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Review Askew: Clerks (1994)

“Have you seen Clerks?”

“The black and white film?”

“Yea, the one they shot the entire film with security cameras.”

“Wait, the same guy who directed Chasing Amy, directed Clerks?!”

That was the conversation that led me to watching Clerks circa 1999. My father had recruited a co-worker and his son, a guy ten years my senior, to help us move our hot tub from a house in Bartlett, Tennessee to Munford, Tennessee. When introduced to this young man, I really didn’t think I would have anything to talk to him about. I was a shy fifteen-year-old and he was a tatted up twenty-five year old fresh out of rehab. His teeth had seen better days, and despite his father being incredibly well put together, this guy had fallen in with the wrong folks. He was working on getting his life together and that’s how he ended up helping us move this massive hot tub off a deck and into a moving truck.

Luckily for me, he was a great communicator. He began asking me about my interests and when I discussed filmmaking, he asked me about independent film. I’d recently become obsessed with a film called Chasing Amy, that I had recorded at 3 AM on Starz or Encore. The story was simple, yet personal, and felt real. It made me want to tell personal stories and to show what life was really like, outside of the polished Hollywood scene.

So, when he asked me about what independent films I liked, I mentioned Chasing Amy and watched his eyes light up. Over the next twenty minutes, I got a crash course in View Askew and Kevin Smith. I was able to link to two movies I knew of but had never seen (Clerks and Mallrats) to Chasing Amy and his upcoming film Dogma. I didn’t know how much my life would change that day, and sadly, I don’t even know the guy’s name who changed it. But that random afternoon, moving a hot tub, would influence my life for the next two decades to come.

Clerks had been available to rent for four or five years by the time I got around to seeking it out. DVDs were emerging on the market and I was insistent on seeing it in the best available format. My local video store wasn’t carrying DVDs yet, and the Blockbuster’s selection was extremely small. This led me to ordering a copy of Clerks at Best Buy which cost me $45. I drove almost an hour to the closest Best Buy, talked to an employee, and got it ordered. It wasn’t as simple as logging onto the website like it is today.

A few weeks later, I received a call that my DVD was in stock, so I rushed out to Best Buy to begin my Kevin Smith experience.

Watching Clerks for the first time is an interesting experience. It’s a modern film (or at least it was modern in 1998/1999), but was shot on 16mm in black and white (not with the security cameras as so many people claimed.) Prior to the Clerks X restoration, the prints were a bit muddled, dark in spots, and this gave it charm. When you watched Clerks, you felt like you were part of a small group of people who’d sit through this strange, little film and that’s what made it so great. After the rocky first ten minutes, I quickly became enamored with the story because the characters talked more along the lines of the way I talked with my friends. They had conversations about tiny details of Star Wars. Not every word was perfectly spoken and crafted like other movies, but instead it had a natural flow. Sometimes too fast, occasionally too slow, but real.

The characters weren’t attractive nor well dressed. The performances were passable, but no acting awards were going to be given for Clerks. And while on some movies, this would be a detriment, it worked for Clerks. The amateurish vibe gave the movie a home video feel. It was like a true peek into the world of a couple of guys working at a convenience store in 1993.

I hadn’t begun working yet, but I was mere months away from beginning that journey. Little did I know how great of a job Clerks did at capturing the monotony of the day-to-day life in retail. The same behaviors being repeated over and over, the sketchy behavior of your co-workers and bosses, and the insanity that are called customers. Once I began my first job at Blockbuster, I quickly recognized the bones of what Clerks is made up of, a true break down of what it was like to work retail.

Clerks introduced me to a cast of colorful characters in small town New Jersey. These characters were the type of people I wouldn’t mind hanging out with. The DVD release of Clerks took things one step further by including a commentary track ported over from the laser disc release. This commentary track gave me a glimpse into the world of Kevin Smith and his friends, and I think I can speak for most fans of View Askew in this time frame, it made us feel like we were part of it. There was this cool guy in Hollywood, who liked the same things we liked, had funny friends, and loved to make movies.

Clerks wasn’t the beginning of my Kevin Smith journey, but it was the beginning of my love affair with View Askew. I’ve probably seen Clerks forty or fifty times in my lifetime, and I’ve listened to the commentary tracks multiple times and enjoyed every piece of additional footage.

My favorite piece of supplemental material was the documentary on the Clerks X DVD titled Snowball Effect: The Story of ‘Clerks.’ This documentary chronicles how Clerks came to be, the casting process, the filming, the release, and unexpected success. It’s one of those feel-good stories that makes up the magic of the View Askew Universe.

Clerks would go onto live a long life, twenty-eight years as of this post. Our two favorite clerks, Dante and Randal, would evolve into comic book form, a network cartoon series, short films, cameos, and two more feature length films, but we will talk about those another day.

Clerks is a wonderful film that is very near and dear to me. Is it a film for everybody? Absolutely not. It’s rough around the edges, a bit dated, and has some gross out humor. With that being said, Clerks is an experience, one that any fan of Kevin Smith or even pop culture, I believe should see and will enjoy, not to mention anyone who works as a clerk or with the public.

Clerks may not be my favorite View Askew Production, but it’s the one that started them all and for that reason alone, it deserves respect and admiration.

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