Dusting Off... Clerks
What is it?
The debut film by director Kevin Smith (Dogma, Chasing Amy), Clerks is a low-budget independent film set entirely in and around a Quick Stop convenience store in Leonardo, New Jersey – the actual store where Smith was working at the time. Shot entirely in black and white and starring a collection of semi-professional actors and Smith’s friends – notably Jason Mewes – the film consists almost entirely of dialogue between the employees and their customers.
Quick Stop employee Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) is called in to work on his day off, where he spends most of his time complaining about everything from the customers to the fact that he’s “not even supposed to be here today”, as well as arguing with his friend Randall Graves (Jeff Anderson), an employee at the neighbouring RST Video store who spends most of his day hanging out at the Quick Stop and avoiding doing any kind of work.
Instead of having a particular ‘A to B’ storyline, it’s one of those day-in-the-life films where there’s no particular event or evolving narrative, rather the film is a series of conversations and events that happen in and around the store. These include a game of hocky on the roof, an unfortunate incident at a nearby funeral and an another incident where Dante’s girlfriend mistakenly has sex in the store’s darkened bathroom with someone she assumes to be Dante, but who turns out to be a guy who has suffered a fatal heart attack while masturbating in one of the cubicles.
The dialogue is crude but very, very funny, and the conversations cover a range of bizarre subjects and scenarios, including a conversation about the moral repercussions of destroying the second Death Star in Star Wars while innocent contractors were still working on it.
The film also features cameos from the director himself, who appears as one half of the stoner duo Jay and Silent Bob – recurring characters in Smith’s films – that spend all day hanging around outside the store selling marijuana and having conversations even more nonsensical than the ones taking place inside.
Why should I revisit?
Clerks was filmed, produced and edited on a very modest budget of $27,575, a sum that Smith raised by selling a large portion of his comic book collection and maxing out “eight to ten’” credit cards. While it’s probably not an approach that even Smith himself would recommend, by his own admission his naivety actually helped in many ways and by taking his film to independent film festivals in the U.S. he gained backing from legendary Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein - who was then head of Miramax – and a distribution deal. Eventually the film ended up winning a host of awards at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals, among others, and grossed over $3 million at the box office.
Even if you’re not a fan of this kind of film, if nothing else Clerks serves an inspiration to any aspiring filmmakers and it shows what is possible with limited funds and a lot of hard work and ambition.
Who will enjoy it?
Kevin Smith’s work does often polarise opinion, but even those who aren’t a fan of his later films do tend to enjoy Clerks, and if you’re a fan of films like Richard Linklater’s Slacker (which inspired the film) or Gavin Michael Booth’s Leaving Town (which was in turn inspired by Clerks), then this is well worth a look.