Director : Kevin Smith
Screenplay : Kevin Smith
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1994
Stars : Brian O’Halloran (Dante), Jeff Anderson (Randal), Marilyn Ghigliotti (Veronica), Lisa Spoonhauer (Caitlin), Jason Mewes (Jay), Kevin Smith (Silent Bob), Scott Mosier (Willam the Idiot Manchild / Angry Hockey-Playing Customer / Angry Mourner), Scott Schiaffo (Chewlies Rep), Al Berkowitz (Old Man), Walter Flanagan (Woolen Cap Smoker / Egg Man / Offended Customer / Cat-Admiring Bitter Customer), Ed Hapstak (Sanford / Angry Mourner), Lee Bendick (#812 Wynarski), David Klein (Hunting Cap Smoking Boy / Low I.Q. Video Customer / Hubcap Searching Customer / Angry Mourner / Angry Crowd at Door), Pattijean Csik (Coroner)
Despite the adoration of its legions of primarily twentysomething male fans, the simple fact is that Kevin Smith’s feature debut Clerks is not a great movie. It is not even a particularly good movie. But, it is an exceedingly important movie that is crucial in defining the shifts in the Hollywood industry in the 1990s and the effect of Generation X on cinematic aesthetics and taste. In a previous era, Clerks might have played as a cult item and then disappeared into obscurity. In the mid-1990s, with fast-rising distributors looking for edgy fare with which to define themselves and the burgeoning video business making obsessive repeat viewings possible, Clerks was perfectly positioned to become its own unique landmark.
Along with Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1991), which was released three years earlier, Smith’s scrappy black-and-white ode to the fears and loathings of post-collegiate misfits in a New Jersey suburb is the definitive Gen-X movie, one that rejects virtually everything that classical Hollywood stood for aesthetically and narratively: no stars, no story, and certainly no artistry, at least as that word is conventionally understood. When the MPAA ratings board first slapped the film with a dreaded NC-17 rating, the ostensible justification was the characters’ nonstop barrage of raunchy language and description of bizarre sex acts, but the real reason could very well be that the MPAA was afraid of kids being exposed to it lest they have their heads filled with dreams of making their own navel-gazing no-budget comedies and unleashing them on the world. That didn’t exactly happen, but Smith’s little film, when combined with a handful of other independently produced efforts like Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape (1989), Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy (1989), Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992), and Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi (1992), helped to reshape the industry, proving that bigger is not necessarily better (which megaflops like 1995’s Waterworld and 1996’s Cutthroat Island amply proved a few years later).
Moreso than most indie movies of its time, though, Clerks nailed the one thing that seemed genuinely precious to Gen-Xers: authenticity. Writing in the fringe cyberculture magazine Mondo 2000, Andrew Hultkrans noted how the corporate world was bending over backwards in the early ’90s to sell “real life”--whether it be Levis’ “It’s got to be real” ad campaign or the premiere of The Real World on MTV--to a generation who he described as having been “vaccinated with precocious cynicism.”
Clerks was different from those corporate efforts in that it was a slice of life for Gen-Xers produced by one of their own. Shot in black-and-white 16mm primarily at night at the Quick Stop convenience store where Smith was then employed, Clerks was simultaneously a rough-edge home-movie hymn to slackerdom and the very object of its celebration, given that it provided its own evidence that there are better things to do at work than the actual work you’re assigned. Comparisons to Linklater’s Slacker are telling: while both films share a nonnarrative approach to storytelling, an affinity for society’s youthful fringe, and a firm grounding in a particular place, Clerks drives deeper into that elusive sense of the “real” by discarding any pretensions of cinematic artistry. Smith has no illusions of making his film look like Hollywood product, opting instead for handheld shakiness or tripod rigidity that belies the fact that he actually went to film school. Linklater’s film, for all its outsider-ness, still revels in impressive tracking shots and aesthetic coordination that rival the best moves in a Kubrick film.
Smith, on the other hand, has language. Dialogue. Talking. What he lacks in visual composure, he more than makes up for in what comes out of his characters’ mouths. The ostensible story revolves around a day in the life of Dante (Brian O’Halloran), an unmotivated college dropout who works the counter at the corner Quick Stop. “Work,” of course, is a somewhat subjective term given that he spends much of his day talking with his best friend Randal (Jeff Anderson), who works at the pathetic video store next door, and his girlfriend Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti), who is eager for him to make something more of his life. He has few qualms about shutting down the store to play a street hockey game on the roof or attend the wake of someone he knew, although much of his energy is directed toward anxiety about the fact that his ex-girlfriend Caitlin (Lisa Spoonhauer), for whom he still carries a torch, is engaged to an “Asian design major.” And if that isn’t enough distraction, there are always the customers, who range from an exceedingly vocal anti-smoking campaigner with a hidden agenda (Scott Schiaffo), to a man obsessed with finding a “perfect” dozen eggs (Walter Flanagan), to an elderly gent who politely requests to use the bathroom and then returns to borrow a porn magazine (Al Berkowitz).
None of this adds up to anything substantial beyond its own inherent humor, but that is precisely the point. Classical Hollywood narrative, even in its most shallow form, typically insists that films be “about something.” Smith resists this at every turn, insisting that Clerks is just a collection of go-nowhere scenes that illustrate what he finds amusing or troubling (what is particularly interesting about the film is the way it foreshadows themes in his later films, particularly sexual hang-ups and the complexities of hetero-manlove). Smith stations himself just outside the convenience store in the guise of Silent Bob, who along with best bud, the nonstop-gabbing Jay (Jason Mewes), would become the literal posterboys of Smith’s cinematic endeavors, having now appeared in six films over more than a decade. Yet, despite (or perhaps because of) its credit-card-charged minimalism (which amusingly involves actors playing multiple roles, including producer Scott Mosier, who pulled triple duty as actor, producer, and sound recorder), Clerks continues to exert its presence, not only as the originating moment of Smith’s ever-expanding View Askewniverse, but as an exemplar of what can happen when the stars align and someone’s home movie can help foment a revolution.
|Clerks 15th Anniversary Blu-Ray|
|Clerks is available either as a separate Blu-Ray (SRP $39.99) or as part of the three-disc “Kevin Smith: 3-Movie Collection” Blu-Ray box set (SRP $89.99), which also includes Chasing Amy (1997) and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001).|
|Audio||English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround|
|SRP||$39.99 (Blu-Ray) / $89.99 (box set)|
|Release Date||November 17, 2009|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Like the 10th anniversary DVD edition, this new Blu-Ray edition of Clerks contains two versions of the film: the theatrical release and the “first cut,” which is about 10 minutes longer and features a much rougher soundtrack. I’m not sure the source of the transfer for the theatrical cut, but let’s face it: Clerks is never going to look very good. However, what I can say about the new high-definition 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is that it brings us closer than we’ve ever been to seeing what the film must look like in its original 16mm incarnation. The transfer captures the grain structure and high contrast of the original celluloid, giving it an impressive filmlike appearance that also maintains as much detail as possible. The image is also quite clean, suggesting that the transfer was taken from a good print. The “first cut” is also presented in high-definition, but the transfer was taken from an S-VHS tape, which means that it looks pretty awful, at times bordering on unwatchable. Nevertheless, that is the only source for this version of the film, so fans will still be happy to have access to it. The original soundtrack has been remastered in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround, which means that it sounds as good as it ever will. The soundtrack is one thing that Miramax poured some money into before releasing the film theatrically, particularly the addition of a number of grunge rock songs that sound quite good spread across the six-channel mix. The dialogue and most of the ambient sound effects are still fairly front-heavy, but that is to be expected.|
|The vast majority of the supplements will be familiar to those of you who purchased the 10th anniversary three-disc DVD set because, well, they’re pretty much exactly the same. However, there is one major new addition that is somewhat strange: “Oh, What A Lovely Tea Party: The Making of Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back.” As Kevin Smith explains in a new introduction, he insisted that the lengthy behind-the-scenes documentary be included on the Clerks disc (a) so that there would be something new in the supplements to justify yet another purchase of the film and (b) because Jay & Silent Bob has already been released on Blu-Ray and therefore the doc could not be included there. So, that is why the only new supplement on the Clerks Blu-Ray has nothing to do with Clerks. |
The rest of the supplements are all direct ports from the DVD with a few minor modifications. We get two audio commentaries, one for each version of the film. The commentary for the theatrical cut, recorded in 1995 during the production of Mallrats, features Smith, producer Scott Mosier, and actors Jason Mewes and Brian O’Halloran. The first cut audio commentary, recorded in 2004, features the same crew, but also adds actor Jeff Anderson, who was apparently left out of the 1995 commentary due to a falling out with Smith. To no one’s surprise, both commentaries are raucous affairs, with plenty of joking, laughing, and inappropriate comments interspersed with memories about the film’s production and reception. The Blu-Ray also includes an “Enhanced Playback Track,” which puts bits of trivia and quotes from the cast and crew on screen during the film.
Other supplements include “Clerks: The Lost Scene,” which gives us an animated version of the sequence inside the funeral home that Smith scripted, but never shot, and The Flying Car, a 2002 short film by Smith the features the return of Dante and Randal. In the “Clerks Restoration” featurette, Scott Mosier explains the history of the film’s various sound mixes and what he did to restore the mix for the 2004 DVD release. There are also roughly 18 minutes of MTV spots featuring Jay and Silent Bob, a theatrical trailer, Soul Asylum’s “Can’t Even Tell” music video, and video of the original auditions. One of the best supplements held over from the DVD is Snowball Effect: The Story of Clerks, a feature-length (90 min.) documentary the chronicles the film’s fascinating history (there is also a hefty selection of outtakes from the documentary). Another highlight is Mae Day: The Crumbling of a Documentary, a short film that marks Smith and Mosier’s first collaboration at Vancouver Film School. Finally, the disc includes a 42-minute question-and-answer session with a live audience of obsessive fans following a 10th-anniversayr screening of the film.
Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Miramax Films