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How Clerks Made a Hat-Trick of Independent Film

“Duh dun. Duh dun. Salsa shark! We’re gonna need a bigger boat!” This was the first shot from the trailer I saw in 1994, the year Clerks was released. My one regret was I did not get to watch it on the big screen, and only later watched it on VHS. Only then did I truly discover its genius. It is not just a “laugh until you can’t breathe” comedy. It is not just one of those indie films your friend who thinks they’re a film critic says is a must-watch. Though I am reviewing this film, and I am here to tell you that it is one of the best comedies in the last 25 years, and what Kevin Smith and Clerks did for independent film and independent filmmakers is nothing short of extraordinary. He made a full-fledged, funny, memorable film for less than $30,000. Sure he maxed out some credit cards, but wouldn’t you to follow your dream? He made use of his friends, along with the area in which he grew up, and showcased the strengths of both so well that anyone living in the Tri-state area could see themselves (or not want to see themselves) in the characters. He pulled off a Hollywood hat-trick for an independent film: inexpensively made, completely marketable, and timely with timeless content.

Quick overview: The main characters of Dante and Randal, like a Gen X Laurel and Hardy—well, a Rated X, Gen X Laurel and Hardy—lead us on this day off gone awry. For those not familiar, Dante is a clerk at Quick Stop—the local convenience store—who wasn’t even supposed to be there today. After his boss calls him to come in for another employee who is sick, Randal, Dante’s best friend—who also works next door at RST Video—wrangles in to keep his buddy company even though he should be at the video store. What do you expect from someone who hates customers? We meet Dante’s girlfriend who has sucked 36 dicks…sorry, 37 counting Dante; Caitlin Bree, Dante’s ex-girlfriend who’s marrying an Asian design major; and Jay and Silent Bob (Smith himself), the two local drug dealers, whose perch is in front of RST. Can I just say that Mr. Smith gets extra props from me for making Jay quote Blue Velvet in their intro scene as well. We also meet various other characters throughout who are all hysterical versions of people you’d see in and around convenience stores. The lady going through and checking the milk dates is one I have seen on several occasions. I will also never think of the word ‘snowball’ and think fun childish winter game. Ever. Again. Dante’s day goes from bad to worse after learning another ex-girlfriend has died of an aneurysm while swimming in a pool.

I won’t give it away, but after closing the store to attend the wake, Dante wishes he left Randal behind. All is not lost completely though; he also closes the store to play his street hockey game on the roof. Although, the game is short-lived when a customer steals the only ball they had to play with and forces Dante to reopen the store. In the midst of all this chaos, Dante’s ex Caitlin has sex with someone who isn’t Dante in the bathroom, Dante gets fined for selling a 4-year-old kid a pack of cigarettes, which he didn’t sell, and he and Randal fight and pass the blame back and forth before Randal has one of the best monologues in the whole film. Although you want to dislike Randal, I think it is impossible given how much the performance by Jeff Anderson makes you forgive Randal’s shortcomings. For me, though, the best part is the ending where we finally get to hear Silent Bob speak. Just simply saying, “You know, there’s a million fine looking women in the world, dude. But they don’t all bring you lasagna at work. Most of ’em just cheat on you.” He brings Dante to a point of catharsis.

Interesting fact: that line was originally supposed to be spoken by Jason Mewes’ character, Jay. Due to some stage (or should I say film?) fright, Kevin decided to take on the line himself. Thus, Silent Bob’s wisdom and ways of the force was born. Dante makes up with Randal, realizes he loves Veronica, needs to see Caitlin to apologize, and needs to wise up. So, Quick Stop closes to see another day. End scene. I like this much better than the original ending, where a robber was supposed to come in during closing and shoot Dante dead. Although that would have gone along with the whole “I wasn’t even supposed to be here today” mantra throughout, it would have made too stark an ending to such a funny and memorable film. Now, that was just a brief flashback of the plot of the film, and there are tons of little vignettes and moments I missed, and I did so on purpose. Go watch it again. And then again, because you will see something different every time you watch it. It will definitely bring you back to a time when you first saw it. God, nostalgia is a powerful thing. Though, I am very glad I am not 16 anymore.

What makes me love Clerks 25 years later? The same things that made me love it all those years ago, but now with stories that have come out since its premiere to go along with it. Kevin Smith released Clerks X, a 10th anniversary special DVD, which had many interesting factoids about how Clerks was made, and how the story and Dante came to be. Kevin went to Vancouver Film School but dropped out due to mostly being “teachers showing us films” per an interview with Smith by Film School Rejects. He did meet his longtime producing partner, Scott Mosier, and his cinematographer, Dave Klein. One of my favorite fun facts is that the Death Star conversation between Randal and Dante was based on an actual conversation between Kevin and Scott while in film school. I also love this fact because a friend and I in high school had a similar conversation about Jaws. Everyone hated the Mayor because he wanted to keep the beaches open even though there was a man-eating shark on the loose along Amity’s beaches, but some businesses on the island make or break it during tourist season. What about those small businesses that need mainland money to stay open? Killer shark be damned! Forgive my naivete and lack of concern for Jaws’ snacks. I was 16 years old…cut me some slack.

Another fun factoid was the way in which Smith hid that fact that they could only film at night. In the first scene at Quick Stop, when Dante gets to work, he realizes that someone has jammed gum into the locks. So, since the sliding door cannot go up, the windows are always dark. Problem solved. Getting the use of Quick Stop was not a challenge since Smith himself worked there. A lot of Dante is based on Smith’s time as a clerk himself. Did you ever wonder how the dialogue was so timely and real? Who better to write how it was to be a clerk than someone who knew exactly how it was. That is even reflected in the soundtrack that accompanies the film, which is still one of my favorite movie soundtracks to date. I also love that Quick Stop still stands 25 years later. I love that when people stop to visit, they recognize it immediately; it makes you wonder about Dante, Randal, and Jay and Silent Bob, and Clerks lives on. Don’t yell at me. I am well aware that there is a Clerks II. I have seen that film as well and laughed my ass off. I am also anxiously awaiting the Jay and Silent Bob reboot titled, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.

A lot has changed for Kevin Smith in 25 years, but his first foray in film has stayed timeless. He has given many a filmmaker who did not think they could succeed, the desire, the dream, and the hope they need to see their little idea possibly come to big fruition. The desire to go all in and not look back, with a little help from your friends and an extensive credit limit, proves you too can produce a film that people may like. They may hate it too, but that has not stopped Smith from continuing on with his dream of writing, producing, and directing. So maybe the cost of cigarettes is not the same as it was in 1994, but I bet if you walk into any convenience store now you’ll see that guidance counselor sitting on the floor, looking for that perfect carton of eggs. We have a man named Kevin Smith and a little film called Clerks to thank for that.

Written by J.C. Hotchkiss

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