A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 575 – Clerks

Clerks – September 26th, 2011

I think I’ve mentioned before that we have some truly bizarre holes in our collection. Like Fargo, though we’ve since filled that hole. This was another hole, made even stranger by the fact that we owned Mallrats. I mean, I enjoy Mallrats and all, but I enjoy this more. How could we not own it? So we ordered it, and by accident Andy ordered the Blu-ray version. Now, eventually I’m sure we’ll have a Blu-ray player hooked up to our television, but for now we have two choices: The PS3 in the living room on the large but old CRT in there, or Andy’s laptop. So, laptop it was tonight. Fortunately it’s got a nice big screen and he doesn’t mind a movie monopolizing it for an hour and a half.

This movie came out when I was in high school and it wasn’t long after it came out that I started working in a video store. I saw it soon after and well, it’s not as close to my experience as Empire Records is, but there’s a sense of service industry ennui that’s present through the whole movie. Granted, it’s very much a pop culture collage, but it’s also meant to be commentary on the lives of the people who accumulate that sort of pop culture knowledge. About the people of the generation who pay attention to that particular pop culture time frame. I’m not quite the right generation. I’m a couple of years behind, but not behind enough to be in the next one. This movie still resonates with me.

It is a movie with a simple premise: A day in the life of convenience store clerk Dante Hicks, who gets called into work on his day off. His “I’m not even supposed to be here today!” is oft quoted by myself and Andy and I suspect many others. Dante hates his job, hates the things he has to deal with in his job, and seems to want to do something else. But he also lacks the drive to do anything about it, simply accepting each new indignity with vocal protest but no action to back it up. Which is really his whole character arc, but without specifics like the ex-girlfriend who accidentally has sex with a corpse in the convenience store bathroom. Which is sort of the movie in a nutshell: It’s a simple premise in which bizarre things happen but which seem not to faze the characters as much as one might expect.

It’s rather episodic, really. And that seems intentional, since various sections of the movie have title cards displayed before them. But within each section are little episodes. They’re not quite vignettes. They’re just moments. We meet Dante and along with him we find out that someone’s jammed gum into the padlocks that open the screens over the front of the store. We watch him get accosted by a gum salesman who rallies smokers against him and we meet his girlfriend (who disperses the mob by emptying a fire extinguisher at them). We meet his friend Randall, who works at the video store next door and clearly does not give even a quarter of a shit. Through the course of the day we get to know Dante and his many and sundry issues.

First of all, Dante is in this dead end job he hates. Why does he hate it? He hates it because people treat him like dirt and he’s not even getting paid well to make up for it. Second of all, Dante has a nice solid relationship with his girlfriend, Veronica, but he’s still got a thing for his ex, Caitlin Bree. Third of all, he’s not even supposed to be there today! He’s got hockey! Really, Dante’s problem is inertia. Never in the movie is it suggested that Dante has any roadblocks to going back to school aside from a lack of interest. Which might be disingenuous if one took it as a commentary on all people his age at the time the movie was made, but I’ve never seen it that way. I’ve always seen it as a commentary on a very specific group, as represented by Dante. And Randall, because he sure as hell doesn’t seem interested in getting out of the small town they live in or getting a better job. Not just then, anyhow. The difference between the two is that Randall is self-aware and Dante isn’t. According to the trivia, the reason Randall is such a smartass with all the good lines and major insights is that Kevin Smith wrote the part for himself.

In amongst all the serious commentary on Dante’s life and how mired in his own problems he is, there’s a boatload of pop culture commentary. There’s a whole conversation (well known by now) about whether the rebuilding of the Death Star in The Return of the Jedi would have involved independent contractors and if so, whether those contractors were innocent victims of the Rebellion’s attack. These conversations are often just between Dante and Randall but they spread out to the customers too. They also comment on the nature of working in retail, talking about the vagaries of customers. They pause in their work to play hockey, to go to a wake, and to have a knock-down drag-out brawl in the snack aisle. And through it all we also get snippets of Jay and Silent Bob, two drug dealers who hang out outside the store and accost people who walk by. It is a bizarre mish-mash of scenes that cover all sorts of things, but which hang together due to the location and conceit of the movie.

The whole thing is filmed in black and white, which personally, I like. I’ve never minded black and white movies, even modern ones. When done purposefully they can look really good. While I know the major reason for it here was because Smith was working with a severely limited budget and didn’t have the money to do color correction on color stock with different lighting sources, I think it also would have looked messy otherwise. The movie was filmed in an actual convenience store. This isn’t a set. It’s a real place, which comes with the issue that you can only do so much set dressing. They filmed at night while the store was closed, so the place needed to be usable the next day after filming without too much fuss. Picture your local independent convenience store, with hand written notes and a counter full of point-of-sale displays in eye-popping colors and racks of stock behind the counter. Now imagine watching that on screen for two hours, because that’s where Dante is for much of the movie.

Now, this movie isn’t pure unadulterated brilliance from start to finish. The cast is clearly unpolished and every so often the writing is a bit too self-aware. It was made on a shoestring budget (for a movie) and you can tell. But it’s also a very strong movie in general, which makes the obvious low-budget issues matter less to me. Maybe it’s my retail background, but then too, a whole lot of people my age and around my age have backgrounds in retail. Even if the pop culture gets a little stale, which it inevitably will, the general idea will remain fairly solid for a little more time, at least. And that’s what sells this movie.

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September 26, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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