Cinophile: Clerks

4 min read
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Today Kevin Smith remains a god or has been cast as a has-been, depending on who you talk to. The director crashed into the movie world with a flurry of slacker-minded, geek-infused, slice-of-life films like Chasing Amy and Mallrats, following with irreverent jewels like Dogma. But for many his magnum opus was also his low-budget debut, Clerks.

Dante is a store clerk in New Jersey, depressed with life and looking for a quick fix out of his rut. Forced to work on his morning off, he also has a fight with his girlfriend and starts pondering hooking up with the ex that left him broken a few months before. Fortunately he has the company of Randall, the completely antagonistic clerk from the video store next door.

Meanwhile life goes on around the store and Clerks rotates through a colourful cast of extras, most patrons of the shop.The most (in)famous of these are Jay and Silent Bob, who would appear in several of Smith’s movies. They are joined by Grisly, the man who likes a ‘snowball’, a Russian death metal singer, an over-zealous chewing gum rep and an assortment of other oddballs. The motley crew of characters often serve as clients and many jokes revolve around their interactions with the clerks. This film is worth seeing if only for Randall’s relentless torment of his so-called clients and the constant activity around drug-peddling Jay and Silent Bob.

It is hard to explain what makes Clerks such a great movie. It is certainly a sum of its parts: the ultra-low, low, low budget meant the film was shot in black and white, with limited sets and performances that at times feel very spontaneous.

All of this works in its favour – one reason why the sequel is not remotely as good as this classic. The gritty style of the film also makes it feel more ‘real’, which in turn cast the absurd characters as even more relatable. While you may never act like Randall or Jay, you’ll definitely wish you could. There is something empowering about the brutal honesty of Clerks‘ characters.

Clerks is that rare occurrence in film where a comedy is both completely wacked and yet still goes very deep – all without the audience noticing. While he made other great films, Smith never reached this level of genius again. For that matter, no other director has either. Clerks is unique and cannot be replicated, only imitated. If you only watch one film from the 90s…

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Kevin Smith secured most of his budget by borrowing money, maxing out his credit cards and selling his extensive comic book collection. To keep things cheap, Clerks was shot in the same convenience store Smith worked in – the reason why the store shutters are closed in the film is because most of it was shot at night. Other cost-cutting measures included the repeat use of his friends and family as arbitrary characters: one friend played several roles, mainly because he was already on-set and would step into roles when an actor flaked. Money is also the reason why the film was shot in black and white.
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The movie was the debut of Kevin Smith’s most popular characters, Jay and Silent Bob. The duo has appeared in a total of seven of Smith’s films, including two which they headlined. Though Smith portrays Silent Bob, in reality he inspired the character of Dante. Jason Mewes, who plays the notoriously foul-mouthed Jay, is actually very camera shy and some of his scenes were filmed with the crew waiting in another room. The only line that Silent Bob says, near the end of the movie, was also supposed to be by Jay – but for some reason Mewes could not deliver the line properly, so Smith said it instead.
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Clerks is said to be loosely based on the Divine Comedy – more popularly known today by the name of its first act: Dante’s Inferno. The 14th century Italian epic poem was written by Dante Alighieri and chronicles a man at a low point in his life walk through three netherworlds in order to achieve understanding and salvation. Dante happens to also be the name of Clerks‘ main character and the movie is divided into nine parts, a number that is used several times in the poem.

Best Scene: Any scene where Randal has to interact with a video store customer…

Best Line: “37! My girlfriend sucked 37 dicks!” “In a row?”

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: May 12, 2014

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

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