Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition published in January 2013, Kevin Carr spends time with Kevin Smith and his commentary for his 1994 debut, Clerks.
When given the chance, most sane people flee the colder areas of the country in favor of tropical locations in January. However, movie fans turn away from the dreadful selection of films in the marketplace and focus their attention to Park City, Utah, for the Sundance Film Festival. While our elite writers are checking out the many films at Sundance, it’s time for another commentary on a film’s commentary. The choice this week is Kevin Smith’s breakthrough picture Clerks.
Clerks wasn’t discovered at Sundance, but it was a breakout hit at the festival in 1994. This week, let’s forget about the Red State auction shenanigans, feuds with Southwest Air, and various Twitter explosions. We can turn back the clock to 1995 when Smith sat down with his cohorts to record the commentary to what is possibly his best-known film.
For fans of the film, and Smith’s career, much of the information might be repetitious. However, even if you’ve listened to the Clerks commentary before, there’s a few gems you might have forgotten or not noticed until now.
And on to the commentary…
Commentators: Kevin Smith (writer, director, actor), Walt Flanagan (actor), Scott Mosier (producer, actor), Brian O’Halloran (actor), Jason Mewes (actor), Vincent Pereira (View Askew historian), Dave Klein (cinematographer, actor), and Malcolm Ingram (Film Threat writer)
1. The View Askew logo originated as drawing by Walt Flanagan, who sent a picture of a clown and a kid throwing a ball to Kevin Smith. Smith liked it, and it the sketches were sent to an animation producer to make the original animated View Askew logo sequence. Smith recalls someone complaining to the Daily News that it was “a child-molesting clown,” even though the clown never touches the child.
2. This commentary track was recorded during an off day on the production of Mallrats in Minnesota.
3. Jason Mewes was “very drunk as usual” during the commentary and spends much of the time passed out at Kevin’s feet.
4. Smith refers to Walt Flanagan as the “Lon Chaney of Clerks” because he plays four parts in the film: Woolen Cap Smoker, Egg Man, Offended Customer, and Cat-Admiring Bitter Customer. Scott Mosier plays two roles: Willam the Idiot Manchild and Angry Hockey-Playing Customer.
5. Because much of the film was shot at night, Smith wrote the jammed locks into the script. This allowed him to keep the shutters closed throughout the film since they didn’t have the budget to light from the outside of the main window.
6. Days before the film had its theatrical release, Miramax added what Smith refers to as an “overproduced soundtrack” while Dante opens the Quick Stop that the original festival cut didn’t have.
7. The “diseased lung” the Chewlies Rep puts on the counter is a piece of haggis that the crew shaped to look like a lung. To make it look diseased, they dragged it across the parking lot and put out cigarette butts in it.
8. At the time of production, Smith was a staunch non-smoker, which prompted the writing of the Chewlies Gum scene. By the time he recorded the commentary, he was smoking two packs a day. Throughout the commentary, Smith also points out how awkwardly he smokes as his character, saying it proves he was a non-smoker.
9. Because of the Chewlies Gum scene, the film never mentions any brand name of cigarettes, for fear of a lawsuit.
10. Jason Mewes was drunk during his introductory scene.
11. When Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti) shoots a fire extinguisher at the smoker mob, they discharged an actual fire extinguisher on the first take. For subsequent takes, the crew used baby powder for the dust effect.
12. About 13 minutes were removed from the Sundance cut to the theatrical cut.
13. During Dante and Veronica’s first long scene of dialogue behind the counter, it was original scripted to be solely them talking. During rehearsals, Ghigliotti got nail polish from her purse, and they incorporated Dante painting her nails into the scene to give them something else to do.
14. Originally, Willam the Idiot Manchild was meant to be “more of a college guy.” However, the original actor did not want to be known as the guy who ate his own cum, so Scott Mosier took over the role. Since Mosier didn’t look like the college type, they made him an idiot manchild drug addict.
15. Clerks was originally rated NC-17 by the MPAA. They appealed the decision, and the rating was reduced to an R with no cuts. Smith suggests the original rating resulted from the discussion of 37 blowjobs and snowballing.
16. After the discussion of 37 blowjobs, a customer comes to the counter to purchase Vaseline and rubber gloves. The next customer purchases a box of diapers.
17. Stan Baranowski, the actor who plays #812 Wynarski, did not want to use his real name in the film because of the ribald nature of the script, so he used his wife’s maiden name for the screen name Lee Bendick. He was actually a real customer of the Quick Stop convenience store and RST Video who came in all the time and knew Smith because of it.
18. The original film for #812 Wynarski’s keys being dropped in the garbage was slightly burned, which is noticeable in the last couple frames of the shot.
19. Originally, Smith wanted Dante to be clean-shaven. However, when actor Brian O’Halloran shaved, Smith didn’t like it. O’Halloran quickly grew his beard back several days before the shoot, which is why his beard’s thickness changes throughout production.
20. Smith originally wrote the part of Randal for himself, but he didn’t feel comfortable with that big of a part. Jeff Anderson, who played Randal, originally auditioned for the part of Jay.
21. Several in-jokes about director of photography Dave Klein are found throughout the film. The shot of “Dave’s Fruit Pies” (an altered sign for Hostess… remember Hostess?) was one of them. They comment about the high school kids Brad and Alan moving to Idaho to raise sheep was another one. “He’s from Idaho himself. Never raised sheep and is not gay,” clarifies Smith.
22. Smith borrowed the name Caitlin from Degrassi Junior High.
23. During the video order scene, Anderson did not want to read the list of pornographic titles in front of Ashley Pereira and her mother (the “Happy Scrappy” Mom and Kid). However, for their reaction shots, the list was read off-camera to them.
24. Smith regrets leaving out the fake porno title “Ass Blasters from Outer Space” from the video order list.
25. When the cat (Lenin’s Tomb) squats in the litter box on the counter, he is actually defecating. Listen closely to the soundtrack, and you can hear the feces dropping on the cat litter.
26. During the festival run, Smith was told by many people that they had gotten their hands stuck in canisters of Pringles.
27. Many actors in the film came from the local theater production company First Avenue Playhouse.
28. The Caged Animal Masturbater, who comments on the Egg Man, is Smith’s sister. The Milk Maid is played by Smith’s mother.
29. Following the jizz-mopper discussion, the Offended Customer buys paper towels and window-washing spray. This part was originally written for a woman, but she refused to do it, so Walt Flanagan took the part.
30. The only nudity seen in the film is a full-on beaver shot from the magazine “High Society.” According to Smith, “On the big screen, that came out crystal clear.”
31. The one-liner shots of annoying customers was inspired by the pick-up lines from Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It.
32. The movie Navy SEALs was one of the most rented videos at RST Video during Smith’s tenure as a clerk.
33. Scott Mosier plays the Angry Hockey-Playing Customer, who yells at Dante and Randal as they play hockey on the roof. At one point while he’s on the ladder, he yells at Willam the Idiot Manchild (also played by Mosier) standing in front of the convenience store door. Smith refers to this as “the only special effect in Clerks.”
34. Smith never got permission to shoot at the funeral home. They just showed up with a camera, crew, and actors. They took two takes and then left.
35. The Angry Mourners who chase Dante and Randal from the funeral home are played by Scott Mosier, Ed Hapstack in drag, and Dave Klein.
36. After returning from the funeral home, the movie suddenly goes from day to night with no explanation. Smith points out that no one ever questions this. A similar thing happens in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises after Batman returns to chase Bane and company from the stock exchange.
37. After Randal tells Jay to shut up outside the convenience store, it appears that Jay kicks him. However, he actually farts on him, with the fart sound almost inaudible.
38. Production was shut down one night for approximately two hours after the cat Lenin’s Tomb escaped from the Quick Stop.
39. Ernie O’Donnell, who plays personal trainer Rick Derris, was originally meant to play Dante, but he lost the role over creative differences over how to portray him.
40. Originally, Randal was meant to have a girlfriend, whom he visits after he leaves the video store. There was even a planned sex scene. When these scenes were removed, some have speculated that Randal was a closeted homosexual because of his apparent disinterest in women.
41. Alyssa’s sister Heather, who eventually leaves the store with Rick Derris, is played by Kim Loughran, whom Smith dated in high school and college. He credits her as the inspiration for both the characters of Veronica and Caitlin. Smith admits that in high school, he thought she was having an affair with Ernie O’Donnell, who plays Derris.
42. In the original script, Derris talks about taking girls to the beach so they can have sex. This dialogue was removed, which resulted in Heather’s suggestion to go to the beach making little or no sense in the final cut.
43. The statute under which Dante is fined for selling cigarettes to a minor is a real New Jersey law. However, as Walt Flanagan and Smith point out, it probably is contestable in a court of law.
44. The “Big Choice Video” scene was shot at “Choice Video,” a major area video store that had closed down by the time of the recording of the commentary.
45. At one point, Silent Bob buys sugar. When asked if they’re cutting their dope of having a sugar high by one of the commentators, Smith points out there’s a scene of Jay eating a box of sugar after the ambulance pulls away later. Years later, in Chasing Amy, Jay is seen eating sugar.
46. Jason Mewes was camera shy for his dancing sequence, so Smith had to clear the set to get the shot.
47. Jeff Anderson and Lisa Spoonhauer met on the set and ended up becoming engaged. Smith says, “So, Lisa, here, ironically enough wound up getting engaged to Jeff, who plays Randal. By the time this disc comes out, no, they won’t be married yet, but they’re on their way to the altar.” The couple eventually married in 1998, but the marriage ended in 1999.
48. Clerks was shot in 21 days on a budget of $27,575, according to Smith. The funds came from credit cards, a hocked comic book collection, plus a FEMA grant for two cars destroyed in a flood.
49. Smith and Klein voiced the sounds and dialogue of the “Best of Both Worlds” hermaphroditic porno Randal watches.
50. In the salsa shark sequence, the brand name of the salsa is covered with tape. The crew also obscured the name Doritos on the bag of chips. However, you see many brand name foods, including Planters, Fiddle Faddle, Crunch & Munch, Hershey’s, Orville Redenbacher, Oreo’s, and Chips Ahoy. However, in the cut-away of Randal picking up the salsa again, you can see the brand name of the salsa on the back label.
51. Inconvenience and Life of Convenience were early title ideas. Vincent Pereira suggested Rude Clerks. Obviously, Smith whittled that one down.
52. The final scene featuring Jay and Silent Bob resulted in 30 minutes of footage that need to be cut down because Jay was stoned.
53. As most know, the original ending features a robber killing Dante.
54. The film is dedicated “For Uncle Al” in honor of Smith’s uncle, an actor, who died during the making of the film.
Best in Commentary
- Smith: “We’re gonna watch Clerks and do some commentary for you, ’cause we’re huge LaserDisc fans.”
- Smith: “At that point, I swore I’d never write filthy dialogue again.” (Reacting to the 37 blowjobs dialogue after seeing it with four people in the audience at the IFFM.)
- Mosier: “I had no problem being the guy who ate his own cum.”
- Smith: “The closest thing we’ll ever come to a Clerks sequel.” (Referring to the Soul Asylum music video he directed, which was a reshoot of the hockey scene.)
- Smith: “Hands down, the worst line of the script is ‘koala-fish mutant bird.’ I don’t know what I was thinking.”
- Smith: “We thought because we got this in one take, we’d get everything in one take. We were so wrong.” (Regarding O’Halloran and Spoonhauer nailing a seven-minute dialogue scene in the second scene shot for the film.)
- Mosier: “What thinking organism would place her in the ambulance with the corpse.”
Say what you want to about Kevin Smith, his public personal, personal attitudes, or his career as of late. His first movie is still one of the best things he has ever made. Watching the film – and listening to the commentary – brings back a lot of memories from almost twenty years ago when he broke onto the movie scene.
There’s still a lot of life lessons to be taken away from Clerks. There are also some choice indie filmmaking stories from the production as well. With the advent of digital video and editing, a movie like this would have cost far less than $27,575. It’s amazing how things have changed in this short amount of time.