In this post, Emily and I talk about a film that has left a deep mark on our viewing habits and professional aspirations. Indeed, Kevin Smith’s Clerks leaves much to think about. A film about convenience store and video rental clerks working in a corner of New Jersey during the early 1990s, Smith’s film follows the two main characters during over one very eventful day. It was shot completely in black and white. The film was written and directed by Kevin Smith and edited by Scott Mosier and Kevin Smith.
What was your first experience of Clerks?
Paul: My first experience of Clerks was actually from a film magazine. I don’t remember how I got the magazine, but it had a disk with it that featured a top 10 list of comedy films. Instead of trailers for Clerks however, they had on a few scenes from the film. Those scenes were enough to get me interested in the film. It wasn’t until a few years later that I had actually found a copy of the film to buy. When I first watched it, I liked it – even though I didn’t really get all of the subtitles in the film (hey, I was still around 14 at the time). Subsequent viewings reinforced my perception that the character I identify with most is Dante – which is both horrifying and comforting.
Emily: Paul B. It’s one of the first films we watched together after we started going out. I loved it from my first viewing. The dark humour and jabs at early 90s society. Heaven. Though I’d say that other than having the internet, not much has changed since when the film was first made, which should horrify social policy makers the world over.
Kevin Smith is famous for his path to Hollywood. Ever thought about doing something similar?
Paul: Kevin Smith dropped out of film school and maxed out his credit cards to make Clerks. It was a make or break situation – double or nothing. I’m far too sensible to do anything like that, and I doubt it would work today. The film industry is (as far as I can tell) oversubscribed with already brilliantly talented people. I would love to make a feature film, and I’d love to enter it into a film festival, but there’s no way I would ever max out credit cards to do it. Although after finishing a film degree – in the UK at least, it racked up student loans for skills that is best used in London or another country. Even though I loved the practical side of filmmaking, and generally yearn to do more, I can safely say that it probably didn’t help me that much.
Emily: I’ve thought of making a film on a small to non-existent budget. And as the cow of crowdfunding reaches its final pull, you may have to go the borrow money from banks and friends route that Smith is reported to have taken.
Dante and Randal – are they realistic?
Paul: I think Dante and Randal are very realistic. Both characters seem to have glaring flaws, and as someone who works in retail, I sympathise a lot with the characters. While I don’t know anyone who would quite do what Randal would do, I think his general attitude towards life is something that echoes within a lot of people. Though both Dante and Randal are very articulate, their character produces a friendship which is both strained and realistic. I’ve known quite a few people that are intelligent that often hold different perspectives – even if I don’t agree with them.
Emily: Dante and Randal are frighteningly realistic. There’s still this perception in society that if you work in something like retail that you’re not intelligent and just there because that’s all you’re capable of doing. There are Dantes and Randals all over the world, waiting to discuss the intricacies of niche pornographic interests and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
Do you think Smith’s humour comes out well in Clerks?
Paul: Smith himself describes his humour as dick and fart jokes. While there are some gags like that, I do think he plays them better than the average joke. The classic 37 dicks joke is such an example – the build up, the climax (ahem) and last word are all very well done. At least he had an interesting point to make with all of this as well, and more than just “these guys don’t care”. These characters aren’t struggling to get something or somewhere. The film ends up a realisation of where they are and what they do in life – and with a general uplifting feeling. No wonder it’s a crowd pleaser – it has the catharsis of Hollywood and the intelligence of an independent production.
Emily: I think what Smith believed was his sense of humour at that age comes through, but he’s doing himself a disservice. It’s not all dick and fart jokes. They’re there, but the humour comes from everyone watching Dante slowly turning his life into a car wreck of an existence. We’re all screaming, “Don’t go there!” and he does, again and again.
Do the drugs references put you off at all?
Paul: To be honest, I think they may have initially, but I don’t really think they matter that much. I get the references to drugs, despite not having partaken in any. Besides, in Clerks there’s not that many references, especially when you consider stoner films that have come out since – Harold and Kumar, Get High, etc… And also not to mention the casual references to weed in so many things since, including Transformers. With modern films, it’s just not that big of a deal.
Emily: Sometimes the references put me off when I rewatch the film. Knowing what I know now about Jason Mewes’ (Jay in the film) struggles with substance abuse in real life it perhaps hits a little too close to reality these days.
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