“I’m not even supposed to be here today!”
These are the words lamented by Dante Hicks as he woefully works the counter of the Quick Stop in Leonardo, New Jersey in the classic 1994 Kevin Smith flick “Clerks”. Filmed on a self-raised budget of $27,575 and filmed at night in the same convenience store Smith worked in by day, the film sold after the 1994 Sundance film festival for approximately $230,000 to Miramax Films–launching Smith’s career. The film also launched what Smith’s fans refer to as the View Akewniverse, the home of many of Smith’s greatest characters, including stoners Jay and Silent Bob.
The film opens in the home of Dante Hicks, a 22 year old clerk brilliantly played by Brian O’Halloran being called into work on his day off to cover for a sick co-worker despite the fact he had previous plans to play hockey with a group of his friends. Anyone who has ever worked retail knows how true this sentiment is. From there the film sees Dante arrive at the store only to discover someone has jammed gum in one of the locks on the shutters covering the windows in the front of the Quick Stop. Dante remedies this issue by creating a giant sign made of cloth and shoe polish reading “I ASSURE YOU WE’RE OPEN”. Incidentally this little plot point exists solely due to the nature of the production–filming at night with giant windows flush behind the main set piece would serve as a dead giveaway the film wasn’t shot during the day.
Dante’s morning quickly goes from bad to worse when a gentleman comes into the store to purchase a coffee and asks if he can drink it by the register. Almost immediately a man shows up to buy a pack of cigarettes, sending the man with the coffee into action, urging the man to instead buy a pack of Chewlie’s Gum. The man quickly builds up a small mob in the little New Jersey store who dub Dante a cancer merchant and pelt him with cigarettes, leaving Dante to be saved by his girlfriend Veronica, who reveals the man to be a Chewlie’s Gum representitive. The two retire to behind the counter while Dante leaves some money on the counter for customers to use as a self-sevice line–honesty through paranoia. As the two lovers sit behind the counter and talk the conversation turns to sex which plays out interesting for both parties: Dante trivializes Veronica’s role in their sex life and she reveals she’s gone down on 37 guys.
After that little crick in Dante’s day we are introduced to his best friend Randal Graves, who works at the adjacent RST Video and is based on Smith’s real life friend Bryan Johnson (of AMC’s Comic Book Men). The two friends are clearly from opposite ends of the spectrum–Dante cares enough about his job to kiss a little ass and do what’s needed to hang on to his job while Randal visibly could care less: showing up late, getting mouthy with customers, and reading a list of…suggestive adult videos…in front of a woman with small child present. Their day continues to get even more interesting as they have a philosophical discussion about the destruction of the second (incomplete) Death Star (and the potential death of any contractors who were building it at the time; the hockey game that Dante was so supposed to partake in takes place on the roof and the pair of friends ditch work for a few hours to crash a funeral for one of Dante’s ex-girlfriends. Also involved in Dante’s day is the news that his ex-girlfriend Caitlin Bree is engaged to an Asian Design Major and her subsequent return into his life. Dante still carries a candle for Caitlin even though she cheated on him eight and a half times (don’t ask).
Do you believe in karma? I do and apparently so does Mr. Smith. Caitlin and Dante decide to go out on a date for old times sake in hope of rekindling their love and Caitlin arrives at the Quick Stop before their date. She goes into the restroom (which is dark as the lights stop working at 5:14PM every night) and thinks that Dante is waiting for her. What she doesn’t realize is earlier in the day an older gentleman had gone into the restroom with a dirty magazine, and he never came out. That’s right: Caitlin Bree has sex with a dead man and she doesn’t even realize it. The rest of the film plays around with the relationship between Dante and Randal along with some of the strains on their friendship when Randal reveals some information he shouldn’t have to Veronica. All the while Jay and Silent Bob are an ambient presence hang out in front of the store dancing, dealing, and trying to pick up women.
At first glance “Clerks” appears to be little more than a low budget, black and white film filled with over 90 minutes of sex jokes. To those that take the time to sit and watch the journey that is “Clerks” you find it is a lot more. The film is a deep look at the life of a convenience store clerk–one who’s too comfortable with where his life is at as well as that of his co-worker and best friend. The characters of Dante and Randal represent a real group of people that exist in all the little crevices of the world.
Despite being a cast of relatively unknown actors the cast manages to give a stellar performance. Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson lead the cast as Dante and Randall, the films troubled stars. Marilyn Ghigliotti takes up the task of breathing life into Veronica while Lisa Spoonhauer is the moral lacking Caitlin Bree. Scott Mosier and Walt Flanagan, friends of Smith, load the film up with awesome cameo appearances through out. Rounding off the cast is director/writer Kevin Smith and his buddy Jason Mewes as Jay.
The film was shot entirely in black and white on 16mm film to minimize the cost of production and once the film was bought by Miramax the film was blown up to 35mm for showing in theaters. Even today, almost 20 years later on the Blu Ray edition of the film, the movie looks as beautiful as is physically possible, given the source material and is absolutely stunning to watch. The dialogue holds up surprisingly well but this should be expected as the basic framework of the male mind hasn’t changed between the beginning of Smith’s career and now–food and sex still dominate.
In my opinion this film has held up quite well in the last 20 years and will be a film that sticks around for generations to come.
Director Jason Reitman has stated that this film helped influence him to become a director, an ironic fact, considering that Jason’s father is none other than “Ghostbusters” director Ivan Reitman. He’s not alone, though. The history behind “Clerks” inspired a generation of filmmakers by showing that with the right mindset anyone can make a movie. No one said it would be easy but it’s totally within your grasp. Kevin Smith continues to send that message to fans today during many of his podcasts, only now the message is all encompassing. The short version is: we live in a world where the tools needed to create content are within the grasp of the average Joe. With the appropriate amount of passion there’s no reason not to create your content and put it out into the world. The legacy of Kevin Smith even inspires us here at Legend of Geek, with site founder Matthew stating that “Clerks” is “a film that has inspired generations of content creators”.
Movie goers have also spoken with their wallets as the film continues to be a successful seller on home mediums and has continued to spawn an ever growing universe, as Kevin Smith loves to revisit the world of his greatest creation from time to time. The film has ties to numerous other films including “Mallrats”, “Chasing Amy”, “Dogma”, “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”, “Clerks II”. and the upcoming, ever-delayed “Clerks III”.
In short, what started as the dream of a young boy in Jersey eventually grew into something that lasted a lifetime. It’s not everyday a film like “Clerks” comes along but when it does it’s something special.