No 361 - Clerks
Director - Kevin Smith
I wish to begin with a little dash of cinematic blasphemy. The first time I watched Clerks I was massively underwhelmed, and the sappy loser in me still believes that Chasing Amy is the best film in the View Askewniverse.
I went back to Clerks with an open mind - perhaps I would enjoy it now that I am older and allegedly wiser. Whilst it is very funny, I still do not think it is as funny as other people make out. However there is a lot in it that I do really enjoy.
What I love is the down and dirty feel of the film. Yest the dialogue is crude. But the film is visually crude too, distorted and grainy black and white. It looks fabulously when well used. See Pi as another classic example. But also see the brilliant opening scene to Clerks II in order to see a great play on that visual style.
The visual style of the film is simple and follows an equally simple 'plot' (of sorts).
The film follows two clerks in two shops (the clue is in the name). Dante, our protagonist works at the Quick Stop general store and is one of the most annoyingly pessimistic, lazy and petty people I've ever seen.
The film follows his day as he is at work on his day off (a fact we are constantly reminded of by the film's catchphrase of 'I'm not even supposed to be here today') as he interacts with his customers and with Randal, the clerk at the video store next door.
Whilst Dante represses his rage and therefore fills himself with negativity and doubt, Randal relishes in his hate of his fellow man. He spends all of his screen time provoking, baiting and insulting the customers at both his store and Dante's. The problem is that although Randal is very funny, neither of them are likable in any way, in Smith's later films he includes people for the viewer to relate to so that amongst the freaks, the weirdos and the raging madmen, there is an anchor for the viewer to tether themselves to. In this film we have a whining apathetic indecisive bastard who doesn't deserve to be caught in the love triangle he's put himself into and Randal, the most aggressively bad mouthed and cruel person imaginable. I don't really want to follow either of them as a protagonist. I even find Jason Mewes' Jay to be too outwardly aggressive in this film, preferring the softer 'cartoon' he becomes in later films. On a quick tangent. I haven't seen the animated series of Clerks, I'm sure this builds a lot on the characters and their roles in the View Askewniverse and might be worth watching. It may alter my view of the film completely.
Now... I know that that sounds like quite a negative start to this blog, but there are some aspects to the film that I really like. Mainly some of the writing and the scenarios and the customers. The customers in Quickstop are 90% insane but give Kevin Smith some excellent moments. What I like is that each moment seems very mundane but rapidly escalates into something Particular highlights include:
The customer who carries around a diseased lung and explains to anyone buying cigarettes how they are slowly killing themselves, how they can occupy there mouths with healthier alternatives - like chewing gum. The scene is a wonderful scene of victimisation as the customer whips the cigarettes buyers into a frenzy of rage directed wholly at Dante as a merchant of death, only for it to be revealed that the customer works for a gum company and is using the frenzy to improve sales.
These little scenes have fantastic punchlines and show Kevin Smith's skill as a writer - setting up the situation, letting it get utterly preposterous before the rug is pulled away from the viewer with the final punchline. As is Kevin Smith's reverence, love and dissection of Star Wars, discussing the political ties of tradesmen.
Hell - the film is worth watching just for the "Fucking a Dead Person" routine.
The problem is that, although the film has a fair share of excellent comic moments, the overall film feels uninteresting. Particularly Dante's love triangle. His outrage to his girlfriend's blow job admission is hilarious and petty but his obsession with his ex girlfriend gets increasingly tiring throughout the film. Now... I'm not saying Caitlin isn't attractive. Lisa Spoonhaur is very pretty (besides her atrocious 90s fashion sense) but Dante's obsession with her is so immature and is only rectified when Caitlin pretty much falls into catatonic shock.
Hell he is so rubbish that Jay and Silent Bob have to give him romantic advice. Jay's monologue is long, crude and rambling but is concisely summarised by Silent Bob. Kevin Smith (as always) giving himself the best and wisest line in the whole film:
You know, there's a million fine looking women in the world, dude. But they don't all bring you lasagna at work. Most of 'em just cheat on you.
Which pretty much sums it up...