A warning: much like the film itself, this review may contain some language that is considered inappropriate for younger readers.
A warning: much like the film itself, this review may contain some language that is considered inappropriate for younger readers.
"This job would be great, if it wasn't for the f*cking customers."
Little known fact: Most Blu-ray reviewers don't review discs as their sole (or even main) source of income. That's right, when we aren't toiling over the "artistic merits" of brain dead summer cinema, or pretentious indy works, many of us have our steady 8-5 jobs.
When I'm not viewing and reviewing films, I'm a clerk, of sorts, working behind a counter selling goods when I'm not dealing with customers and vendors. In our family business, we compare the drudgery we inflict upon ourselves daily to the job of a bartender, as we act much like unpaid psychologists or guidance counselors when a sad story is thrown on our laps. The job itself is easy, but it's the people that can make it a living hell, that can make you hate your job so much that you begin to lose faith in humanity as a whole. You get all types, and have to learn to cater to their individual needs and personalities, but damn if there aren't some people that you grow to loathe the very sight of. The funny thing is, much like classmates, these asses are often the ones you remember, rather than the upstanding guys who make the job easy and fun to perform. You can stop caring, grow a shell, assume everyone else in the world is an ignorant, unscrupulous asshole, and treat the job like everything asked of you is an inconvenience if you let the jerks get to you, as apparently they did to former clerk turned filmmaker Kevin Smith.
In a bit of art imitating life, the setting for Smith's debut film is the very store in which worked (Editor's Note - He filmed at night between shifts. The security gate with the makeshift open sign was incorporated to hide day and night screen flubs.), the Kwik Stop convenience store in Leonardo, New Jersey (which is also the setting for the 'Clerks' animated series, which dares to venture outside of the store on many occasions). Called in to run the store on his day off, counter jockey Dante (Brian O'Halloran) laments his fate to anyone who will listen as his disburses the store's products to the masses. His best friend and neighboring video store clerk Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson) has a different approach to the customers, with a caustic "who gives a fuck?" attitude meant to drive away those he finds beneath him...AKA everyone.
Through relationship drama between Dante and his girlfriend Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti) concerning sexual histories, and Dante's yearning for his ever-cheating ex Caitlin (Lisa Spoonhauer), a hockey game on the roof of the store, a trip to a funeral home for the wake of one of Dante's past lovers, and as many pesky customers as can walk through the doors, 'Clerks' isn't so much a tale of the events of one day in a store, as it is a "bro-mance," as Dante and Randal rely on each other when they don't want to strangle the other to death for their actions/inactions.
Each and every clerk who has seen 'Clerks' can put themselves in either Dante or Randal's shoes, as they lambast the same idiotic customers while wishing they were doing something else with their lives, rather than performing painful work for minimal pay. Smith himself thought of himself as Randal, to the point that he was originally going to play the indifferent-to-the-world-slacker (who conveniently has many of the "best lines" in the film, according to Smith).
Some may see the film as an exaggeration, that these diverse customers with their idiosyncrasies on full display aren't life-like and authentic, but if you've spent more than a week behind the counter dealing with the general public on a one-on-one basis, you'll know that the film is closer to the truth than anything. Even in my store, it is a daily occurrence dealing with people making a living off their profession, who have no idea what the bloody hell they're doing, spouting off ideas and quick fixes more likely to cause severe property damage than fix the existing problems, while at the same time dealing with extreme penny-pinching and bizarre behaviors and habits. I can't even begin to express the frustration at the manners of people (or should I say the lack thereof), who eat like savages, spilling food and drink across their immediate proximity with no regard to the mess they create. Smith obviously dealt with his fair share of ignorant souls, and set out to show the world what he thought of his job.
What is unrealistic in 'Clerks' is the fashion through which every character talks, with an extremely self-aware manner, with no pause between reply, providing a rapid fire conversation that, let's be honest, most mouth breathers are incapable of. The Randal character is a being of pure sarcasm, so his ability to reply within a split second to any comment with something extremely smarmy or pop culture referential is about accurate, but Dante the whiner is as likely to be a smooth talker as he is to decide on what he wants with his own life. The only realism in the speech patterns of the characters in the film is the fact that, a few times, they flub their lines, mispronouncing words, dropping syllables, or even stopping and restarting a line, which gives the film a slight sense of realism, even if accidentally.
Smith shows his inexperience in his first time as a writer and director, with one scene in particular: a shot of shoes, followed directly by another group of shoes, of the participants of a conversation, due to issues with the coverage of the scene. To his credit, though, his rookie performance is arguably his greatest work, the most from the heart film he's made, the pace car, as it were. He isn't to blame so much for the poor performances provided by many of the actors, as there are no "names" here (other than the minor names that this film made), as many of the actors in 'Clerks' are friends and/or family of Smith, with many covering multiple roles, including longtime collaborator/producer Scott Mosier, who portrays both Snowball and the angry customer turned hockey hooligan (and an angry funeral mourner, though only from behind).
While the focus of the film centers around the Dante character, it is Randal who is the voice of the film, showing the world through his point of view. While he (and his tactics) were later fleshed out in 'Clerks II,' he's a scene stealer in every shot he's in, from his zany "Randal Dance,' to his foul treatment of everything and everyone around him. His abuse of customers is an extension of who he is, as he is shown to be abusive to even those who aren't asking him to work rather than watch movies all day, and in the climax of the film, it's Randal who provides the insight that Dante needs. As jaded as he is, he has a deep love for his best (and only) friend, and it shows every minute he locks up RST Video just so he can spend time with his better half.
'Clerks' is famous for putting Kevin Smith on the map, for bringing Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) to the world, if even as background pot dealers who have no purpose in the context of the film, and for being one of the independent films that changed the way cinema was viewed in the early '90s, along with Quentin Tarantino's 'Reservoir Dogs.' This foul mouthed film may not be family friendly by any means (as scenes of necrophilia and discussion of pornography and sexual acts are more than candid), but it has earned quite a following from an ever-growing group of diehard, loyal fans, allowing Smith to do what he wanted to do with his life, in comics and cinema. Smith may not have grown much since his debut feature, and has yet to write or direct a real financial blockbuster, but that doesn't make his works any less successful.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Clerks' hit Blu-ray just weeks after its 15th anniversary in a (get this) "15th Anniversary Edition," spread across a single BD50 disc. The packaging for this title indicates that it is region free, and should play in any Blu-ray player, regardless of country. There are no pre-menu trailers, other than a Miramax credit logo that pops up, and then a nonsensical "now serving XX" generic sign indicating loading time (that makes no sense in the context of the flick). Pausing the movie while it plays will pop up a timeline that will not go away until the movie has been playing for quite a few seconds after the movie has been resumed, a Disney staple that is aggravating to say the least.
'Clerks' isn't the kind of film you expect to see on Blu-ray, ever. As is witnessed in the special features of this release, not even Smith found it to be a good idea. Famously known for its paper thin budget (which was acquired by Smith maxing out his credit cards and selling his comics), 'Clerks' was shot on 16mm film, in black and white, and has been a poster child for gritty films all about content rather than aesthetic.
Despite what Smith himself may think, this 1080p AVC MPEG-4 high def transfer of 'Clerks' does the film some level of justice. First and foremost, there are no artifacting issues to be found, a major plus, considering how the DVD releases, which loaded the discs so much with no concern for picture quality, looked pretty beat. Black levels are inky and well defined, particularly in the wall of videocassette tapes and boxes along the walls in RST Video, as the distinction between cases, in a wall of black, is clear and distinguishable. Whites are a bit busy, mostly due to grain, and are only nuclear in the shots inside RST looking out the window. Grays, the primary color of the film, come through in a wide range of tones, often quite solid and clean.
Contrast can fluctuate and bounce around, and there's still a smattering of dirt and scratches to be found. There was some ringing issues, and a few brightness fluctuations, but considering the less-than-ideal filming situations, it's hard to complain that much. Walls (especially the one outside RST Video as Jay and Silent Bob are introduced) can dance like mad from some stronger grain, but dancing walls are much better than dancing walls full of artifacts. The panning shot inside Big Choice Video is ugly, but otherwise, this is a solid representation of a low budget film, one that does the source great justice. I went in with the lowest of expectations, and was pleasantly surprised. I found 'Clerks' to look even better than 'Chasing Amy,' but that's more a comment on the sub-par appearance of the latter than anything else.
The audio for 'Clerks' is also one of those head scratchers, as many will wonder how much blood can be squeezed from a turnip. Miramax gives the film a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix to fiddle with (and so many subtitle options it's headache inducing), and the result is respectable...considering the source.
Rear speakers don't get a whole lot of attention through the film, as there are only a few moments with real rear ambience or motion/localization (the car ride to the funeral parlor was one of those selected scenes with said elements). The soundtrack to the film also hits all channels, and is amazingly clear and sharp, to the point I was stunned. Bass use is somewhat minimal save for the segments with a musical background (montage!).
Dialogue is clear, to the point that I caught a few more flubs in performances than hadn't noticed in the past. Yells and other high or loud noises come through with an ugly crackle, but it's really hard to hold it against the disc all that much. There are an assortment of hums and whirring noises in the background of the film, that can be explained by the camera equipment, or even the lighting of the stores...either way, it is easily noticeable, though hardly a major distraction. This is the epitome of a no frills, basic, serviceable mix, that is given nothing to work with, and doesn't force an awkward disaster. 'Clerks' doesn't sound beautiful, but it certainly isn't a disaster by any means.
The last home video release of 'Clerks' was five years ago, with Clerks X, a three disc set loaded with extras. Most of the content from that release has found its way on board the Blu-ray, though some didn't make the jump. Specifics missing are the booklet (a shame that only Criterion regularly includes these!), the photo gallery, journals, and article/review gallery.
This release is fairly authoritative, leaving little reason to hang on to previous releases of 'Clerks.' That said, a bonus disc with the animated series, or even portions of it (or even some as bonus features on the feature disc) would have been great. The film is near legendary, one of a few movies that ushered in a new era of cinema, and despite what the creator thinks, this Blu-ray is worth buying, and is not just a wonton cash grab. Don't listen to the source on this one. Give it a buy, as it will be hard to ever imagine this film looking or sounding that much better. Highly Recommended.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.