Kevin Smith has retired and un-retired from filmmaking more than once, and his most recent return to the director’s chair resulted in his most unusual movie yet. That’s not to say Tusk is a good movie exactly – but it’s most definitely an incredibly strange one.
Happily though, Smith’s real talent remains unscathed.
He’s a continuously entertaining speaker, overflowing with funny, crass and ridiculous anecdotes, and his gift as a storyteller – often better-suited for talking than for filmmaking – shines on his commentary tracks. Tusk features a lot of dialogue scenes, his usual bread and butter, but there’s also an obvious thread of narrative wackiness that promises excessive fodder for Smith’s verbal chicanery via the commentary. Because seriously, it’s about a guy who threatens to surgically alter Justin Long into a walrus.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for Kevin Smith’s Tusk.
Commentator: Kevin Smith (writer/director)
1. It was sixteen months ago (from the time of the commentary’s recording) that Smith and Scott Mosier first discussed the “real-life” story of the ad that inspired the film on their Smodcast #259. That podcast episode saw the duo work through ideas for the eventual film to the point of encouraging listeners to tweet #walrusyes if they wanted Smith to return to filmmaking for this tale of madness.
2. This is Smith’s own favorite among the films he’s made. I would have assumed he’d actually seen all of his own films, but it appears to not be the case. He explains in more detail later on, and his reasoning makes sense on his own personal front, but for my money Chasing Amy remains his best film.
3. Smith points out Harley Morenstein who plays the Canadian customs agent early on in the film, and he adds that his intention is for Morenstein to play the lead in his upcoming film Moose Jaws. “I’m writing it for him, hopefully he does it.” Per IMDB, Morenstein is also starring in Smith’s other upcoming film, Yoga Hosers.
4. “I was out of the movie business,” says Smith, “but what would bring me back to the movie set?” The answer was packing in all the stuff he loves. In this case the things he loved included working with Michael Parks and Justin Long, filling the script with Smodcast references and the opportunity to handle penis bones.
5. The first draft of the script had Wallace visiting Canada simply to have sex with swinger fans, but Long suggested they not have audiences hating Wallace (his character) from the very beginning. “’They’re gonna want to see me in this walrus suit,’ Long had said, ‘but let’s not rush me in there. We want the audience to root for me, not against me.’” Long’s intention is on point, but I really don’t think they succeeded in making Wallace the least bit likable. Am I alone in that?
6. The Kill Bill Kid’s leg dismemberment effect was created by The DAVE School students, and Smith is quick to point out that he was criticized for letting amateurs work on the film. His reasoning was that it was meant to be a home-made video so why not have students make it? There’s logic to that of course, but the digital effect is ridiculously fake-looking and much like the film’s final scene it lessens the impact through its cartoonish nature.
7. The original ad that inspired the film was actually a hoax written by Chris Parkinson who subsequently was brought on as a producer for the film. He also appears in a bar scene in the third act.
8. The convenient store scene features three cameos. Ashley is the female customer at the counter – “She drives me around and rolls my joints.” The two girls behind the counter are Smith’s daughter, Harley Quinn – “That little girl came out of my balls”, and Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily Rose. Those two are actually starring in Yoga Hosers too.
9. “Pippy Hill” was originally called “Chapel Hill” until Smith was told that’s an actual place with a popular sports team. He discovered this while filming in North Carolina.
10. Parks’ first appearance sees him sitting in front of a fireplace, and crosses are visible on either side of him offering, per Smith, a little reminder of Red State.
11. Smith originally intended the film to be shot in 1.85:1, but director of photography James Laxton suggested it deserved to be in proper widescreen (2.35:1). The director’s not known for his shots, but Tusk has more than a few great-looking frames.
12. He recounts how his favorite part of movies, both as a filmmaker and a film goer, is watching actors act and forgetting that “you saw them once on Saved By the Bell or something like that.” He’s right that performances are the real movie magic, and it explains why he’s at his best as a filmmaker when he’s focused on characters talking.
13. Wallace is not based on Smith. Honest.
14. Howard Howe (Parks) is based in some ways on Smith’s own father – “No, he never tried to sew me into a walrus costume, but he did love the sea.” Smith grew up on a river, near an ocean, and while his dad never really got out to sea his love of the ocean was clear.
15. The flashback scene as Howe recounts his disaster at sea includes a glimpse of “shit that should not be.” When young Howe pops up the water line at the wall of the tank where they shot the sequence is clearly visible. Smith says he had the opportunity to fix it in post-production but chose to leave it.
16. When Wallace awakens after being drugged we see Howe polishing a bone – that bone in his hand is meant to be Wallace’s tibia on its way to becoming a faux walrus tusk. I missed that connection on first viewing.
17. Long and Parks didn’t talk much off camera at first, but the scene where Wallace first discovers his legs have been removed changed that. Smith had told Long to play around with the idea of the Brown Recluse spider (the supposed reason for the amputation) because it entertained Parks, so he did – much to the visible chagrin of the older actor who came to honestly enjoy Long’s humor and talent.
18. The dinner table scene – the fantastic dinner table scene that follows the equally cool leg revelation – was first attempted with slow dollies between the actors as they alternated dialogue, but while Smith decided it didn’t work he still enjoyed it as an experiment.
19. Smith enjoys saying the phrase “pushing whimsy.” Repeatedly. Ad nauseum.
20. Genesis Rodriguez is also in the upcoming Moose Jaws, and she’s playing the same character (Ally) as she does here. Spoiler!
21. Smith used IMDB Pro to find contact information for Haley Joel Osment, but never got a response from his agent. He ultimately landed Osment after a producer independently suggested the actor and was able to reach out to him through other channels.
22. The white house used as the exterior for where Ally and Teddy (Osment) are shacking up actually belongs to Jason Mewes.
23. The first thing Smith does every morning is spit because that’s when you have the most germs in your mouth. Apparently. So he had Rodriguez’s character do it too only to worry later when he discovered that none of the rest of us in the civilized world have ever heard of that and instead might think Ally was simply spitting out Teddy’s seed.
24. The scene with Howe at work with the fleshy bits was originally meant to feature intermittent artwork/animation so viewers wouldn’t be stuck watching Parks during his monologue, but Parks’ performance proved that not only can we watch the man talk but we will love it too.
25. Long filmed all of his “in walrus” scenes at one time to avoid having to get in and out of the costume over the course of several days.
26. Smith’s commentary disappears when Johnny Depp appears as Guy Lapointe. He returns to point out that the role was originally offered to Quentin Tarantino who turned it down saying simply that he’s not acting at the moment. “Don’t know if that meant ‘I’m not acting in shit like this,’” says Smith before disappearing again. It’s an odd silence that lasts several minutes and remains unexplained by Smith, and it happens a few more times when Depp is onscreen.
27. Smith really, really wants to fuck the waitress in the fast-food restaurant scene. (It’s his wife, Jen.)
28. The porch scene flashback between Lapointe and Howe was supposed to feature Parks speaking with a Quebec-oriented accent, but the actor suggested his pseudo-lisping was a better choice. His argument was that Howe would want the investigator to leave as soon as possible – that anyone stuck listening to him would want this exchange to end as soon as possible. Mission accomplished Mr. Parks, mission accomplished.
29. Long’s walrus makeup featured a 2–3 hour facial makeup job with magnetic tusks that attach to the prosthetics. When he was ready for filming he would just slide into the body where he was laying on a yoga ball-type thing.
30. Smith loves directors like David Lynch and David Cronenberg, and he always wanted to be an effects guy. He says he had never imagined making a movie like Clerks – it’s just that Clerks was the only movie he could make at the time.
31. Yoga Hosers and Moose Jaws both came to be, at least in part, from Smith’s time on-set with special effects guru Robert Kurtzman. The two films are what remains of Smith’s “True North Trilogy,” and he reveals that he’s playing the monster under the rubber in Yoga Hosers. The assumption is the monster will be silent.
32. Smith constantly makes cracks, often in a “funny” voice, imitating his naysayers crapping on the movie, but he also points out that regardless of the criticism the film brought far more good than bad. He got to work with his daughter, he got to work with rubber, the whole thing inspired his artistic side again and it led to funding for Yoga Hosers and the eagerly-awaited Clerks 3. (And yes, I do mean “eagerly-awaited” as I’m a big fan of Clerks 2.) “It was a gift that kept on giving,” he says.
33. Apparently Parks suggested his character’s bare-ass shot at the urging of his wife. Smith wishes he could take credit for it though.
34. Smith used Fleetwood Mac’s song “Tusk” as temp audio when editing the walrus fight and even had it written into the script, but he never believed they’d actually get the rights to use it in the final film. Thankfully though the folks at A24 and Demerest Films saw the value in it and worked to make it happen. “That song was probably the most expensive thing in the movie,” says Smith.
Best in Commentary
- “For the people that don’t like this movie, this could have been stopped easily.”
- “When I think of movies I think of two people fucking talking to each other. I know most people are like ‘That’s a fucking play you fat jackass,’ while this is movie magic to me. Some people like to see things blowing up and buses becoming robots that fuck other buses who aren’t robots and everyone’s like ‘Is that wrong?’”
- “Shecky! Motherfucker!”
- “Cinematic equivalent of me lifting my shirt and showing off my moobs is having Michael Parks say ‘Is man indeed a walrus at heart?’”
- “We owe a great debt of gratitude to Human Centipede.”
- “You get nothing from discouraging an artist.”
I’ll never understand the biology that allows Smith to talk for so long without seemingly taking a breath – probably some kind of machinery chugging along beneath his omnipresent jersey – but I don’t need to understand it to appreciate it. He spouts his fair share of b.s. too of course and frequently feels the need to defend himself or smack-talk his critics, but more than anything else he makes clear his love of movies and the importance of sharing the creative wealth. That’s a tremendous thing, the value of which cannot be overstated, and if hearing it means we also have to watch a tonally-confused misfire about a man being turned into a walrus then so be it.