When discussing American independent cinema, two films immediately come to mind. They inspired a whole generation of filmmakers and continue to do so. They are continually referenced by people from all walks of life, from teenage stoners to film scholars. They are both miles apart in finesse yet share the exact same passion for their craft. One was shot for $8 million, the other $27 000. Forget Pulp Fiction, we’re here to talk Clerks.
1. “I’m not even supposed to be here today!”
Introduced via title card, Dante is the epitome of the early twenties male – working a dead-end job, disappointed in life and blaming the stagnation on his girlfriend. It’s a scenario that every single last one of us can relate to (even the uber rich, if Bret Easton Ellis novels are to be believed) and coming from a background in retail, it’s a hell that’s too familiar. He is approaching the cusp of a new stage in life and is willingly letting others board that bus due to a myriad of reasons – no confidence, no money, no support et al. And he’s forced head-first into the coal fire of life via his best (and only) friend …
2. “Bunch of savages in this town.”
… the dickest of dicks – Randall. The first great Kevin Smith character. He exploits Dante’s niceness to various degrees and completely without remorse. What made him so great despite this was his humanity in wanting to help Dante. And, most importantly, he was absolutely hilarious in the process (the porn video order scene!).
3. The dialogue
There’s nary a dull exchange in the entire film. From the Chewlie’s gum salesman discussing the harm of smoking to the old man requesting a multitude of items to take with him to the crapper to the very tender, sombre moment of the film when Silent Bob puts everything into perspective for Dante – “You know, there’s a million fine looking women in the world, dude. But they don’t all bring you lasagne at work. Most of ‘em just cheat on you.”
But the best? Dante: “My girlfriend sucked 37 dicks!” Customer (producer Scott Mosier): “In a row?”
4. Jay & Silent Bob
They are two of the most recognised characters in all of film and they can’t exist without the other. For all of Jay’s weed-inspired conversations and complete inability to stand still for one second, Silent Bob is the zen yang to his frantic ying. These characters were so great that Kevin Smith couldn’t resist with not putting them in the plethora of ‘Askew-niverse’ films that would follow.
5. The passion and care that underlies each frame
Shot on the cheap after Smith sold his comic book collection and maxed out credit cards, the film’s appearance resembles the desperate origins from where it came from. He was risking a life of financial ruin in exchange for having a long reel of film featuring the store he worked for. This is the most important factor about Clerks that is missing from a ton of big budget films – for all the amateur acting and ugly lighting the film has so much heart and soul that one can easily overlook it. Smith captured the zeitgeist of a the 90s generation with the all-important shop clerk, and it’s never been surpassed. You can’t buy that with money.
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire