Saturday, October 18, 2014
I watched Clerks for the first time in many years, on its 20th anniversary in American cinemas. It seemed right to watch it late at night, no one else around, in the dark, IF I couldn't somehow find a way to see it on a big screen somewhere, which would've been preferable.
So why the big deal for a little indie flick that kicked off a career that some folks just seem to find to be 'off' a lot of the time (that is, well, just look him up on Rotten Tomatoes if you want to see what the intelligentsia think)?
Though not as high tier as the likes of, you know, the big guns (Scorsese, Kubrick, Spielberg, Hithccock, Lynch, Welles, you rattle it off), Clerks and a couple of those early Kevin Smith flicks were impressive to me as a 15, 16, 17 year old guzzling up cinema like candy, and susceptible to a lot of comedy, and some of it (Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, yes, a dark secret, the Wayans brothers pre-White Chicks too) that I regret today. Among the pack, Smith stood out as having a voice, at least something to say, and some occasionally creative film chops. That it was a filmmaker from New Jersey - only a few clicks down the Garden State Parkway - made it more of a personal attachment. and hey, there's Star Wars jokes, and rude behavior, and fuckin' up authority, and... a main character who is ambivalent about EVERYTHING.
That last part is or just sounds the most risky.. But I'll get to why that matters for me.
As a comedy... some of it hasn't dated well. Some of it makes me laugh harder than I did when I was younger. Some of it feels like it was pushing against society at the time (I think but I'm not sure if it almost got slapped with an NC-17), though after years of Apatow and Jackass and god knows what else, it's... It's raunchier than I remember in parts, and other parts it just feels... awkward almost, which is to be expected from first time filmmakers who want to shock with shit like porn titles said in front of a little kid or cat poop jokes. And the scene with the dead guy in the bathroom.... that still works.
But it is great still on two fronts: as a piece of anthropology of its time and place (like how Scorsese just wanted Mean Streets as a document of what things were like in Little Italy in the late 60's, Clerks is THE look at working class minutae and bullshit in New Jersey in the 90's, maybe even today though the cultural landscape is different in just ethnicity), and how it looks at that moment of transition in a life. Coming to this movie again after years of not always knowing how my life would go, if I'd have the proper direction to take it into doing something good for myself or to be stuck in manageable but dead-end jobs, it had a poignancy to it and through many of his Charlie Brown hysterics I could relate to Dante and it carried me through it. Smith captured that extremely well.
Oh, and it's so. goddamn. weird seeing Jay & Silent Bob so young. Drug dealers? Really? Breakdancing at night and talking shit? They were just babies ::pinches their cheecks as Jay humps a leg:: Ironically you could almost say they don't have much of a place in the film - yeah, vagrants hang out in front of stores all the time, but does it have anything to do with the plot - but it's all about local color and character. And Berserker. Lots of Berserker.
As a filmmaker... I just wonder how they got an ambulance.
Oh, and PS: sometimes you think of black and white photographed films as having a sort of timeless quality about them, but the one thing that keeps Clerks sealed up in the 90's it's the soundtrack. Hey, I can't complain getting Alice in Chains, Bad Religion and Soul Asylum hitting my eardrums; good times 90's alternative grunge punk salad. But... Maybe it isn't as timeless in the way that, I don't know, Stanger Than Paradise or Lolita or something... I dunno. It's more akin to Scorsese's own first film, Who's That Knocking, which is also sort of trapped in the late 60's in New York. In short, a piece of 16mm film school. And for film school, it's impressive.