“Clerks” wasn’t my own entry point into the View Askewniverse, way back when. I’ll get to that later in the series, but I came to it later – and it was even later that I came to understand how incredible the film’s creation was. The story of “Clerks” is a story of passion, determination, risk and belief. Well, the story of how the film came to be made is. The story of “Clerks” the film is one day, nothing happens. And in nothing happening, there’s everything that life is made of to be found.
Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) isn’t even meant to be here today, but here he is, covering the shift of a sick colleague in the Quick Stop. It’s a shift which will eventually extend to closing time meanwhile life is passing Dante by, and occasionally dropping in, in the shape of assorted weird and whacky customers, his girlfriend, his ex and, of course, his best friend Randal (Jeff Anderson) and a series of acquaintances. Many films indulge in characters shooting the shit with each other. “Clerks” shoots the shit with a Gatling cannon.
Everybody has, at one time or another, thought that the conversations they have with their friends would make a great podcast or blog or whatever. So, back in the early nineties, did Kevin Smith and he was right. Nothing is off-limits in an ongoing, rambling conversation which covers everything from sex, movies, work (and ways to avoid it) to lifetime ambitions but it’s in Smith’s uniquely raw and unflinchingly honest ear for dialogue that elevates the entire film beyond its indie roots to something really special.
Crude, profane, breathtakingly funny and shocking in equal measure, it’s the authenticity of the experience it captures that gives “Clerks” its deserved cult status, a status that saw it inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, who deemed it ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’.
What’s funny, in coming to “Clerks” after having seen other Kevin Smith movies is how unassuming the debut of Jay and Silent Bob are – there’s scarcely any hint of their lynchpin-like destiny within the nascent View Askewniverse. Their drug-dealing debut may seem inauspicious, but it sets the foundations for the increasingly endearing characters they’ll become.
Smith has always been something of a divisive director, especially as his career has progressed, but for those who are tuned into his particular skewed take on the world around us and not turned off by the riffing and referencing of his favourite movies (the previously mentioned Star Wars, as well as Jaws and Indiana Jones), the filthy and unfiltered conversations about the mundane and the taboo (“Clerks” breezes through the likes of “snowballing”, necrophilia and copious amounts of pornography), there’s a deceptively solid philosophical underpinning to all the dick and fart jokes.
“Clerks” is an astonishing, idiosyncratic and hilarious debut from one of the most interesting American film directors around in the 90s and, thankfully, still around today.