Anyone considering themselves a part of Generation X has seen or at least heard about ?Clerks?, the outrageous film debut of Kevin Smith. I say anyone who ?considers? because Generation X isn?t so much a group as it is a state of mind. Kevin Smith understood that fact better than possibly anyone else on the independent scene in the mid-nineties, and ?Clerks? hit home with the average blue-collar retail worker in a way that was almost visceral. My first exposure to the subculture that became Smith flicks was the film ?Mallrats?. It was only until much later that I discovered that the movie I had fallen in love with was actually a prequel to the more widely praised ?Clerks?. The latter is a film that relishes in its vulgarity and exploits its offensiveness with callous flamboyance. While that quality may herald the death knell for some films, it somehow serves a movie like Smith?s debut that, at its core, actually does have a heart of sorts. It?s its quiet, subtle insight into the apathetic, disillusioned youth caught between a dead-end existence and a mountain of responsibility that solidified its place in independent film culture. And it?s that insight that sets it apart from the likes of Smith?s most recent films that seem to relish in pandering to the lowest common denominator.
?Clerks? is a film based around intelligent humor disguised as a trite, vulgar farce. It may say tactless, offensive things, but it does it with such flare and style that the means are overshadowed by the result. Here?s a film that talks about (and celebrates) juvenile behavior and rebelliousness, but drapes a veil of well-versed vocabulary over the proceedings to take our guard down. It?s a winning combination of twisted humor and the writing talent required to mask it with language that keeps ?Clerks? from succumbing to the usual stereotypes of the angst sub-genre. And it?s also what speaks to so many people and keeps us coming back for more. There?s a feeling while watching the film that it?s okay to indulge in the low brow so long as you aren?t being talked down to in the process. And while it the movie was filmed in black and white for budgetary reasons back in 1993, the end result only serves to emphasize the picture?s unlikely artistic undercurrents. Now, I don?t want to give anyone the impression that this is a tasteful film, because, as all Smith minions know, such a statement would be a stretch at best and a flat out lie at worst. Still, there?s much to admire in the film beyond the dick and fart jokes that are lavished so excessively upon Smith?s more recent work.
The story, such as it is, revolves around two, well, clerks on one day in New Jersey. The two friends are Dante and Randall and run Quick Stop Grocery and RST Video respectively. Throughout the day, the two engage in numerous verbal jousts, spanning such irreverent subjects as ?Star Wars?, hockey, relationships, sex, and annoying customers (without whom their jobs would be infinitely more bearable). A pair of dysfunctional hoodlums named Jay and Silent Bob deal drugs in front of their store, much to the malign of the far more responsible Dante. Naturally, the film goes a little beyond out of control, and so many chaotic things happen throughout the workday that eventually you forget that the film has any basis in reality. But what makes ?Clerks? work so well is that, as anyone who?s ever worked retail jobs in their life unfortunately knows, such things do happen. And they happen frequently, even as you lose your sanity and tolerance for the conforming masses that grace your establishment. This film works because it?s just too crazy to be fiction, too raunchy to be Hollywood, and too damned fed up to care either way. It?s a time capsule for distant futures where convenience stores are but an eccentricity of the past ? a curiosity of a generation who never thought to label themselves with a suffix. We should all be so lucky.
Video: How does it look?
Let’s face it, “Clerks” will never look or even compare to some of the newer films out there in terms of image quality. The movie was shot on a scant budget essentially on 8MM tape. The image will always look dark and grainy, I don’t care if it’s in HD or not. Now I will say that this is the best that the film has ever looked, mainly because some of the grain is gone and the image does appear a bit sharper. Fans of the film will know what they’re getting into when they pop this in the player, so I don’t think I need to explain it any further. I simply cannot imagine this movie being shown in color though and the black and white does give way for a bit better contrast throughout.
Audio: How does it sound?
Again, like the video, even the DTS HD Master Audio track can’t really compare to some others out there. Then again, it’s not supposed to. To say that this movie is dialogue-driven is somewhat of an understatement as most of the movie is talking, talking and more talking. But that’s the appeal of the film and it’s never going to change. There were a few surround effects that made their presence known, but not that often. The soundtrack is good and the Soul Asylum song does sound better than expected. But, like the video, this is the best this film has ever sounded so kudos for that.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Five years ago, “Clerks X” came to DVD which was the definitive edition of the film to date. This Blu-ray contains everything that was on that disc, plus a few other things “exclusive” to this disc. First up is an introduction by Kevin Smith. Let’s accept it, this is his baby and without “Clerks”, he might be working at a Quick Stop himself. The other Blu-ray exclusive is “Oh What a Lovely Tea Party”, which is “The Making of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.” I think this would be better-suited for the “Jay and Silent Bob” disc, but maybe it was more cost effective to just put it on this disc as opposed to go and rehash the “Jay and Silent Bob…” disc. There are two versions of the film and both versions come complete with their own audio commentary (the one attached to the theatrical version is the same one currently available on the single disc variety and the extended version contains an all-new video commentary with members of the cast ? accessible by toggling between angles on your player). Both commentaries are funny and engaging, although I have to give the edge to the original, as it has more information on the technical aspects of filming and less banter between the participants (which tends to wear thin after a while). The ?Final Cut? version of ?Clerks? is presented in full-frame from am SVHS source, so don?t expect the presentation to be up to par with the theatrical version (or anywhere close for that matter). There?s also an animated ?Lost Scene? extra that some of you more zealous fans out there may recognize as a direct lift from the Clerks comic of same name back a few years ago. ?The Flying Car? is a short featuring Randall and Dante in a traffic jamb engaged in their usual, hysterical antics. The Soul Asylum music video is also present and I think that’s one of the supplements that’s been on every incarnation of this film, MTV TV spots, restoration intros, the original theatrical trailers, audition footage, and a trivia subtitle option (ala the Star Trek Collector?s Editions). Disc three houses the bulk of the extras, the crown jewel of which being ?The Snowball Effect?, a 90-minute documentary chronicling the making of the film. The documentary is one of the best out there, detailing the production from impetus right up through post-production. It?s a terrific piece worth the price of this set alone. ?Mae Day: The Crumbling of a Documentary?, Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier?s first eccentric foray into student filmmaking. There’s also a Q&A session with Kevin Smith, still photo galleries, original journals from the director, and a plethora of critical reviews of the film upon its initial release. Now, five years later, if you want the most definitive edition of “Clerks”, this is it.