Red Bank, New Jersey’s very own Kevin Smith is a man in the film industry who has eschewed the need for introduction. His first major film project Clerks consistently ranks amongst the elite as one of the greatest independent films ever made. The movie also sparked an entire connected universe in which many of his films also take place including Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, Clerks II, and the upcoming Mallrats 2. The films feature a cast of many memorable characters, including the dynamic duo that appear in each of these films, Jay & Silent Bob (Silent Bob played by Smith himself).
Smith also frequently references his Garden State roots when speaking to various media. All of the previously mentioned films take place in or near Monmouth County and mention real places in the area. Chasing Amy features a few shots of Red Bank’s Broad Street neighborhood, and Clerks was filmed at a convenience store he worked at in Middletown. His currently running show, AMC’s Comic Book Men, is filmed inside Smith’s own comic book store, Jay & Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in Red Bank.
Out of all places Smith could choose to set these films, he chooses the ordinary suburban New Jersey region where he grew up. New York City always makes a decent film setting, so does LA, or even another major city like DC or Miami. Still, his film characters are distinctly suburban New Jersey-esque. Why did he choose to do that? Well, he’s often said he bases parts of his characters’ personalities off of his long-time friends from New Jersey. To me, he goes with setting his characters here because it’s what enables him to tell his story in the most realistic, yet funny ways possible, and that’s never a bad thing.
Smith’s success and notoriety as a filmmaker has only contributed to New Jersey having a more prominent role in media. Since Clerks emerged and made suburban New Jersey a prominent film setting, many other shows and movies have popped up featuring the state. For example, the show House was set in Princeton, and the Die Hard film series’ main character John McClane famously calls himself “The 007 of Plainfield, New Jersey” in the film A Good Day to Die Hard. Smith’s artistry helped pave the way for New Jersey to no longer be considered as just a dirty landscape between NYC and Philadelphia in media stereotypes.
It’s not to say that New Jersey hasn’t had its fair share of garbage representation in the media, either. Shows like Jersey Shore have certainly created negative sentiments toward the state, but many of them haven’t stuck. The Jersey Shore fad has come and gone. Why didn’t they stick? Because shows like Jersey Shore have no substance to them. A show like that is one an audience member can sit back, mindlessly consume, and move on. Shows like that provoke no thought in the viewers’ minds. Smith’s works, however, do deliver something real for audiences to enjoy and to think about. His works treat viewers to a mix of outlandish and goofy moments, smartly-crafted jokes, and serious and thought-provoking scenes all within the confines of a single film.
So, Mr. Smith, I thank you for your labors. Your works have inspired countless aspiring filmmakers to pursue their passions and they have also given New Jersey in a positive media presence in pop culture.
To close, I’ll say this, “I wasn’t even supposed to write this today!”.