A Review By Ethan Dunlap
It's hard to put into words exactly what impact Kevin Smith's Clerks had on modern cinema. Often cited as one of the greatest independent movies ever made, it was a film that inspired countless anorexic cinephiles with far too many logo tees and a bad curtains haircut (namely, the one writing this article) to have the epiphany, "Holy shit...I could make a movie". Sure, Robert Rodriquez's El Mariachi did the same thing before this film, and with arguably greater effect (being made for only $7,000); but I saw Clerks first, so fuck you.
Smith, a distinguished member of the grand era known as Generation X, had no ties to filmmaking. He knew absolutely no one involved in the business. Hell, he didn't grow up anywhere near California; nay, he hails from the Cradle of Civilization known only as "New Jersey" (East Coast represent). But, in what turned out to a fortuitous epiphany, he said "Fuck it, I'll make a movie anyway". And he did.
Clerks was filmed in 21 straight days, on a microscopic budget of $27,575; funds which Smith raised by selling his comic book collection, maxing out ten credit cards, dipping into college funds, and probably some unsavory sexual deeds that Smith has joked about in his famous Q&A specials.
|"You won't believe the shit I did to Mewes' ass."|
It's kind of like if a Moldy Peaches album was transformed into a film (by black magic and heresy, I suspect); the definition of low-budget entertainment. The acting is high-school-drama-club level quality (except for Jeff Anderson and Brian O'Halloran, but more on that later), the cast mostly comprises of Smith's friends and family members (his close friend Walt Flanagan plays 4 roles), and almost 100% of the movie is set in the convenience store. So, what makes Clerks work so well? What makes it the endearing, critically praised cult classic that it's been for the past 20 years?
A big factor is the screenplay. A big, delicious, throbbing factor. Kevin Smith has gone on record many times that he considers himself a writer first, and a director second. While he has fine directorial talent, I have to agree with him on this; Kevin Smith is a good director, but more importantly, he is an excellent writer. His dialogue has a charm and likeability to it that lends to a great viewing experience; it turns an average day-in-the-life comedy into an endlessly entertaining series of conversations, wherein the characters wax rhapsodic on topics ranging from the subtext of Return of the Jedi, how much a "jizz-mopper" makes, the worthlessness of high school guidance counselors, and the pros and cons of self-fellatio. This was one of the first times in an American comedy where the characters had conversations that felt real; shit, most of the dialogue in the movie sounds like conversations I've had with my friends over the years.
What also adds to the charm of the film is the two leads. Dante Hicks (played by Brian O'Halloran) and Randal Graves (portrayed with perfection by Jeff Anderson) are both insanely likeable characters, with two different and realistic personalities; they're two friends who compliment each other perfectly. Two halves of a whole; Dante being the frustrated 20-something experiencing an existential crisis, and Randal being the easy-going slacker with little to no ambition. Together, they form a clear picture of the slacker generation. A picture, at the time, that needed to be seen.
Is Clerks the most well-made movie of all time? Of course not, I could name 30 films off the top of my head that are more technically proficient. But what this movie has over countless others is pure heart; more heart than a Captain Planet Christmas special. This was Kevin Smith writing about what it felt like to be 20 years old, aimlessly searching for purpose in the desolate wastelands of early adulthood.
|So kind of like The Road Warrior with less leather and more salsa sharks.|