30 The List 5-I8 May I995
The low—budget hit of the festival circuit, Clerks is a hilariously rude and crude slice of Gen X life, seen from behind a shop cash register. Director Kevin Smith discusses life’s essentials with Nigel Floyd.
With the honourable exception of Richard Linklater‘s Slacker. the recent spate of synthetic ‘Gcncration X‘ movies (Reality Bites. SIC W. et (ll) have offered a glossy. cleaned-up itnage of disaffected twentysomethings. Now. 24-year-old filmmaker Kevin Smith. himself inspired by Slacker. gives us the down ‘n‘ ditty New Jersey version. featuring a pair of underachievers -- Dante and Randal — whose salty. surreal conversation etnbraces blowjobs. auto- feIIatio. ‘snowballing‘. jizz tnoppers. the ending of Return ()f'l’lie ./(’(ll and other such cosmic matters. As Randal remarks with feeling at one point. ‘This
job would be great if it weren't for the fuckin‘
Shot in scurry black-and-white fora knock-down 327.575. Clerks is a rude. crude and lewd study of ‘over-the-counter culture‘. in which Quick Stop convenience store employee Dante (Brian ()‘Halloran) and his pal Randal (Jeff Anderson). bored manager of the adjacent video store. while away the time between awkward customers discussing the really crucial questions of life. ‘My girlfriend sucked 36 dicks.‘ complains the dejected Dante. ‘In a row." asks the incredulous Randal.
Smith's take on mainstream ‘(iencration X' movies is uncompromising: ‘I watched half of Reality Bites
‘Granted, it’s a large part of myself, but I talk about a lot of things. I can be a serious guy. I need love, I need romance - it’s not all about sex and blowiobs.’
once and that was it. I thought Winona Ryder was great. but it's really hard to portray ‘(ieneration X' when you have a polished cast and the film looks pretty clean. The reason ('lerks works is that people feel it's really authentic. because it looks like hell. If a Gen Xer was to make a movie. this is what it would look like. Whereas a polished. vaeuous. clean lilm doesn‘t really nail the mark; the youth can smell fraud and we just don't btty into it.‘
When I ran into the goatee-bearded. solidly-built Stnith in Cannes last year. he was already bored with talking about the film's bargain budget: ‘This year. everybody's saying their budget's “under a million". We could have said ours was “under a million“. bttt people would have been like. “Hey. man. this is under ten bucks. It looks really shitty." So rather than have people sitting there speculating about how tnuch Clerks cost to make. we just said “827.000:
now get past that and concentrate on the tttovie.m Even so. the extraordinary story behind the making of Clerks bears repeating.
Having worked in convenience stores for several years. Smith ~~ tnotivatcd by his enthusiasm for Slacker -~ enrolled at the Vancouver Film School; bill after only fottr months he was so disillusioned that he retttrncd to work at the Quick Stop store. By this time. however. the germ of the ('lerks script had fortned iii his mind. so he recruited fellow student Scott Mosiet' as producer and set about raising the cash. The now familiar ploy of running a l‘istfuI of credit cards tip to their limit was sttppletnented by the sale of Smith's treasured comic-book collection. an insurance payntcnt on a Volkswagen swept away in a Ilasltvllood. and by book-ending loans of $3.000 each from his parents. Three weeks intensive scriptwriting then gave way to El days of hell. during which Stnith worked in the store during the day and filmed at night while it was closed to customers.
The gamble paid off big time. though. when Miramax supremo Ilarvey Weinstcin having walked out of a previous screening alter only twenty tninutes —~ was prompted by the film's Sundance I‘ilm Festival Audience Award to give it a second look. Weinstcin eventually paid £700,000 for the distribution rights and Sony later added the icing on the cake by stutnping up for a stereo soundtrack featuring bands such as Alice In Chains. (iirls Against Boys and Sottl Asylum. Ironically. the scene \‘Veins‘tein liked the most is the only one Smith had slight reservations about. .\'ot to pttt too fine a point on it. it features a dark toilet. a stiff with a still) and Dante's horny cx-girlli'iend. (‘aitlin
"l‘hat's my least favourite part of the movie. actually. because it‘s very sophomoric and it didn't take much creativity. It was tne succumbing to the whim of putting in a joke about necrophilia. But every time I get really down on myself about it. I sit and watch that scene with an audience they go nuts.
‘- AA 3,!
Clerks: ‘a rude. crude and lewd study of over-the-counter culture’
'I‘hey jttst love it when the dead guy's rolled ottt. And it was really beneficial for us. because Ilarvey \k'einstein. the chairman of Miramax. that was his favourite part of the movie. She fucked a dead guy. and if we hadn't had the corpse in there. I don‘t know that .\Iiramax would have bought the movie.‘
When writing ('lerks. Smith drew heavily upon his own New Jersey neighbourhood experiences. bttt was surprised to find how tttttch resonance these had for young audiences ttot only in America. bttt also in France. Spain and Italy. The downside to this. however. was that his strong sense of identification sometimes encouraged an excessive familiarity amongst met-enthusiastic fans.
‘It's odd. becattse people assume that they can just
‘The reason Clerks works is that people feel it’s really authentic, because it looks like hell. If a Gen Xer was to make a movie, this is what it would look like.’
conic tip to you and speak v. tIIy-nilly about the most vulgar things. It‘s like “fuckin' this. fuckin' that. blowlobs‘ the other”. And I‘m like. “lle)'. it‘s a movie. you know". (irantcd. it's a large part of myself. my passions in there. bttt you know I talk about a lot of things. I can be a serious guy. I need line. I need rotttance -it‘s not all about sex and blowjobs. But they immediately assume. like. "Hey. tnan. we're kindred spirits". So in that way. it‘s kind of cool. because at least it speaks to them like that. Just as long as they don't follow me home. and shit. It's like. “What are you gonna do. tnan. gonna get some bloyvjobs'.’“ What'.’ Look at me. man. d‘you think I get blowjobs every night'.’ I may not get a blowjob in a year. for (‘hrissakcsf
('lt‘t'kv opens (III/1e (iluvemt‘ I’llm 'lltt'rtlt‘t' (HI .llmtiliri l5 .I/tll timl l/I(’ [Cir/lillﬁlllg'll Film/muse (HI Stun/try // .lllllt’.