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Clerks
USA 1994
Directed by Kevin Smith
Running time 89 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars


Although Jim Jarmusch really pioneered the slacker movie ten years earlier with Stranger Than Paradise that film was too smart in its hipster coolness to appeal to a broad audience. With Clerks. debut writer/director Kevin Smith preserves the deadpan demeanour but dumbs down the style, replacing race forms, a rambling road trip and spare roots blues music with junk food, videos, foul language, drugs, sexual explicitness, grunge music and hip-hop. The result, filmed in 16mm black and white for a measly $US27, 000, became a smash hit and effectively kicked-started a slew of potty-mouthed irreverence in comedy films that would erventually become thoroughly mainstream.

Basing it on his own experience, Smith’s film traces a day in the life of Dante (Brian O'Halloran), a twenty-something Central Jersey convenience store clerk still living with his parents, and his best friend, Randal (Jeff Anderson) who works in the adjoining video store. Nothing much happens as the pair engage with the various flotsam and jetsam that hang around the store, including Silent Bob (played by Smith) and his buddym local drug-dealer, Jay (Jason Mewes) as well as Dante's current girlfriend, Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti), and his ex (Lisa Spoonhauer).

Although little more than a series of sex-fixated vignettes it is easy to see Smith as the Woody Allen of Monmouth County, New Jersey (not the least for the black and white photography and single word typed intertitles) as the director has a real flair for characterisation and dialogue and for all its crassness, in its own terms as an affectionate portrait of the director’s home turf it works. Don't take the auteurial comparison too far, however - where Allen builds his films on a certain thematic development, Smith is a smart-ass who has no interest in connecting the dots. This no doubt explains the popularity of the film which is essentially a series of in-your-face high fives. You either fell the same way or forget it.

FYI: Smith made a bigger budget, colour 2008 sequel,
Clerks II, with Dante and Randal, played again by O'Halloran and Anderson, and Jay and Silent Bob, played again by Mewes and Smith, that largely reiterates the juvenile humour of the earlier film (its title pretty much says it all) but rather redundantly and disappointingly somewhat cynically miring whatever in-your-face appeal the earlier film had with a cute factor, largely provided by Rosario Dawson.

 

 

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