(Page 4 of 4)
"Imagine how much drama you could cull from cutting to them in any given scene," Mr. Smith said. "I always thought that was really brave. It would have been so easy to play the family card and have these reaction shots of his wife and daughter, tearful and worried. That's how they do it in most courtroom scenes, right? But Zinnemann doesn't do it at all. It's just More and the court, that's it. It's so powerful and restrained. It's all about the language and the arguments."
Different Things to Die For
Mr. Smith draws a distinction in his mind between "A Man for All Seasons" and another film based on a play, Arthur Miller's "Crucible." Both are about people who lose their lives over a matter of principle, but it is the issue of religion and faith that sets More's story apart for Mr. Smith.
"My feeling is that there are two kinds of people in the world, `Man for All Seasons' people and `Crucible' people, and the difference is what they are willing to die for," Mr. Smith said. "In `The Crucible,' John Proctor gives his life because he doesn't want to stain his name; he doesn't want to be known as a witch, which is just a handle that someone wants to hang on him. So his martyrdom doesn't really impress me. It's never as dramatically interesting as Thomas More, who lays down his life for his soul. It's not about his identity; it's about his soul. Even Norfolk and Meg tell him: `Just sign the oath, what difference does it make? Say it with your mouth but renounce it in your head.' That's when More gives that great speech about how you are holding your soul in your hands like sand, and if you begin to open your fingers, even just a little bit, it all begins to spill out."
In fact, Mr. Smith said, he's not sure that people without faith are really able to appreciate "A Man for All Seasons" as deeply as he does.
"It's such an inaccessible movie, in one sense, for people who don't believe in God," he said. "Because the whole time they're watching it, they're thinking More is an idiot. Just take the oath. Why not? But everything comes back to God with Thomas More. He could easily take the oath, but he won't because he feels it would violate his relationship to his God. His vision of himself is based on that relationship. That's so different from John Proctor. In this day and age, try to make a movie about a guy who stands up for what he believes based on his relationship to God. I'm telling you, very few people will turn out."
He added, "I speak from experience."
Mr. Smith is talking about "Dogma," the comedy he made in 1999 with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as a pair of renegade angels in New Jersey. It was the director's first real attempt to deal with some of the issues of faith that followed him from his Catholic upbringing, and it caused a brief furor when some religious groups criticized it during its production and just before its release. Once those groups saw that he was attempting to be thoughtful about the subject, the furor subsided, Mr. Smith said.
Has Mr. Smith ever thought of embracing Thomas More head on, eschewing the comedy and doing a flat-out drama?
"You know, there's always the temptation," he said. "But I think I'm too young and insecure at this point to give it a shot. Because if you're not 100 percent sure of yourself, you end up making something like 'Interiors' - you know, that Woody Allen movie? And it has a lot to do about perception. People perceive you as one thing. But believe me, there is many a time I have thought about doing something dramatic. Something with some humor in it, but not jokes. I always thought if I did it, it would be a courtroom drama. I love courtroom drama. But there it is; it's language again. What's a courtroom, after all, but a bunch of people standing around talking?"
Not to Forget Some Seasons of His Own
Highlights of Kevin Smith's career and information on "A Man for All Seasons."
What They Watched
"A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS." Directed and produced by Fred Zinnemann. Screenplay by Robert Bolt. With Paul Scofield, Robert Shaw, Susannah York, Orson Welles, Wendy Hiller, Leo McKern and John Hurt. 1966. Columbia Tristar. 134 minutes. $16.99.
Kevin Smith's Films
"JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK." With Mr. Smith, Jason Mewes, Shannon Elizabeth, Jason Lee and Ben Affleck. Miramax. Release scheduled Aug. 22.
"DOGMA." With Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. 1999. 125 minutes. Columbia Tristar. $12.99.
"CHASING AMY." With Mr. Smith, Ben Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams. 1997. 113 minutes. Walt Disney Video. $12.99.
"MALLRATS." With Shannen Doherty and Jeremy London. 1995. 96 minutes. MCA Video. $9.98.
"CLERKS." With Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson. 1994. 92 minutes. Walt Disney Video. $12.99.
"MAE DAY: THE CRUMBLING OF A DOCUMENTARY." (Also known as "Mae I.") With Emelda Mae, Mr. Smith and Scott Mosier. 1992. Not available on video.