In 1997, director Kevin Smith released "Chasing Amy." I didn't see it in theaters -- I was barely aware of Smith in 1997, and I certainly wasn't in place where I could be sneaking out and catching R-rated art house flicks on my own. When I did eventually see it, it was at my Dad's house, as he had rented it and I had decided to sit in. I was a Sci Fi nut at the time, though, and really didn't pay the movie the attention it deserved, though I did see this aesthetic that I liked, this twenty-something, mid-'90s touch that was charming to me even back then, in the same way a Gin Blossoms song was. But I didn't know about Smith, I didn't know about the larger narrative, hell, as a rabid reader of Wizard magazine and a burgeoning comic geek, I didn't even recognize the comic book personalities [and their artwork] that litter the film.
All of that is probably surprising to people. I think "Kevin Smith fan" and "Randall Nichols" were used interchangeably for a while -- and rightfully so, I encouraged it, and even today, while I don't necessarily like describing myself just as "that guy," the "Kevin Smith fan," I think that's a way people think of me. And I'm not embarrassed, even though I think there's some part of me that would like to be thought of as more than that, that doesn't want to be reduced to just an obvious stereotype, because I think at some point all creative people want to be thought of as their own artist, with their own voice. But I don't have a problem with people looking at what I do and saying "This is a Kevin Smith fan's work." It's flattering.
"Amy's" the odd duck of his films. Of all of Smith's movies, it feels like the only one that's aged -- there's something especially '90s, especially dated about the way it looks. "Clerks" stand out because of it's breakout status and indie-level visuals, while "Mallrats," "Dogma," "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," even "Clerks II" are in this sort of four color, comic book-like world, which seems beholden to no particular time-period [ironic, when you think of how much "Amy" is about comics]. And "Amy" exists in there, it is a part of that View Askewniverse in its own way, but it also doesn't quite fit.
And despite being considered one of Smith's best, it certainly has it's detractors. I think there are always going to be people who don't want to go to the dick-and-fart joke director for such an honest love story, people who come to Smith for stoner comedy and can't find that as much in "Amy," or at the very least don't find it with the same lightheartedness as his other films. I also run into a lot of people who identify LGBT, and are uncomfortable with the film, or find it insulting. I don't think there's anything objectionable in the movie, or at least not anything anymore objectionable than is normal for a Smith movie, which I've always felt was part of the charm about the style -- when you can say anything, and do, you really strip things down between characters, and can sometimes get to things you normally wouldn't be able to. But... I digress. It's not for everyone, a sentiment true for a lot of Smith movies, and especially true for this one.
There's a particular scene in "Amy" that I think about a lot when I'm writing, or when I'm trying to write, or sometimes when I think I may never write again. And it's an odd scene to think about, especially in the context of writing, because in my very first screenwriting class at Bennington I learned that a scene like that should probably never be written, or at the very least never be allowed to make it to a final draft. But Smith left it in, either because he thought it was more realistic this way, or because he never had all these rules about monologues and characters saying more than they're doing, or because this is just how he thought it was supposed to happen, and be damned what anyone else thinks about it.
Here's the bulk of the scene, for reference:
INT CAR - NIGHT
Holden throws the car into park.ALYSSAWhy are we stopping?HOLDENBecause I can't take it.ALYSSACan't take what?HOLDENI love you.ALYSSAYou love me.
(beat)HOLDENI love you. And not in a friendly way, although I think we're great friends. And not in a misplaced affection, puppy-dog way, although I'm sure that's what you'll call it. And it's not because you're unattainable. I love you. Very simple, very truly. You're the epitome of every attribute and quality I've ever looked for in another person. I know you think of me as just a friend and crossing that line is the furthest thing from an option you'd ever consider. But I can't do this any longer. I can't stand next to you without wanting to hold you. I can't look into your eyes without feeling that longing you only read about in trashy romance novels. I can't talk to you without wanting to express my love for everything you are. I know this will probably queer our friendship - no pun intended - but I had to say it, because I've never felt this before, and I like who I am because of it. And if bringing it to light means we can't hang out anymore, then that hurts me. But I couldn't allow another day to go by without getting it out there, regardless of the outcome, which by the look on your face is to be the inevitable shoot-down. And I'll accept that. But I know some part of you is hesitating for a moment, and if there is a moment of hesitation, that means you feel something too. All I ask is that you not suppress that - at least for ten minutes - and try to dwell in it before you dismiss it. There isn't another soul on this fucking planet who's ever made me the person I am when I'm with you, and I would risk this friendship for the chance to take it to the next plateau. Because it's there between you and me. You can't deny that. And even if we never speak again after tonight, please know that I'm forever changed because of you and what you've meant to me, which - while I do appreciate it - I'd never need a painting of birds bought at a diner to remind me of.
Holden stares at Alyssa. She stares back. Then she gets out of the car.HOLDENWas it something I said?
And there it is, that big block of text that I was told to never, ever do, the big excited outburst by Holden "Fucking" McNeil professing his love for a woman he's not supposed to have, who should not love him back, a woman who's only response to all that could only be anger and horror at her friend's selfishness. And that happens, after Alyssa leaves the car, and Holden gives chase, as she screams at him in a darkly lit scene as it rain [more like fucking pours], yells at him to get back in the car, to just leave her there. He's done what so many of us have either wanted to do, or have done, been about as verbose about it as anyone could hope for, and gotten the usual, and most often expected response: "it's unfortunate that you're in love with me. It's unfair that you felt the need to unburden your fucking soul about it!"
She's right. And Alyssa stomps away, leaving Holden to stand there in the rain, completely rebuked and utterly dejected. But that's not why it's great.
There's a beat. Not in the script, but in the movie itself, just natural pacing which Smith didn't put in the screenplay proper, with Affleck walking back to the car in the rain. And suddenly Adams comes rushing back, and leaps into his arms with this guttural cry, and they kiss. It's probably the only kiss in the rain I've ever been able to stand.
But it's a great moment, that one second, where Adams isn't even on screen, but there's a thought process there, a response or a cue that isn't shown, and it's not said [and it's a Kevin Smith movie, remember?], but it brings her character back, with all the weight of the two character's time together. I don't even have a word for that moment, "transcendental" comes close, but isn't quite right just a little too specific and not specific enough. But it's a moment to aspired to by any writer, and it's something that doing the most Kevin Smith-esque, single-frame talking-head scene isn't going to get you. It's like the look between Tatum O'Neil and Madeline Kahn on the side of the road in "Paper Moon," or that slight sag in posture of Orson Welles, standing lonely in Xanadu in "Citizen Kane."
You don't really write these moments down -- some people even say the actors make them happen, or the illustrator is the one who puts them in the panel. In some cases that's probably true. But I also think that sometime what's not written down is very much put there by the writer, and of all the things I try to do, I think these are the moments I reach for, that I hope I can pull off.
2009 will be over soon, and for the last two months of it, I have written almost nothing. Certainly nothing of worth. A friend even called it a crisis of faith. Haven't stopped thinking about "Amy" though.
Happy New Years.