Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Clerks. (1994)

I hadn't watched Clerks, a defining film of my teenage and college years, in at least half a decade, which means that when I caught it on TMC on Friday night, it was the first time I'd watched the (non)adventures of Dante and Randal as their elder.

Being older than the guys in Clerks is a weird and disturbing feeling. I don't know that I looked up to Dante and Randal when I was high school, because for all their charms they're basically losers and I knew that way back then, but I certainly looked up to Kevin Smith, the local boy from a couple towns over than me in Central NJ who turned his love of pop culture, comics, and good conversation into a career as a filmmaker. I was and am a Smith fan, though his recent work in film and comics has been hit or miss: I don't think I'll ever be able to sit through Jersey Girl again even though I've got a teeny tiny cameo as an extra in a crowd scene, and I never even read the last issue of his absurdly delayed Spider-Man comic The Evil That Men Do (another book, Daredevil: Target has been M.I.A. since the fall of 2002!).

To my relief and delight, Clerks holds up. Even better, the significant criticism of the film — that its poorly shot — seems to fall away. There is a difference between something that's poorly shot and something that's crudely shot. Clerks is crudely shot, but there's something about the grainy black and white photography, the dreary gray skies, grungy Quick Stop floors, and lengthy, static two-shots that speak to the reality of day-to-day New Jersey living in a way that none of Smith's subsequent work (except maybe Chasing Amy) approaches. For people who do what Dante and Randal do; that is, work in a store, and sit around and talk (something I did every summer between the years 1998 and 2003 and then for a full year following my alleged "graduation" from college), this is what it looks and feels like, as opposed to, say, the excessively bright and pretty version of New Jersey (actually California) presented in the otherwise-pretty-awesome sequel, Clerks II.

I think because the humor is so strong and so over the top I'd never noticed how inherently depressing the ending of Clerks really is (it's still not as big of a downer as the original ending; where a random thief robs the Quick Stop and murders Dante). Instead of having two women to choose between, Dante winds up with none. By the end of the movie he's been fined, assaulted, ridiculed, and learned his current girlfriend (soon to be ex) is intimiately familiar with almost two score penises. The only bright spot is the fact that the store is closed and thus the day from hell is over and that, perhaps, Dante will move forward from this terrible day with a better understanding of himself and his own ability to shape his own destiny rather than whining about his inability to change things in his life. Of course, the movie ends before we can see if he's going to actively do anything about that and, indeed, as Clerks II begins, he's still a wage slave at the Quick Stop. Even if Smith celebrates the retail worker, he also puts him in his place as well.

When I was 17 ("it was a very good year"), I hoped that my life in my 20s would look like Chasing Amy while I dreaded that it would actually be like Clerks. Now that I'm more than halfway through them its clear that it's a little of both and a lot of neither, but I'm glad to see that it doesn't diminish a movie I spent a great deal of my formative years watching. It always gives me a warm feeling to watch something I loved when I was young and stupid today and realize my taste was right all along. Unlike, say, Transformers: The Movie. Man, that's a piece of crap.

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