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DOGMA

ANGELS WANNA GO HOME
Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Salma Hayek, Jason Lee, Jason Mewes and Alan Rickman are just some of the stars in Kevin Smith's Dogma. Why? In this edited extract of the film's production notes, we find out - "They have been in Wisconsin for thousands of years and they're ready to go back to heaven," is Ben Affleck's reason. . .

Once upon a time, in the late 20th century, existence was almost snuffed out without a trace. This is the premise of Kevin Smith's comic fantasia, Dogma, which unfolds the fiercely funny adventures of a group of mortal humans and surreal supernatural beings as they make a pilgrimage to New Jersey to stop the accidental apocalypse any which way they can.

Smith has previously written and directed three movies that took on such earthly subjects as the lives of retail employees (Clerks), the Mall Generation (Mall Rats) and unrequited love (Chasing Amy). With Dogma, he takes his storytelling style to a new domain: a fantastical milieu, a sort of cosmological yet comical Oz, in which human beings meet up with a coterie of colorful characters from the celestial world -and get a first-hand glimpse of their lives, duties and temper tantrums. Here, Smith's trademark verbal roller- coaster collides with otherworldly adventure and special effects.

"a monumental comedy about heaven and earth"

Smith wrote Dogma around the same time of his first feature film, Clerks, when a personal moment of doubt led to a monumental comedy about heaven and earth and the funny things that happen in the space between the two. Smith fashioned a phantasmagorical world populated by ether-dwelling angels and steaming, stenching demons who spring literally from the bowels of the earth --a cartoon-like world where he could chat playfully about some of the issues on his mind. "It started with me asking some questions about my own faith but the flick doesn't attempt to hold out answers to any of those questions," says Smith. It's meant to make you laugh."

He continues: "Predominantly, what I've always done is relationship movies and this is a farce and a fantasy about the relationship with God. But no one can mistake it for any sort of tome or a text. The absurdity of the characters sticks a pin into any potential didacticism. All along, I've thought how seriously can you take a movie that has a rubber poop monster in it?"

Smith waited to make Dogma because he didn't feel quite ready to take on the more ambitious filmmaking requirements of a pure fantasy replete with winged flights of fancy. "Personally, I don't think I was mature enough to take it on until now, " says Smith. "Not that the subject matter is so mature -because it's really a flick that's as goofy as it is thoughtful -but I think taking it on earlier would have led to a far more adolescent film. I'm pretty much the least visual director around so making such a visual film was a stretch and I wanted this world to really pop."

"was peppered with so much fun"

When Smith's producing partner Scott Mosier read Dogma, the wild world Smith had forged came immediately to life in his head. "This was a script that really did something different and new," says Mosier. "It was peppered with so much fun and so many different questions. But it also had all those elements that make Kevin's movies so appealing."

At first Mosier attempted to define the movie, but eventually he gave up. "This movie is completely uncategorisable," he admits. "lt has it's own tempo, it's own groove that's very different from anything else. Every time you think it's one thing -a fantasy, a comic journey, an inquiry into faith --it switches to another mood. The only thing you can do is let go and allow it to happen to you. If you try to say it's one thing or another, you're fighting the nature of the film."

Mosier was particularly drawn to Smith's depiction of heavenly creatures as complex, emotional beings who behave like far more powerful, and therefore sometimes more absurd, reflections of humankind. "In the fantasy of Dogma, angels and demons have very human motivations: they act out of rage and fear and romance," points out Mosier. "It's a very original and funny vision of the heavens." For both Smith and Mosier, the key to making Dogma work was finding a group of

actors who got the joke and the spirit of the vision. "The commitment of the actors made me want to make a phenomenal flick because they were all taking a leap of faith in telling a story about a leap of faith," says Smith.

THE RENEGADES: LOKI AND BARTLEBY

Dogma is in part Kevin Smith's imaginative fantasia on the personal affairs and age-old conflicts of Celestial Beings in the late 20th Century. At the core of the story are two fallen angels: Loki and Bartleby. Angels of course are the winged, cloud-dwelling spiritual beings deemed superior to man in power and intelligence. But these two overstepped their bounds -and were banished from heaven for eternity. Exiled to the Midwest, all they want is to go home - even if it means obliterating their inferior human brethren.

To play the demoted duo, Kevin Smith chose two actors whose comic rapport is well established: Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, co-stars and co-writers of the Oscar winning Good Will Hunting. Affleck has had a long-standing relationship with Smith, having starred in Chasing Amy and Mall Rats. He's always had an affinity for Smith's trademark brand of brash and provocative humor. But this script was different.

"Verbal trampoline blockbuster" Ben Affleck

"This is Kevin's first foray into making a real, whole movie with all of its components; it is his effects-Iaden, verbal trampoline blockbuster in a way," says Affleck. "He has created a modern fantasy story, using familiar spiritual beings to forge this whole set of colorful characters on a mission. It's hip and cool and I think it has two great things going for it: on the one hand it's a chance to see an innovative, unusual filmmaker doing something groundbreaking. And on the other it's just plain funny, entertaining and vibrant."

According to Damon, "Dogma is a totally different animal from Kevin's other movies, a totally different look and feel. The only thing that remains the same is Kevin's sense of humor and his sensibility. When it comes to Kevin, I like to use the word irreverent but he comes at this subject with a lot of reverence. He takes on some serious themes here in a fun and light way. It's a comic book story but to me it has a spiritual underpinning."

Affleck describes Bartleby and Loki as two guys who just want to go home. "They have been in Wisconsin for thousands of years and they're ready to go back to heaven," explains Affleck. " And they're not about to let anything stop them."

"New Jersey becomes the gateway to Loki and Bartleby's dreams," adds Damon. "But we aren't the brightest angels in the world, and in the process, we set in motion this whole series of events that could create the end of all existence - not good."

"Without Ben, I don't think I could have done this movie" Smith on Affleck

For both actors, a lot of the fun of the movie was getting to play the sort of Laurel and Hardy comic partnership of the celestial domain. Says Damon: "It was easy to fall into playing old buddies who have been kicking around on earth together for eons, because that's already how we feel about each other. We've been through a lot together; we've had some exciting times and some pretty boring ones, so we can imagine spending eternity in Wisconsin together."

Kevin Smith sees Ben Affleck as "the linchpin of the film." He explains: "No matter how much Ben's star rose during the making of this movie, he never lost his desire to make the film or his belief in it. Without Ben, I don't think I could have done this movie. He was there one hundred percent. He worked like a dog to bring something to this role he's never really brought to the screen before. I think his is the toughest job in the movie: he's a character who goes from one end of the spectrum to the other, and goes completely over the edge at one point."

As for Damon, Smith comments: "Who else could have such great chemistry with Affleck? Matt took a leap and it really pays off. He took the opportunity to show off his comic side."

HUMBLE HUMANSWhen Loki and Bartleby decide to take out their rage against the rules of heaven by breaking them, they almost take out humanity in the process. Being angels and snobs when it comes to the frailties of human flesh, they barely care, but the rest of Heaven isn't so pleased about this potential outcome. Since only a human can save humanity, the dubious task falls to Bethany, an ordinary woman who isn't even quite sure she believes in the angels and demons who become her traveling buddies and partners in rescuing the world.

"Linda really changed my perspective" Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith originally envisioned Bethany as a young, inexperienced heroine like many of the humans who populate his comedies, but when Fiorentino read the script and aggressively pursued the part, she altered his vision. "Linda really changed my perspective on the character," states Smith. "She redefined Bethany as someone who's done some hard living, who's taken some knocks, who's questioning her faith as an adult.

She brings a real humanity and experience to the role that befits someone who's lived through a lot and has a lot of questions. She also became a much better foil to Jay and Silent Bob's adolescent goofiness. She can say 'I'm a woman; why are you treating me like I'm 14?"'

Says Linda Fiorentino: "When I read the script, I just said there's no way anyone else is allowed to have this part. I thought it was extremely clever and it had very imaginative answers to all my childhood questions about angels and devils and the apostles and all that stuff."

Fiorentino viewed Bethany as "a very grown-up version of Dorothy. Bethany is having her own crisis when she enters this kind of Oz where she's really the only human surrounded by muses and demons and Seraphim and they're all trying to get to New Jersey instead of Kansas," she explains. "The funny part of it to me is that she is such an inept heroine: the world rests in her hands but she doesn't know what she believes or what she wants."

"a dangerously hilarious movie" Linda Fiorentino

To get deeper into the role, Fiorentino viewed Bethany's story personally as one "about a woman's plight in searching of forgiveness from - and for - God" a theme for which her own Catholic upbringing prepared her. But ultimately, says Fiorentino: "This is a dangerously hilarious movie that really reflects Kevin Smith."

As for working with Smith, Fiorentino has christened him "the Reluctant Director. He's not innately a control freak, which is almost a contradiction in terms for a director," he comments. "He's a genius writer and a great actor and he is very generous and respectful in his treatment of other actors. You really didn't want too controlled an environment on this movie since Dogma is a comedy about things falling apart."

As things do begin to come apart at the seams, Bethany is told she will be assisted in her mission by two prophets, human beings who carry a powerful connection to the cosmos. But nothing can prepare her for the profane nature of the prophets she encounters: Jay and Silent Bob, the hapless suburbanite duo who have appeared in all of Kevin Smith's films to date; This time around, Jay and Silent Bob are at the center of something much bigger than either of them could possibly comprehend, let alone prophesise about. Yet somehow their warped comical presence drives Bethany forward, if only out of dismay, to the New Jersey church where they will make a stand for humankind.

"above and beyond"

Jason Mewes reprises his role as the grossly verbose Jay, taking the character to new heights of cosmic absurdity. "Mewes is Mewes, as ever," notes Kevin Smith, who first cast his non-professional, childhood friend as a stoner in Clerks, "but he went above and beyond this time. He's come a long way as an actor who is very present in the scene. I really impressed upon him that he had to be prepared for this movie. 'There are real actors in this one,' we kept telling him. And he held his own against people like Affleck and Rickman."

"Dogma's really funny and there's some cool stuff in it," summarizes Mewes in his characteristic style. "Basically Jay and Silent Bob are on their way to New Jersey when this chick Bethany wants to come along and Jay's thinking 'yeah, cool' because he thinks he's going to get laid and instead he ends up discovering angels and devils and stuff like that."

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