DVD Review #28: Clerks (10th Anniversary Edition) (1993)

March 18, 2010 at 11:26 AM | Posted in Comedy, DVD Reviews | Leave a comment

There’s a lot of fine-looking DVDs in the world, but they don’t all bring you lasagna. Most of them just suck.


Dante Hicks is a disgruntled clerk who is called into work on his day off, to the convenience store that only has two or three employees, some of which also apparently work at the video store next door. Dante complains his way through the day’s events, which include finding out his girlfriend has a promiscuous past, finding out his ex-girlfriend is getting married, and finding out that he is a clerk. His sidekick Randall accompanies him to a rooftop hockey game, a funeral, and through encounters with an assortment of weird and annoying customers.

While Clerks probably doesn’t need a five minute song to play before, during and after the credits, the first part of the film does advance at a decent pace with a lot of clever ideas. It’s once the lead actors start talking that it goes downhill into “better than most indies but still not quite professional” territory. Even on first viewing, it’s obvious when lines are flubbed or just spoken poorly. The dialogue shines through, but it doesn’t always fit the characters, and is usually too perfect to sound real. Every monologue being clever is one thing, but the entities in the film sound like they’re reading carefully edited manifestos.

When Dante starts his Kevin Smith dialogue behind the counter, it’s fine for that moment, but after you’ve seen the film it’s obvious that Dante is generally too dumb to even say anything this confident or well thought out or witty. He does it one or two more times, but usually he doesn’t have opinions unless provoked. Ultimately, he’s better as the Luke to Randall’s Han Solo, complaining about cleaning or disagreeing about plans.

That might be an inconsistency, but since so much of the movie is talking, so much of the movie’s drawback is the dialogue. Nobody talks this fast, nobody responds this fast, and nobody certainly does math or reads the paper while talking and responding this fast. It comes across as very good dialogue that’s been memorized and presented like an off-Broadway play. And that’s exactly how a good movie shouldn’t feel.

Most of the gags in the movie work and benefit from the fast pace, but minutes and minutes of fast dialogue just make a scene seem even longer. Fortunately, this pace is broken up a fair amount at the start of the film, but less so later on.

People tend to credit the dialogue with being “realistic,” but that’s not compared to real life. It’s compared to other movies that don’t acknowledge real life situations or experiences and only have a heightened reality of a one-in-a-million story. Clerks doesn’t have dialogue just like you and your friends. Clerks has dialogue you wish you were smart enough to have with your friends but are too busy watching Clerks to actually accomplish. A Clerks fan MIGHT have a conversation about the sex life of Yarna D’al Gargan, but they’re not going to have any clever new insights about Return of the Jedi. If you’ve watched any Q & A with Kevin Smith, you know how unimaginative his fans are. They like the “real” street-level conversations, but only wish they ever had anything intelligent to say. Kevin Smith doesn’t write reality, but rather crafts superheroes for the everyman. Randall isn’t anyone you know. Randall is a superhuman wonder renowned as The Man of Clever Insights. And is there anything remotely realistic about a roofer being killed in a gang hit, or someone having sex with a silent, motionless person they find in a dark bathroom because they assume it must be the one person in the world they want to have sex with, and not a dead stranger?

A lot of initial amusement and surprise of the movie is lost on subsequent viewings. You can sit there mouthing lines all you want, but you can’t chortle at the surprise of Dante being fined for selling cigarettes to a minor once you’ve already seen the film. Unfortunately for me, a large chunk of the movie experience was like this because I had read the screenplay prior to seeing it. But it’s something that shouldn’t plague great films too much. Great comedies even less so. Most of this is probably due to a lack of comedic talent on the part of the cast. It’s all they can do to remember the dialogue. Asking good timing or delivery as well is too much. And when everything is from one take, it doesn’t allow for anything to be saved through editing.

Brian O’Halloran, while believable as the disgruntled non-hero of the film, isn’t exactly the world’s greatest actor. It takes a special kind of mutant to read Kevin Smith dialogue, and Dante barely scraped by. He seems like he’s acting in every scene, which he shouldn’t. When someone else is talking, his reactions consist of staring straight at them without moving. Any time he’s not staring or complaining, it seems wildly out of character, like when his girlfriend returns to the store and they make up, or when he gets the bright idea to play hockey on the roof. Those being his only moments of deviation, there’s not much to like about the character save his outright dopeyness. To be honest, I’m not so opposed to the alternate ending where Dante gets shot. Especially considering he’s still in the same sad state in Clerks II. Put the guy out of his misery already!

Jeff Anderson pulls off Randall’s performance with slightly lest gusto and panache and triumph as Jason Lee in Mallrats. Basically the same character, but Lee’s Brody is the perfect gem of Smith’s second outing. Randall’s prototype certainly brings the right amount of comedy and cool for this outing, but you might not want to hang out with the guy. He’d either end up talking you into doing things you didn’t want to do, or you’d end up throwing food at him by the end of the day. He’s one of those characters who is funny on film, but annoying as hell in real life. Hence, even in the film world, his only friend is a loser who won’t upset the applecart to be comfortable.

Marilyn Ghigliotti as Veronica is obviously up to the challenge of delivering Smith’s lines, but due to the director’s impossible one-angle, one-take strategy ends up stumbling through most of them. She doesn’t embue the character with much personality, which actually kind of works, as she seems the perfect, boring fit for Dante. Now, does his evil-Kirk beard-wearing ass deserve Rosario Dawson, let alone an even sexier nerdy version of Rosario Dawson? Not in a million years. This is why somebody should have shot him and robbed the Quickstop.

The only player who really hits it out of the park is Lisa Spoonauer as Kaitlyn Bree. She definately has the most naturalistic delivery of the lot, impossible vocabulary and all. Sadly, she’s not in the movie for very long despite being responsible for a lot of its events. Some of the extras are a little hokey, namely walt Flannegan’s two most prominent parts. Others completely nail and hammer and own their roles, like Smith’s sister as the “manual masturbator.” (Isn’t that redundant?)

Overall, it’s sort of the Caddyshack of its time. Quotable, but not great cinema. However, despite its flaws, it is still nowhere near the failure that Empire Records was, which desperately tried to appeal to the same hip youth market without being very edgy or funny or cool.

The film, however restored, is probably the grainest well-lit movie ever made. We’re not talking Revenge of the Black Ghost Cat Who Couldn’t Be Killed 1948 grainy and so dark you can’t see the movie here. The film is pretty well lit. But the stock is atrocious, meaning for all the flourescents and halogens and giant balloons used to light the sets, it looks like it was filmed on one of those black and white toy video cameras that used audio cassette tape.

The grading restoration isn’t that great. Some shots have a nice deep black in them (Dante using the phone), while others don’t get darker than grey (the driving scene). The white levels are as high as they can get, so every shot has a hot spot in it. Of course, this overexposure is the fault of the filming, but we can just pretend somebody fucked with the levels of the transfer. To be honest, I don’t like black and white films that are all dreary shades of grey, so I’m not going to complain about it too much.

Clerks: “The First Cut”
Unlike the extended version of Mallrats, the first cut of Clerks isn’t much different. A lot of scenes go on for a few seconds longer, and there’s additional dialogue in a few spots, with less edits and slower pacing. There are a few good bits not in the theatrical version, but the cut doesn’t add up to much. It’s only an additional twelve minutes, widely spread out. The main difference is the lack of music, some different background noises, and a full-frame transfer straight from videotape. It’s blurry, but as a result, you don’t have to look at digitally enhanced film grain.

The theatrical version includes commentary from 1995 for the laaaayzzzzerdisc. Big amount of trivia included. Kevin does most of the talking, Mewes does most of the sleeping. The audio is pretty muffled, the movie audio (especially music) too loud, and the rest of the gang talks in the background inaudibly.

This version also has an enhanced playback track which repeats a lot of the trivia from the other tracks, as well as trivia you didn’t care about. It’s typical for trivia tracks, in that it has this almost smart-assed sense of leisure about how long it will take… to reveal the entirety… of whatever… it’s telling you.

The commentary for “The First Cut” also has a video version (described below), and is mostly just dicking around and anecdotal. It’s great if you want to hear a bunch of fucking idiots eat In-N-Out burgers during a commentary. Even better if you want to see it.

Disc 1 has an animated version of the unfilmed, “lost,” funeral scene (ten minutes with intro). Like anything, it’s got its funny parts and it’s got its “What?” parts. It’s mostly pretty funny, though I have to imagine the Mallrats and Chasing Amy references were just thrown in there.

“The Flying Car” (8 minutes, including intro) is supposedly a short film done for The Tonight Show, though I can’t imagine it actually airing. It’s too long and offensive despite its lack of explicit language. But it is funny, barring the typical Smith dialogue consisting of entire paragraphs of clever words all strung together into one sentence. Kudos on whoever can deliever that, but it’s hard on the ears. This is a conversation between Randall and Dante that takes place during a traffic jam, BTW.

There’s a handful of MTV Spots with Jay and Silent Bob (17:52) collected here with introduction, all good.

The theatrical trailer is the theatrical trailer, which is supposedly great, according to the short audio intro by Kevin Smith. It’s not in widescreen.

You can watch the Soul Asylum video, because it’s a full, glorious color version of Clerks, except with Soul Asylum. And there’s an intro.

Original auditions (13:55) exist too. Are they worth watching? No! But thanks to the magic of DVD, you can just watch the intro.

Disc 2 features “The First Cut,” with an eight minute intro (half of which is about Road House, which lead to Kev and Mos actually doing a commentary for Road House, which you are obligated to buy if you watch this).

The commentary is also available as video of the recording session, so that you can see Mewes not doing anything. It’s encoded as an alternate angle, so if you get bored or confused at not seeing the movie, you can switch it back and forth with the angle button. Not that they talk about the movie anyway. It’s a little dark, so I hopes you have one of them brightness or contrast buttons on your TV thing.

Disc 3’s “Snowball Effect” is a 90 minute documentary of the making of Clerks and everything leading up to its distribution.

“Mae Day: The Crumbling of a Documentary” is Smith/Mosier’s short film from film school with a short intro. The documentary about a documentary, intro and end credits included, is eleven minutes. It’s pretty funny, certainly better than the actual documentary would have been.

“10th Anniversary Q & A” is a 42 minute panel with Smith, the actors, Mos, and some other dude (I call him Wiggles, because I feel like it). It’s great, but it’s rigoddamndiculously DARK. I guess wherever they were, nobody wanted to pitch in for an extra lamp or glowstick.

There are 41 minutes worth of outtakes from “Snowball Effect,” comprised of (usually extended) interviews with the same people, but covering some different subjects. There’s also some Sundance footage thrown in.

The rest of the last disc is photos, journals, articles and reviews. You know, the stuff everybody skips.

I’m pretty sure there’s no reason to get another version of Clerks on DVD.

Film Connections:
DVD Review #17: Mallrats (10th Anniversary Extended Edition) (1995)

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