Famed director/producer Kevin Smith certainly has a history with the LGBT community—whether it involves the controversy with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation ( GLAAD ) regarding one of his movies or his status as an icon of the bear community. Smith's relationship with this demographic continues with his executive-producer role in small town gay bar, a documentary ( now out on DVD ) that centers on past and present gay bars in rural Mississippi. Smith recently talked with Windy City Times about the movie, the Rev. Fred Phelps and going to gay bars.
Windy City Times: Since the movie is called small town gay bar, I have to ask: Had you been in a gay bar before you heard of this film?
Kevin Smith: Yeah. The first one I had been to was called Feathers; it's in northern New Jersey. My brother took me there around '92 or '93. Plus, I live in a pretty gay world, so I've been to plenty since then.
The other day, I went to my first bear bar. Unfortunately, I wasn't the focus of attachment I was assured I would be if it was open. I would've had my pick of the litter; I would've been Marilyn Monroe.
WCT: How long had you known [ director ] Malcolm [ Ingram ] before he approached you with his idea for small town gay bar?
KS: I'd known him in '94; I met him when I was at the Toronto Film Festival with Clerks. And I'd given him a bunch of money to make his first movie, Drawing Flies. Then, I was an executive consultant or one of those bullshit credits on the second feature, Tail Lights Fade.
We were in post-production with Jersey Girl when Malcolm came by the production office. We hadn't seen him in a couple of months, and he brought 10 minutes of the prototype for small town gay bar that was shot in a gay bar in Traverse City, Mich.—and it was riveting. It was like your 86-year-old grandfather suddenly handing you a movie he made with a Super-8 camera and it was Jaws; you're just like, 'Where did that come from? You're an idiot—how did you make something this good?' It was a quantum leap forward for him. Suddenly, he wasn't trying to create something he thought other people would like; he was speaking from his own experience. ( By this point, he was out. ) I said, 'This is genius. You have to do a whole feature. Here's some cash; go out and make it.' [ The movie ] is a snapshot of a world most people don't really get a good look into.
WCT: You've said that small town gay bar is about family. Talk about that a little bit.
KS: That was something I learned from my brother; I'm fairly close with him and the rest of my family. I love my brother, Don, but we're not of his world. He has his gay extended family, and that was something I picked up from him. The family of the 21st century isn't necessarily a nuclear one—it's the one you create around yourself. small town gay bar depicts a bunch of individuals who aren't living their lives in nuclear families; they create them from these watering holes. I kinda dug that.
WCT: What was the most surprising thing you saw in the film?
KS: Hands down, the most surprising thing was that someone like Malcolm came up with something this good. [ Interviewer laughs. ] Second to that would be [ anti-gay Rev. Fred ] Phelps. That, to me, is spellbinding. You watch Phelps speak and you realize why Adolf Hitler was able to gather an army around him and convince people to liquidate six million Jews, among others. [ Phelps ] is charismatic, and you get why people like that connect [ with others ] ; he so believes his message and he's charismatic enough where you go, 'The dude doesn't sound retarded [ and ] he's well spoken'—but what he's saying is so fucking backwards, dark and evil. This guy is beyond the pale. Watching him, your skin fucking crawls.
WCT: I think the people who murdered [ gay teen ] Scotty Joe Weaver [ profiled in a segment in small town gay bar ] would've been congregants in Phelps' church.
KS: If Phelps was interested in having anyone in his church besides fucking family, anyway. That's a close-knit group, man. There are like 70 members who are all related; it's kinda nuts.
[ The segment on ] the folks who murdered Scotty Joe Weaver, like Phelps', was something that doesn't have much to do with the bars, but it was something Malcolm found a way to layer into the doc so that it makes sense in the context. It strengthens the point of the bar owners about why these bars are so important.
WCT: Your history with GLAAD has been...interesting. Did the organization say anything about small town gay bar?
KS: I think they gave it a good review, if I remember correctly. But it wasn't so much GLAAD that put me on the shit list as much as it was their media director at the time, Scott Seomin; he took issue with [ the movie ] Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. There was a scene in that movie in which one of the titular characters said that he would suck the other guy's dick; it doesn't get more gay-friendly than that in a mainstream movie, unless you're Brokeback [ Mountain ] . So I was like, 'What? This is the hill you want to die on?' That same summer, Rush Hour 2 came out, and that was completely homophobic.
The bittersweet p.s. to the whole affair is that The Advocate put us on its top 10 movies of the year, and so did John Waters. I sent Scott an e-mail pointing that out.
WCT: What does your brother think of small town gay bar?
KS: He totally dug it; he appreciated it.
Malcolm said that, while he was going to [ film ] fests, there was this catty prejudice in the more urban areas. Traditionally, based on media stereotypes, people within the gay community don't like to think of gay people looking like they do in [ the movie ] : not photogenic, not beefy or muscular—they look like average people. I never asked my brother, 'Look—getting past the fact that you wouldn't fuck any of these people with a stolen dick—did the movie connect with you?' He seemed to take it for what it was.
I'm always fascinated by the idea of prejudice within a community that's the victim of prejudice—or that there are levels of cattiness within a subgroup or minority.
WCT: Switching gears, I saw a blurb in Out magazine in which you said your favorite make-out song is Freak Me [ an R&B ballad by the group Silk ] .
KS: [ Laughs ] Unfortunately, my wife doesn't agree with me. My wife likes this trance CD that we picked up at The Standard Hotel in Los Angeles a few years back. That has become our go-to soundtrack.