of the conversation is, but they definitely get the point across.
Supplements: A smattering of footage that didn't make the final cut -- over seventeen minutes worth -- has been tucked away as Easter Eggs across this two-disc set. If you don't want to menu-trawl seeking out hidden options, here's a reasonably complete guide.
On the main menu on the first disc, select the flowers on the chalkboard for Kevin's explanation of the Magnolia "feud" (3:01). There are two clips hidden on the subtitles menu. To access the first, a standing ovation at Indiana University (1:48), highlight the rightmost column on the second tic-tac-toe board. For clarification on non-cleaning ass white trash roommates, click on the series of circles behind Kevin's right foot. Merrily trotting to the "Scene Selection" menu, highlighting the glasses in the poster for Chapter 3 reveals Kevin's answer on how to get a screenplay to a Hollywood director (1:30). On the second page of chapter selections, look for the tiny piece of chalk under the last three letters of "Wyoming" to hear Kevin chat with an audience member whose sister hadn't really been fucked (0:42).
On disc two, Kevin explains the casting of Alanis Morissette as God in Dogma (0:27) when the smiley face on the chalkboard on the main menu is selected. He also fills a sad girl in on how to politely decline anal sex (3:17), appropriately hidden under a cupid heart on the "Subtitles" menu. Not everyone's interested in Kevin's help, though. Highlighting the right sneaker on the first page of scene selections spits back some footage of walk-outs at one of the Q&As, though Kevin, being the gallant fellow that he is, doesn't want to hold up his audience from "pissing, smoking, or fucking" (3:12). Finally, under the trailers menu, selecting "E=MC˛" on the chalkboard reveals a clip where Kevin's asked what superhero he'd like to be (1:14).
A trailer gallery on the second disc includes trailers for Dogma (full-frame), Mr. Deeds (...the hell?; anamorphic widescreen), Spider-Man (also anamorphic widescreen), and Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters, and Marvels (letterboxed).
The main menus on each disc are animated, featuring Kevin puttering around with only a chair, microphone, and chalkboard in front of an otherwise plain white background. The submenus follow the same theme but aren't animated. The set's packaging is also well-done. Instead of just piling the discs into a bland double-alpha keepcase or something, they're housed in a fold-out digipak. Each side has three pieces of monochromatic poster art plugging his appearances (spoofed? I dunno for sure, but they do include quotes from the sessions). The first 'page' provides a runthrough of the forty chapter stops (twenty-four on disc one, sixteen on disc two) for the set.
Conclusion: If I'd been on the ball and had sat down with An Evening with Kevin Smith a couple of weeks earlier, this set would be perched near the top of my "best of 2002" list. Hell, I don't even have a best of 2002 list, unlike many of my fellow reviewers, but watching these two discs before the year was out probably would've provided me with the motivation to make one.
An Evening with Kevin Smith isn't some inaccessible treat intended for only the most hardcore of the filmmaker's fans. I like Kevin's work immensely, but I'm not devoted enough to, say, buy a DVD where a clown is sodomized for twenty minutes just to get my grubby little hands on a Dogma documentary. I wasn't kidding or exaggerating when I said that An Evening with Kevin Smith was easily the most I'd laughed watching a DVD in the past year. Even though I've only had the set for a little over a week, I've watched several of the stories twice, and there's not really any doubt in my mind that I'll watch it start to finish at least a few more times. This set is well-worth the asking price of twenty bucks at most retailers, and it deserves a spot on the DVD shelf of every Kevin Smith fan. Highly Recommended.
Related Links: DVD Talk head honcho Geoffrey Kleinman lobbed a couple of questions of his own at Kevin Smith, and you can read Kevin's replies or download mp3s of 'em by hopping over to http://www.dvdtalk.com/kevinsmithinterview.html.