90s Movie Challenge Week 33: Clerks (1994)

Snoochie boochies, dudes! Welcome to another exciting instalment of #90sMC. This week, in a small change to the advertised movie (You mean it’s completely different, don’t you? Ed) we hand the reigns over to our brilliant guest poster Art Robinson (read his brilliant piece on New Zealand Horror right here, chums). We sent him back to 1994 and down the video shop for ideas and this is what he came back with – Kevin Smith’s debut, Clerks.

Clerks is the first Kevin Smith film, giving us our first window into his potty mouth Askewniverse

No one likes to be called into work unexpectedly, especially when they have plans and especially on the weekend. Worse still, the front of Dante’s store won’t open, due to some chewing gum lodged in the padlock. Over the course of the day, both Dante (in a corner store/bodega) and Randall (in the neighbouring video store) deal with and interact with a revolving door of customers, along with a vague narrative about Dante’s relationships. Oh, Jay and Silent Bob are right outside.

My generation’s Cheech and Chong make their very first appearance in this film and boy howdy are they young. Their role is far less than in any other film they appear with, with the exceptions of Scream 3 and Chasing Amy, but they break up the painful back and forth of Dante and his annoying shoppers.

I won’t go too much into the interactions, as they’re largely forgettable. You’re going to watch this film for the first time in 2021 because you’ve never gotten around to it. You’ve seen all of Kevin Smith’s movies since Mallrats, but for whatever reason, you haven’t gotten around to it yet. Black and white can be off-putting. You’ve all probably heard some kind of riff on Randall’s speech about the murder of innocent civilian contractors on the second Death Star.

Dante and Randall are both men after my own heart, Randall especially. You see, when I was at uni, I also worked in a video store. That may be ageing me a little bit, but New Zealand was slow to get access to services like Netflix and our internet has always been a bit on the slow side anyway. I worked late shifts on Friday and Saturday, not closing until midnight. My last coworker would have left a couple of hours earlier, maybe hung around to drink beer while they wandered around the store. One time, the power went out for my entire side of the city and I had to get giggling teens out from between the shelves with nothing but a flashlight and a stern cough. Smoked a lot of cigarettes outside that store, waiting for a customer, probably a regular, to come by and give me something to do, while at the same time almost hating them for their third hire of Big Mamas House 2. We needed the customers to stay open, but we didn’t want to have to deal with arguments over late fees and people who asked for, then ignored, any recommendations we had.

I met a lot of people working there, most of whom I am still friends with, including the lady I would go on to marry!

Clerks is not for everyone.

I’m not even sure it’s for me anymore.

I first saw this film on a bad VHS in the late 90s. I’d seen Mallrats on Laserdisc soon after its release on that now ancient and hilarious format. The characters of Jay and Silent Bob burrowed their way into my psyche like no characters ever had. There wasn’t a Dogma or a Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back for me to consume, so I teenaged-me had to go backwards. Back to black and white. Back to the Quick Stop. I was unimpressed.

Perhaps we’ve all been spoiled by this golden age of entertainment and it can become hard for me to recognise the blocks on which my entertainment stands.

I recently rewatched Clerks, hoping that age would give me a more favourable opinion. I’ve found a lot of movies I thought were stupid as a kid – Prince of Darkness, Repo Man, They Live – are actually pretty great now.

But in Clerks, the jokes feel dumb. Maybe I’m scared of laughing at things that might not be OK to laugh at anymore? But I don’t think it’s that. The jokes are largely safe, even 27 years later, a claim not too many films of the same period can make.

Kevin Smith is great. He makes me laugh, he makes me get a lump in my throat, he makes me cheer and yell things like “Yeah Silent Bob yo!” at my TV.

But Clerks just sucks a little bit now.

Come back next week for more #90sMC fun as we rise to meet the challenge of looking back at the strange, post-Cold-War climate of 1995, a time when sexist, misogynist dinosaurs were struggling to find their place in the world. And if you don’t think we have the balls to task our resident schoolteacher (the name’s Ball, Stuart Ball) with the job, your instincts are dead wrong.

That’s right! It’s GoldenEye!


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