CLERKS - DVD review

...it is our ability to identify with the characters that makes the story so universal. I mean, we've all known people like these who have annoyed us all our lives.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio

How much of "Clerks" is too much? For some people, this three-disc Collector's Edition set is not nearly enough. For other people, the movie alone is too much.

Hard to believe that "Clerks" is celebrating its tenth anniversary already. Seems like just yesterday.... So if you're wondering about the big, prominent "X" on the new packaging, it isn't because you're getting an X-rated version of the movie; it's the Roman numeral ten you're looking at. It's a shrewd bit of self promotion that's typical of the film and the filmmakers.

"Clerks," as probably everyone reading this Web site knows, was one of the biggest sleepers of the 90s. Made on a shoestring in 1994 for only $25,575, it earned back over a hundred times that initial investment at the box office, and as a minor cult classic it has undoubtedly earned back a thousand times that amount on video. It also made Jay and Silent Bob household names.

Jay and Silent Bob are, of course, Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith, the supporting players in "Clerks" who went on to appear together in "Mallrats," "Chasing Amy," "Dogma," "Scream 3," "Clerks the TV Series," and "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," so their faces and characters have become pretty familiar. Smith is the guy behind most of these films as director, co-producer, and actor, as well as director of the more-recent "Jersey Girl"; he's a cinematic man for all seasons.

However, maybe it was because "Clerks" was made in black-and-white that it wasn't a super hit during its first release. That is, even though the film multiplied its production costs many times over, it still did only a little over $3,000,000 total. Or maybe it was because the film was such a low-budget affair, even with the additional $250,000 that Miramax pumped into postproduction, that folks stayed away. Or maybe it was because nobody had ever heard of Kevin Smith or any of the stars before, and they didn't want to take a chance on it. Or maybe potential viewers heard that it was all talk and thought it would be boring. I don't know. In any case, the point is moot now, since the film has continued to build up a devoted following ever since. Hence, the title of one of the set's bonus features, "Snowball Effect: The Story of Clerks." The movie just keeps getting more and more popular as the years go by.

There's hardly any plot to the thing, just a series of loosely related skits that take place during one day behind the counters of a pair of adjoining convenience stores. But while the skits are often lewd and bawdy, most of the material is pretty amusing, too, and one can easily see people one knows in every character. Indeed, it is this latter trait, our ability to identify with the characters, that makes the story so universal. I mean, we've all known people like these who have annoyed us all our lives.

Dante Hicks (Brian O'Halloran) runs a Quick-Stop store in a small, New Jersey town. It's supposed to be his day off, but he's a friendly, responsible, accommodating sort of guy, so he agrees to work a few hours in the morning when he's needed. He winds up having to stay all day. Next door is a small video-rental shop. Randal Hicks (Jeff Anderson) works there as a clerk. He's the opposite of Dante; he's cynical, caustic, and remarkably rude to his customers. Dante and Randal are both in their early twenties, aimlessly trying to find themselves, best friends from high school who hang out together, Randal often closing up his shop to go next door and socialize.

In the course of their day, the fellows meet a variety of weirded-out yet perfectly routine customers and passersby who make up the substance of the picture. Outside the two stores, Jay and Silent Bob take up residence each morning. In a later movie we learn that they were left there as babies and grew up on the spot. Silly but cute. Jay is a drug dealer who can't be still, can't be quiet, and endlessly spews out a stream of profanities. His partner in crime, Silent Bob, hardly moves, hardly speaks, and maintains the epitome of cool.

The movie is mostly a succession of conversations, some of them hilarious, others not so, between Dante and Randal and the people around them. Dante's two girlfriends, for instance, stop by, his present girlfriend and his ex-girlfriend. They talk, they argue, they fight, and they make constant references to sex that can't be repeated here. They also talk of "Star Wars," one of the common touchstones of any film-nerdy conversation then and now.

Yes, much of it is funny and parts of it are even clever. "You're making a broad generalization," says Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti), Dante's present girlfriend. Dante disagrees. "I'm making a generalization about broads," he tells her. When Dante confides in Randal about his liking both girlfriends and sometimes confusing the two, Randal responds claiming, "That's not cheating. People say crazy s... during sex. One time I called this girl 'Mom'!"

Both young men wind up generally fighting with or ignoring the stores' patrons. "This job would be great if it weren't for the f...... customers!" declares Randal. Given the mindless nature of the most of the customers he meets, he has good reason for his attitude.

Some of the movie becomes tedious, too, as the guys debate stale philosophy, bicker constantly, even have a knockdown, drag-out brawl late in the story. And aside from the profanity, no one in the film speaks like a real person, talking instead in fancy words (the chapter titles are given definitions for the audience) and lofty phrases (the movie's prologue teasingly refers to them as "ostentatious"). Yet, the filmmakers themselves claim this is how they and their friends really sounded. In any case, the syntax of the dialogue is part of the film's bizarre charm, I suppose, making its surreal style one of the primary elements in its appeal.

Incidentally, Kevin Smith has said he did not intend his film to make any cogent observations about society, but it's clear to see that the movie does, anyway. The reason Smith claims he made the film is unprintable. Still, in the accompanying booklet insert, Smith says it's a "vulgar, thinking-man's film." He also says, "They say you can never go home again. Watch me. Clerks 2 in '05."

"Clerks" is not a movie for everyone, but it's humorous and it's alert, and it holds up well. For the true believer this newly restored DVD set presents the film probably better than it has ever appeared before.

Video:
The picture and sound for the new 10th anniversary DVD have been renovated, refreshed, refurbished, reconditioned, reconstituted, and remastered, but the result is still only mediocre. Ah, well, it's the thought that counts. The screen size approximates the film's original aspect ratio, measuring an anamorphic ratio about 1.75:1 across a normal TV screen. The black-and-white picture is not the best, even after all the touch-ups. It's sometimes overbright, sometimes sightly grainy, and sometimes downright rough. It's not at all bad, mind you, but it's no better than most well-preserved B&W films of the thirties or forties. I liked the editing and framing, though, mostly no-nonsense medium shots that are held long enough to allow the action to unfold at a realistic pace.

Audio:
The Dolby Digital 5.1 remix is still somewhat raucous, loud, hard, and harsh. This is a far cry from the original audio, which was often muffled, however. At least now every word of dialogue is clear and distinct, even if it's not always entirely natural sounding. There's not too much surround information, either, but the front-channel separation is excellent. Not that it's needed much, given that the film is almost entirely dialogue driven.

Extras:
Disc one in this new three-disc set is devoted to the restored theatrical version of the movie. It comes with English and French spoken languages, Spanish subtitles, English captions for the hearing impaired, and an enhanced playback track with information and trivia superimposed at the bottom of the screen. Among the other extras on disc one is an audio commentary with stars Kevin Smith, Scott Mosier, Walter Flanagan, Brian O'Halloran, Jason Mewes, Vincent Pereira, and Malcolm Ingram. Then, there's a "Clerks" lost scene that was never shot, the funeral parlor scene, that is here presented in animation, with an introduction by Kevin Smith. There is also a short subject shot in 2001 for TV called "The Flying Car," which reunites Dante (O'Halloran) and Randal (Anderson), again with an introduction by Smith. Finally, there are some MTV spots with Jay and Silent Bob; a music video, "Can't Even Tell," with Soul Asylum; some "Clerks" restoration commentaries; some original "Clerks" auditions; some Sneak Peeks at other Miramax releases; a fullscreen theatrical trailer; and eighteen scene selections. Disc one by itself qualifies as a special edition.

Disc two of the set contains the original, unrated version of the movie, the "The First Cut" as it's called. It is about thirteen minutes longer than the theatrical version, it is in its original camera-negative ratio of 1.33:1, later matted to 1.85:1, and it is not restored. It's rather a chore to watch, actually, because it looks like a bad video tape, blurry and besieged by flecks, specks, and scratches. But it was the original product and worth a look for the faithful. It is accompanied by an audio-video commentary with Kevin Smith, Scott Moiser, Jeff Anderson, Brian O'Halloran, and Jason Mewes. By clicking on your remote's "angle" button, you can alternate between a video commentary or the actual movie with the audio commentary only. English is the only spoken language available on this version, with English captions for the hearing impaired.

Disc three contains most of the traditional bonus items. The first and most important is a ninety-minute documentary, "Snowball Effect: The Story of Clerks," divided into thirty-nine chapters. It's very personal, very biographical, and, needless to say, very informative. It may, however, be more than the average viewer wants or needs; it seems geared toward the true believers, who will adore it, and beginning filmmakers looking for a little encouragement. Next is Smith and Moiser's first film together, "Mae Day: The Crumbling of a Documentary," an eleven-minute documentary on a documentary that didn't happen. After that is a forty-two minute "10th Anniversary Q&A" session in front of a live audience, followed by thirteen outtakes from "Snowball Effect," for me more than a bit of overkill. Finally, there is a still photo gallery, several of Kevin Smith's text journals, and articles and reviews by Amy Taubin, Robert Hawk, John Pierson, and Peter Broderick.

There are also some DVD-ROM materials, including Kevin Smith's first draft of the "Clerks" screenplay, which I did not access. The three discs are packaged in a foldout plastic-and-cardboard container, contained in a cardboard slipcase. Inside the package is a twenty-four page informational booklet, very handy.

Parting Thoughts:
I don't know how much of anything is too much of a good thing. It's like the kid in the candy store. The 10th Anniversary Edition of "Clerks" gives dedicated fans of the movie everything they could ever want, until, as Smith notes in one of his many commentaries, the 20th Anniversary Edition comes out, at which time they'll throw in even more stuff they left out this time. It never ends. And that doesn't even count the high-definition edition. Live with it.

Ratings

Video
6
Audio
6
Extras
8
Film Value
7