This Friday at Midnight, Kevin Smith‘s Clerks will return to Park City for a commemorative screening. The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival 20 years ago, showing for the first time at the Holiday Village Cinema on January 22, 1994, at 10pm. Two more screenings were held the following week in the same theater, with a fourth and final appearance at the Egyptian. The festival guide entry, written by Bob Hawk (who would go on to be a producer on Chasing Amy), called it “the film equivalent of a garage band” and “an essentially serious work that refuses to take itself seriously.”
According to John Pierson’s book Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes, the film was already in play ahead of the premiere, with an advance screening set up for Miramax in December. Although they would end up distributing Clerks, apparently Harvey Weinstein walked out after 15 minutes, allegedly because of the anti-smoking sequence. He later gave it another shot at the Egyptian following a build up of strong word of mouth and some very positive reviews, and was heard laughing this time. A deal was made quickly, and by the end of the fest Clerks also received the Filmmakers Trophy for the dramatic competition, sharing the award with Fresh. Smith’s career was born, and the rest is history.
That history has had its ups and downs, of course, but whatever you think of the filmmaker and any of his works from the two decades since (especially this film’s terrible sequel), if you were among us who caught Clerks in the theater that fall and experienced an incomparable new voice in cinema, you must have a fondness for this little indie that hit perfectly with the iconoclastic slacker youth of the time. Below I’ve selected seven scenes that I still really love from the movie, which I’m glad is still being celebrated.
We all love Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith), right? Well, aside from all the homophobic stuff that sadly was the norm of that era. My favorite of their scenes, though, is because of another character, Olaf (John Henry Westhead). He’s Bob’s Russian cousin and he writes the finest metal lyrics of the ’90s. It was pretty awesome that they actually included the full song on the soundtrack.
Jay and Silent Bob may have been the breakout scene-stealers of the movie, but Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson) also deserves some recognition for giving us many of the most memorable moments. As irreverent sidekick to the fairly bland Dante (Brian O’Halloran) — the Jay to his Silent Bob, in a way — he is a real hero to any young person with a crappy retail job. He continually screws with customers in ways we wished we could (even when we become managers and deal with employees who are that rude with disciplinary action — some things must remain fantasy) and always just speaks his mind. In his first scene, where his own ruse is far more unfair than the one done to him later, he also proves to be the perfect video store employee, randomly quoting movie dialogue to people as only a true movie geek is wont to do.
Death Star Contractors
Later, Randal brings up the Star Wars trilogy for a discussion that would speak to all the movie geeks in the audience in a time when those movies were not constantly referenced on the scale they are now. This was pre-Internet for the most part (sure, there were likely some Star Wars newsgroups where the movies were discussed but not like we have it now) and also pre-Special Editions, not to mention pre-prequels. We were so innocent, and we could still have our minds blown at a clever theory about Return of the Jedi claiming that the good guys were responsible for countless innocents’ deaths. I still think about this conversation whenever I watch Jedi, along with the Muppets comment that I initially ignored but now embrace. I like Muppets. I like Ewoks. I also like that when George Lucas addressed this theory on the Attack of the Clones commentary that he says it was Jay and Silent Bob who’d worried about the Death Star contractors while explaining that the innocent builders were just the Geonosians, “a bunch of termites,” so not worthy of concern.
Does Your Title Dictate Your Behavior?
Yeah, another great Randal moment. This one goes with the fantasy role of his character, especially how he spits water in an irritating customer’s face. But it’s also an interesting debate about the way a service job requires the responsibility to not just act however you please and do and say whatever you want. In my youth I definitely wanted to side with Randal to a degree. He is the extreme example of someone dictating their own behavior rather than following and conforming to a certain code of work ethic that always gives in to the customer and the bossman. The guy here, though, hardly deserves to be spit on. I’ve seen far worse from both sides of the counter, to the point of watching people I work with jump over and start wailing on someone. And I don’t know what the big deal about him wanting to go rent a movie at another store is. It’s not like he’s a Coke employee seen drinking a Pepsi, although even that was ridiculous.
Debates and fantasies aside, was there ever a movie before this that fully captured the varied kinds of obnoxious customers that retail and service employees dealt with on a regular basis? The closest thing I can think of having for such satisfaction was something like Mad magazine’s regular cartoons involving stupid questions. There was a point when I wanted to write a movie that I realized was basically just Clerks set at a movie theater. It was unnecessary, because this montage, and this whole movie, is pretty universally relatable to anyone working a job requiring customer interaction. I’ve encountered these people as a convenience store clerk, concession worker, ticket seller, book seller, jewelry seller, grocery cashier and especially record store employee. So much of this movie should be shown to new hires along with the rest of the training tapes. The video store customers are particularly identifiable to us movie fans who can’t stand seeing total garbage be the most popular stuff being seen.
One of the most famous bits in the movie, certainly the one everybody was talking about at Sundance 20 years ago (and that Pierson claims Weinstein laughed at loudly). Yeah, it’s a funny, racy scene in which the word “dicks” is said over and over, but what I find most significant about this scene is how it perfectly predates the discussion of oral sex versus intercourse during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Dante freaks out because he thought when Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti) said she’d had sex with three guys that included all kinds of sex, blowjobs too. It’s just like Clinton claiming not to have had sex with Monica because he also didn’t include oral in that definition. The thing I wonder now, though, is where’s the discussion of her being taken care of? Cunnilingus was unfortunately even more of a taboo discussion then than fellatio.
Silent Bob Speaks
I don’t know exactly how well the original ending played, where suddenly Dante is killed by a robber, but that kind of out-of-nowhere ending seems unnecessary. We’ve already got a nice twist of sorts with Silent Bob not actually being a mute at the end. His final speeches full of wisdom would become a staple of Smith’s comedies for a while, and so their impact diminished a bit. Yet the funny thing is that now, looking back, Bob’s words aren’t all that remarkable. Not only is it a really obvious point, even if Dante hasn’t figured it out yet, but Jay basically made the point already a second before, just not as succinctly.