In 1994 Kevin Smith burst onto the movie scene with Clerks, the movie that started the view askew phenomenon that continues today. The tenth anniversary DVD release of Clerks offers a solid look behind the scenes, and shows that Smith didn’t bust through the door without almost shattering his shoulder trying to make his way in.
If you don’t know Clerks by now, shame on you. Love it or hate it, the foul mouthed yet insightful independent film defines a generation. Its characters, including the crude Jay (Jason Mewes) and wise Silent Bob (writer/director Smith himself), have become icons, moving on to cameos or starring roles in four other Kevin Smith films. Fans reference Smith’s witticisms the same way his characters reference Star Wars or hockey, and the film itself has inspired many would be auteurs to go out and make a film, much like Richard Linklater’s Slacker inspired Smith.
For the uninspired, or unaware, Clerks is a buddy movie about... well, two store clerks. Dante (Brian O’Halloran) is the perfect representation of the brooding do-nothing generation. He has potential, but has sloughed off college in favor of a lifestyle that allows him to do very little, except enjoy the occasional hockey game - unless work calls him in. Randal (Jeff Anderson) is the sarcastic twit we’ve all seen behind the counter of a store at some point or another. He considers himself superior to his customers, although his tastes are no more discriminating, and he finds any way he can to make them suffer. The film follows one day in the life of the two friends, as Dante attempts to sort out his love life, play a game of hockey, and attend the wake of a former girlfriend who’s passed away, all while managing to run the Quick Stop convenience store.
While the film is full of genius dialog and brilliant moments, it’s an independent film, and a rough first flick at that. Shot in black and white to save money and dodge the issues that plague filming in color, the picture is grainy, full of terrible cut-shots and suffers from odd cinematography. However a lot of what should be considered sub-par filmmaking adds character to the film, giving it a charisma that fits what’s being shown on screen. With a distinct lack of effects, and poor visuals, the audience isn’t distracted from what really makes the movie - the characters and the easily relatable repartee. There are few that like the movie who don’t immediately recognize themselves and their friends somewhere between Randal’s wisecracks and Silent Bob’s... silence.
The really nice thing about Clerks is it really hasn’t aged. Ten years later and it’s still as easily relatable and funny as ever. Perhaps the black and white photography helps add an air of immortality to the film, and will help keep it something people will continue to enjoy for decades to come.
If there’s one thing the View Askew movies prove, it’s that Kevin Smith is one of the biggest geeks out there, so it’s no surprise that the tenth anniversary DVD of his breakthrough film would be given the royal treatment. Clerks. X is a three disc release with two versions of the film and a ton of extras, making it an absolute must-own for any fan of the movie.
The first disc could have been a simple regurgitation of the existing “Miramax Collector’s Edition” version of the film, but apparently that wouldn’t have been enough for Smith and Co. Instead there’s a new remastering of Clerks, making it look and sound better then ever. It’s still not the best looking movie in the world, but it is an improvement over anything that’s been released previously. Several short intros are included explaining the processes used giving Smith and Mosier a chance to brag about going to Skywalker Ranch, and use the remastering as an excuse to take potshots at George Lucas’s changes (“I was thinking about having Randal shoot first” quips Smith).
It’s not enough for the film to look better, but it has tons of options. First you have the standard Smith, Mewes, Mosier commentary track, and I do mean standard. This is the same commentary track that was on previous releases, or as the packaging chooses to advertise it “classic commentary, circa ‘95”. There’s an “enhanced playback track”, or fact track that puts nifty tidbits of trivia on the screen during the movie. Unfortunately the text appears on a translucent black bar that obscures part of the picture while the fact is on screen - not the best execution. Finally the film can be watched with a “lost scene” inserted back into the picture. The “lost scene” was cut out early in the script process, so it was never filmed. Taking a lesson from Quentin Tarantino, the cut scene is animated, showing what happens to Randal and Dante at Julie Dwyer’s wake. The scene is one of those rare add ins that I can’t imagine watching the movie without from now on, although the scene can be watched separately for those who don’t want to watch the whole movie.
The second disc features the original cut of the film, transferred from an old SVHS copy. If the remastered disc makes the movie look better, this disc brings balance to the set by making the movie look worse. This is all explained in the ten minute intro by Smith and Mosier that starts out with them discussing Roadhouse (and their offer to do a commentary track for that movie). This cut of the movie is nine minutes longer, and includes the original, more depressing ending that Smith admits only existed because he didn’t know how to end his movie. Most of the added footage consists of an extra shot here or some extended music there. The main value of this version of the film is a glimpse at what the first rough cut of the film was, as well as a brand spankin’ new commentary track with Smith, Mosier, Mewes, O’Halloran, and Anderson. The commentary has the added bonus of being a video commentary track - using the angle button the viewer can alternate between the movie and watching the recording session. Since the commentary seldom has much to do with the movie (broaching subjects such as Mosier seeing Kevin’s mom naked) it’s almost just as much fun to sit and watch the five guys sit around and talk.
Finally the third disc holds tons of behind the scenes info. The centerpiece of the material is “The Snowball Effect: The Story of Clerks” and there are very few “making of” documentaries out on DVD better then this one. Over an hour and a half, the documentary follows the story of Kevin Smith and Clerks, from his childhood friends, to his decision to go to film school, through the filming of the movie, and the heartbreaking realization that getting the movie picked up might never happen. It’s the first piece I’ve seen that doesn’t paint Smith in the best light, holding interviews with friends Smith left behind or semi-stepped on in the process of becoming a filmmaker. While “The Snowball Effect” primarily features Smith and the usual bunch of idiots, it also goes out of its way to include interviews with people outside of Smith’s camp who helped make Clerks a success. It’s a truly fascinating behind the scenes look at the highs and lows of a bunch of dreamers trying to make their fantasies come true. As additional bonuses, just about everything the documentary references is also included on the DVD, from Smith and Mosier’s film school short “Mae Day: The Crumbling of a Documentary” to articles that inspired Smith, early reviews of Clerks, and pages from a journal Smith kept throughout the entire journey.
Other material on the three discs include audition tapes from the cast, “The Flying Car” - a short film Smith made with Dante and Randal discussing the existence of - what else, a flying car, and outtakes from “The Snowball Effect”. The outtakes aren’t bloopers but rather material that just wasn’t used, and the scenes are as good as anything in the actual documentary. For the truly dedicated, the a DVD-ROM feature gives access to the original first draft of the screenplay. And the best thing is, there’s even more stuff then what I’ve highlighted here. It’s truly an outrageous set, worth every penny of its price.
I’ll say it again, Clerks. X - 10th Anniversary Edition is an absolute must own for any fan of the movie, or really of any of Smith’s work. I hope as much devotion is paid to the other View Askew flicks as they hit their 10th anniversaries roll around, although I doubt they can have anywhere near the interesting story of Smith’s first film. This DVD set is exactly as Smith says in one of the intros - a set to put everything to rest for Clerks.