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In 1994 Kevin Smith, comedian, writer, director, comic book nerd and minor celebrity, began his rise to geek stardom with the release of his first film, Clerks. The film was shot in the convenience store where Smith worked, and was about two 20-something clerks discussing their angst-ridden love lives, Star Wars, and how much they hate serving customers, while at the same time failing completely to do their jobs. It was made in black and white and was edited by Smith and his friend Scott Mosier. While it was an admirable first effort, the film was terrible. The acting was bad, the pacing was mind-numbingly slow, and the story was not very exciting. Nevertheless, it made $3 million at the box office which is amazing considering that it cost only $27 thousand to make. Clerks became a hit and paved the way for Smith and Mosier to make six more films (Mall Rats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Clerks 2, Zach and Miri Make a Porno).
Of all of these films Dogma is definitely the best. It deals with the adventures of Bethany Sloane (played by Linda Fiorentino), a worker at a Planned Parenthood Clinic, who is saddled by Metatron (played by Alan Rickman at his miserable best), God’s official spokeman, with the responsibility of stopping two renegade angels (played by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) from entering a very special church on the day of its centennial, because their entry would destroy all of creation. She is aided in this endeavour by two prophets: the profane, misogynist sex-obsessed Jay (played by Jason Mewes) and his long suffering mute best friend Silent Bob (played by Kevin Smith himself). Also aiding Bethany in her quest are Rufus, the thirteenth apostle (played by Chris Rock), a man left out of the Bible because he’s black; Serendipity, a muse with writer’s block, who has turned to stripping to pay the bills. Featured as well is Jason Lee, playing the villainous zoot-suit wearing demon Azrael.
Dogma is Smith’s first experiment with truly adult film-making. The films that his production company (View Askew Productions) made before this religiously-inspired epic were made to appeal to a very narrow audience, that is, males in their teens and early 20s. Dogma focuses on more important subjects than pot-smoking and breaking up with girlfriends (feminism, racism, crises of faith, etc.), and as a result it is able to attract a much broader audience.
The script and acting are excellent which I attribute to the fact that Smith cast real actors, not just his friends, in the major roles. The presence of George Carlin as the oily cardinal Glick, Damon and Affleck as the renegade angels, and Alan Rickman as Metatron definitely add cinematic weight. Another important factor that contributed to the quality of the film is that the script came out of Smith’s own experiences wrestling with his Catholic faith. Unfortunately, like all movies that deal with complex subjects, Dogma generated its fair share of controversy. Over time the filmmakers received over 300,000 pieces of hate mail, some of which Smith posted on his website. Among these were many death threats.
However, regardless of the many sacrilegious aspects of this film, or perhaps because of its numerous blasphemies, I highly recommend this movie. It successfully blends comic book action scenes with theological discussions and is a really solid film. But be warned, if you’re not fond of foul language, this one may not be for you.