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Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #361: Clerks


One of the movies that re-defined independent cinema in the United-States during the early 1990s, “Clerks” marked the arrival of New Jersey filmmaker Kevin Smith. It also marked a new trend in movies geared towards large audiences: characters that actually speak the way ordinary people talk. The characters in Quentin Tarantino films often riff on pop culture, but that is usually before they end up shooting someone. The characters in Kevin Smith movies also riff on pop culture, but they hold ordinary jobs in the real world. In his 1994 feature film debut, his characters hold the most ordinary jobs in the western world: clerks at a mini-mart.

I was way too young to see this movie when it first came out, but I eventually ended up watching in what is, lets face it, the ideal location to watch a movie like this: my mom’s basement with my older brother. Of course my mom had zero interest in this movie, but my brother and I laughed our ass off and had a great time. I am pretty sure it was the first time I ever saw movie characters discuss the moral implication of killing everyone on the Death Star in “Star Wars” only to have a private contractor chime in on their conversation and compare the event to the time he did construction work at a mobster’s house.

Set in a Quick Stop convenience store in Leonardo, New Jersey, “Clerks” stars Brian O’Halloran as Dante Hicks, who is called in to work on his day off. His day shows no sign of improving after he arrives at work as he discovers someone has jammed the locks to the store’s security jammers with chewing gum, leaving him no other option than to put a huge sheet over the doors with the message “I assure you, we’re open.”

His work neighbour is Randall Graves (Jeff Anderson) who works at the video store, a near-extinct establishment nowadays. Dante and Jeff have a mutual dislike for their jobs, having to endure customers asking questions like “what kind of movies do you have?” They prefer to close their stores for any reason such as playing hockey on the roof, or going to the funeral of one of Dante’s ex-girlfriends, with disastrous results in both cases.

As the day goes by Dante questions his place in the grand scheme of things, wondering why he is wasting his early twenties working as a clerk. His current girlfriend Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti) also believes he is wasting his life and needs to change. Adding to his misery, Dante learns from the local paper that another one of his ex-girlfriends is moving on with her life by getting married.

Also in the mix are Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith), two slackers selling marijuana outside the store. This would-be dynamic duo has appeared in most of Smith’s comedies, eventually getting their own movie in 2001 with “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.” Despite the fact the Silent one almost never speaks, over the years they actually end up going on more adventures than Dante and Randall.

The lives of these characters is a story about ordinary men stuck in a rut and afraid they have nowhere to go. They discuss the wondrous adventures they have seen in movies and TV, but their own lives are stuck in neutral. No wonder the film resonated with so many young people with it first came out. Times may have changed since the 90s, but the worries are still the same.     

In terms of the movie’s humour, I have noticed many of Kevin Smith’s comedies have at least one scene of cringe-inducing disgust, one scene that will make you go “holy shit, what did I just see?” In “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” a woman defecates on a man’s face. In “Clerks II” a man has (I am hoping) simulated sex with a donkey. Smith’s directorial debut also did not miss a chance to shock audiences when a female character goes into a bathroom to have sex with her boyfriend, only to realize the only person in the bathroom was a dead man who was busy with some adult magazines before going into the great beyond. It is incredibly crude, but you have to admire the level of imagination involved with coming up with such crudity.

Recently Smith has announced he plans to retire his film career after shooting “Clerks III.” Why not? He may as well finish right back where he started. My only question is this: what disgusting scene will he come up with this time?

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