Miramax Pictures presents
Clerks. 10th Anniversary Edition (1994)
"This job would be great if it wasn't for the f***ing customers."- Randall (Jeff Anderson)
Stars: Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson
Other Stars: Marilyn Ghigliotti, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Lisa Spoonauer
Director: Kevin Smith
MPAA Rating: R for extensive use of extremely explicit sex-related dialogue
Run Time: 01h:32m:00s
Release Date: 2004-09-07
DVD ReviewThe old adage is, write what you know. At 23, all fledgling filmmaker Kevin Smith knew was that he hated all of his crappy jobs (making pizzas, digging graves, working the register at a convenience store), but he hated the customers more. When he dropped out of film school to make his first movie, he wisely chose to write a script about his friends and his experiences—the kind of movie he'd never really seen before. The result, a rude, raunchy, frank, and refreshing comedy, became one of the biggest independent film success stories of the 1990s and launched a movie career that continues to this day, much to the bewilderment of all who took part in 21 frantic days of filming after hours at a Quick-Stop in New Jersey in 1992.
The story follows two guys not unlike Smith and his friends. Dante (Brian O'Halloran) finds himself called into work on his day off. He's agreed to come in because he's still clinging to the last vestiges of his respectability—every once in a while, he takes his job as convenience store clerk seriously. His friend and verbal sparring partner Randall (Jeff Anderson), however, has moved from mild indifference to outright hostility, and he takes any intrusion by a customer into the video store he clerks as a personal affront (so he spends most of his time bothering Dante at the Quick-Stop next door).
Throughout the course of a day, Dante and Randall discuss their love lives (in great, graphic detail—there are enough sexual jokes and obscenities in this picture to make a hooker blush), tussle with the local drug dealers, Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (director Smith), and debate the merits of hiring independent contractors for the purpose of constructing an intergalactic space station. They close the store for a hockey game on the roof, deal with an abrasive anti-smoking advocate/gum salesman, and find their breaking point (for Dante, it's 37). But most of all, they abuse the customers, who, let's face it, probably deserve it (if you disagree, you've never served fast food).
Clerks won acclaim at film festivals because of nothing more than Smith's strong voice as a writer. Yes, the script is full of tasteless humor and sex jokes, but it also, even today, feels vibrant and unique, the product of a writer with something to say. Clerks's characters don't have a lot of depth, aside from the leads, but their dialogue is memorable and funny, and it makes a movie about people sitting around talking a whole lot easier to take.
Considering the film's ultra-low budget, its more-or-less untrained tech crew, and the conditions under which it was shot, it actually looks pretty good. Yeah, it's a series of static two-shots and long takes, but the simple camerawork, coupled with the black-and-white photography (a financial constraint rather than an artistic choice) gives it the feel of real-life footage captured by a convenience store security camera. Smith was damned with faint praise in reviews that emphasized his writing talent over his skill as a director, but though he's no Scorsese, he manages to pull charismatic performances out of nonprofessional actors and (often) random passersby.
And it's not like Clerks is a script that requires Scorsese. Maybe Smith deserves a kick in the pants when something like Dogma comes out looking half-assed, but this, his first script, was not only suited to simple, low-budget shooting—it necessitated it. There is so much dialogue it would have been nearly impossible to film coverage and reaction shots, and all that editing would have ruined the film's flow and comedic timing. The point is, the film's indie roots aren't an issue, and Smith, as a director, did what he needed to do and got his script to the screen.
And, really, I think that's a large part of why the film, and Smith's career, has endured. He's attracted an enormous fan base because, for the first 23 years of his life, he was his audience: an aimless, disenfranchised, over-educated movie nut. Even now, internet nerds and comic book geeks will take notice of a new Kevin Smith movie because his success offers them inspiration, perhaps a vicarious thrill. Or they just like d*ck and fart jokes, what do I know? If nothing else, Clerks is all too relatable for those who love it most—everyone who has worked retail knows the joy of serving the customer.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes||no|
Image Transfer Review: Clerks was shot for $27,000, so it's never going to be a great-looking movie, but this new sets certainly presents it better than ever before. The theatrical cut on Disc 1, presented in anamorphic widescreen for the first time, looks quite a bit better than even the previous Miramax release. Grain in reduced, contrast is sharper, and the print flaws, scratches, and dirt have been all but eliminated. The original IFFM cut on Disc 2, taken straight from a 1.33:1 VHS master and included more as an oddity than anything else, is only just watchable—the image is muddy and lacks contrast, but offers an opportunity to see the film the way it originally screened.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The audio situation is comparable to the video: On the theatrical cut, the sound has been remastered needlessly in 5.1 but still shows its low-budget roots. The dialogue is clear but a bit flat, anchored in the center channel. Sound effects come mostly from the center, but are also presented in the mains with infrequent directionality. The songs on the soundtrack offer the only real opportunity to open up the sound up a bit, but overall this is a pretty basic, center-mixed track, albeit the best the film has ever sounded (the best it can, I'd guess, considering the cheap equipment used to record it). On the original cut, audio is muffled and distorted, revealing just how well-spent the money Miramax used cleaning up the material for theatrical presentation.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Jersey Girl, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Clerks: Uncensored, Chasing Amy
8 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Deleted Scenes
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Kevin Smith, producer Scott Mosier, actors Brian O'Halloran, Walt Flanagan, and Jason Mewes, "View Askew historian" Vincent Pereira, Malcolm Ingram; Smith, Mosier, O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, and Mewes.
Packaging: Book Gatefold
- Short films The Flying Car and Mae Day: The Crumbling of a Documentary
- Enhanced playback track
- Soul Asylum music video
- Audition tapes
- Photo gallery and original review
Disc 1 includes the theatrical version of the feature and a large chunk of the extras, including the original commentary track circa-1995, recorded on the set of Mallrats for the original Clerks laserdisc. It's an entertaining track, if a bit less madcap than Smith's latter-day tracks, and features director Kevin Smith, producer Scott Mosier, actors Brian O'Halloran, Walt Flanagan, and Jason Mewes (who is passed out drunk), "View Askew historian" Vincent Pereira, and Malcolm Ingram, from Film Threat magazine. The track was recorded with one microphone, so listening to it can be a bit of a chore, but it's a nice vintage inclusion.
You can also watch the movie with an enhanced playback track, which is a fancy name for a subtitle trivia track. The comments that pop up are sometimes interesting, but most of them are pretty old hat by this point, or covered elsewhere on the discs, in a commentary or documentary. I did like it when they pointed out continuity errors and translated the obscure intertitles, however. An infamous deleted scene (surrounding the unfortunate events that occur during a wake) is included as a nine-minute animated scene in the style of the Clerks animated series. In an intro, Smith and Mosier explain the scene was cut originally for financial reasons, and I think the film plays quite well without it, but it's nice to see anyway. The animated scene follows the original script, which was also turned into a comic book a few years ago. You have the option to watch the scene by itself or within the body of the feature (via not-so-seamless branching). Keep an eye out for a quick nods to Mallrats, Dogma and an appearance by Joey Lauren Adams as her character from Chasing Amy.
Also on Disc 1 is a six-minute short film with the Clerks leads, The Flying Car, originally shown on The Tonight Show. It's pretty funny—Dante and Randall stuck in traffic, arguing—and it's a great inclusion here. Preceding it is another short intro from Smith. The title refers to the failure of mankind to live up to the legacy of The Jetsons by the year 2000.
Smith and Mosier (whom, I'm sure you can tell, are all over this DVD) also introduce a series of eight Jay and Silent Bob shorts produced for MTV in 1998. All told, the spots run around 18 minutes, and all of them are pretty funny ("I'm telling you, mirror universes can exist! I saw it on Star Trek!"). Smith even intros the more mundane extras, like the original trailer and a Soul Asylum music video for Can't Even Tell (starring Jay and Silent Bob).
Under the heading Clerks Restoration, Scott Mosier talks for five minutes about restoring the film's audio track for this release. Director of photography David Klein also talks about fixing up the image. Both these features are fairly technical, but also a little tongue-in-cheek at times, considering how cheaply the film was made, but the material is still interesting. Smith and Mosier also provide a jokey introduction to the restored version of the film.
Finally, rounding off Disc 1 is a 13-minute collection of original audition tapes for Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti, and bit-player Ernest O'Donnell (the original choice to play Dante). Mosier and Smith provide yet another intro. You'll also find a Kevin Smith trailer gallery with clips for four of his Miramax films (including the Clerks: Uncensored animated series DVD release).
Disc 2 includes one or two extras, depending on how you look at it. The traditional "bonus" is a new retrospective commentary track featuring Smith, Mosier, Mewes, O'Halloran, and Anderson. It's an interesting bookend to the original track, as the old friends discuss the impact the film had on their lives and generally relive the experience of making it. It's not very specific to the film (at one point, they spend five minutes discussing the time O'Halloran accidentally saw Smith's mom naked), but a good listen (or a watch—you can see the speakers in a "video commentary" accessible via the angle button). The other feature is, I suppose, the original cut of the film shown at the Independent Feature Film Market in 1993. It's a good 12 minutes longer than the theatrical version, and includes a few deleted scenes (including the infamous "dark" ending, which was rightly cut), but mostly just longer, more loosely edited takes. A nice inclusion, but not something I'll likely watch again, considering the rather dicey video quality.
And there's still another whole disc... The centerpiece of Disc 3 is the new 90-minute documentary, Snowball Effect, which follows the birth of Smith's film career from his childhood in New Jersey to his stint as a sketch writer in high school to the filming and release of Clerks. You'll discover, through interviews with scores of people from Kevin's films and his life, how he met the friends that appear in the movie and how it was filmed in the very convenience store where Smith worked. There is a lot of good B-roll footage from the filming that has probably never been seen before. More than anything else, this piece documents how much work goes into creating a self-financed independent film. Luckily, it has a happy ending, and the portions that cover the premieres at various film festivals and the signing of the Miramax deal provide fascinating insight into the business side of the indie market. This piece is divided into 39 chapters. With three discs to fill, the set even includes 13 scenes deleted from the final cut of the documentary, with a total running time of over 40 minutes.
Disc 3 is the catchall bonus disc, and thus features material unrelated to the film, including a faux-documentary short from Smith and Mosier's (brief) film school days, entitled Mae Day: The Crumbling of a Documentary, about a fictitious attempt by two filmmakers (played by Smith and Mosier) to make a documentary about a transvestite. It's a cute and creative idea, but it's still a student film, and it looks and plays like one. For Smith completists only.
A 42-minute Q&A session, recorded at a 10th anniversary screening of the film, offers more reflection of the making-of, and features nearly everyone involved, including those that don't pop up on the commentary tracks—namely, the female actors. In a style similar to An Evening with Kevin Smith, the group fields often nonsensical questions from an audience of adoring fans.
Finally, there comes the section, included on every exhaustive special edition, which requires a lot of button clicking. You'll find a photo gallery with promotional stills, Kevin's journals from the pre-Clerks era and from when the film was playing at Sundance, and a selection of production notes and vintage reviews, including the essay on low-budget filmmaking that helped inspire Smith to get out from behind the convenience store counter and actually make the movie.
On the DVD-Rom side, you'll find the 168-page first draft of the script, which can be viewed alongside the finished film.
There it is: everything you ever could know (as opposed to everything you ever wanted to know) about the making of Clerks. And whether or not you think a minor independent film warrants such lavish treatment, you have to give the DVD producers, and Smith and Co., props—they've truly created this one for the fans. Even the packaging is classy, with a sturdy cardboard slipcase and a booklet containing an introduction from Smith (in which he announces plans to film a Clerks sequel for release in 2005) and odds and ends like the film's entry in the Sundance program and the filmmakers' original contract with Miramax, scrawled on a sheet of yellow legal paper. It is, dare I say it, the definitive, nay, the ultimate edition of the Clerks DVD, and I can't imagine what else could be included if another set is ever produced.
Extras Grade: A+
Final CommentsWhile I don't believe Clerks is Kevin Smith's best film (that honor goes to Chasing Amy), it's perhaps his most important—the influential indie inspired a new generation of independent filmmakers and, along with Pulp Fiction, helped make 1994 the year that put Miramax on the map. True fans probably already have the previous "Collector's Series" DVD edition, but this 10th anniversary set surpasses it in every regard and is, I'd wager, an essential purchase for fans of the View Askewniverse and disenfranchised cogs in the machine everywhere.
Joel Cunningham 2004-09-09