Clerks: Founder Of Slacker Comedy Essay, Research Paper
Clerks, Kevin Smith?s 1994 debut as a writer and director of full-length films, made the ?slacker comedy? genre famous. Slacker comedy is a genre essentially characterized by low budget filming, lower class characters and urban settings. Following the fairly successful formula of the 1991 release of Slacker, Clerks shows a day in the life of a couple of main characters with little action, but lots of dialogue. The cheap, black and white camera, used because of lack of money, not aesthetic quality, adds to the grittiness and realness of the film. According to Clerks.com, the movie was mainly funded by ? ten credit cards that Kevin [Smith] had to his name?a family donation, and paychecks from working at the Quick Stop and RST Video.? Before Clerks was released, it was sent to the Independent Feature Film Market, where Bob Hawk, a member of the Sundance Advisory Committee, saw and enjoyed the movie. After that, it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, where it received an award and was picked up by Mirimax. Once it was released, Clerks gained a large following composed of mostly young, white males. Slacker, previously the definitive slacker-comedy, showed unmotivated, shabby and comical people in everyday situations. Clerks took Slacker and added wit, quicker comedy and gave it a plot. This revolutionized how we see the genre and raised the standards of the independent cinema audience.
Clerks is a movie telling the story of one day at a Quik Stop convenience store. The film is shot almost entirely inside the Quik Stop or its neighbor, RST Video. There are two main characters: Dante, played by Brian O?Halloran, and Randal Graves, played by Jeff Anderson, who had never acted before (Clerks.com). At the beginning of the movie Dante is called into work on his day off. The movie progresses and entertains with comedic encounters with customers, witty dialogue, and at the climax, an accidental necrophilic act. There is a plot and it consists mainly of Dante?s girl trouble. He is happy with his current girlfriend Veronica until he reads in a newspaper that his high school sweetheart is getting married to an Asian Studies major. The story continues from there, but the plot is not the important part of the film. It is more like the film?s reason to exist. The part of the movie that shines is the dialogue. This is typical of the slacker-comedy genre, which often portrays fast-paced, witty dialogue with little action. The only drawback to this is that sometimes Dante and Randall are speaking so fast that they are giving the audience a sort of verbal whiplash. This sometimes leaves a sense that the actors are actually acting and what they are saying are just lines. However, the setting, the code and the scripting of the film alleviate this problem. If anything, the sometimes strained speaking adds a sense of realism, further heightened by the black and white camera and the realistic setting. Taken from suntimes.com, this quote from Roger Ebert illustrates some of the film: ?One of the many charms of Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” is that it clocks a full day on the job. Its hero, Dante Hicks, is a clerk in a convenience store, and his friend Randal works next door in the video store. [The movie is] grungy and unkempt? They are tired and bored, underpaid and unlucky in love, and their encounters with customers feel like a series of psychological tests.?
A slacker-comedy can usually be defined as an independent release that portrays young characters who shy away from responsibility. The characters tend to settle for lower class jobs such as convenience store employees. The poorness of the characters can probably be related to the poorness of the producers. People creating realistic art tend to create worlds that resemble their own. The lack of wealth that the producers command is directly proportional to the budget of the movie. Due to the low budgets, the actors are usually inexperienced and the production value is low. The films usually try to make up for low production value with quick, witty, and well-written scripts. Juxtaposed to the well-written dialogue is the content of that dialogue, which is usually crude humor. While insightful comments are often made, they are done so in a humorous context. The fact that the plots are generally not the focus of the films and that there is generally little physical action leaves the films open to redundancy. Therefore, slacker comedies tend to run shorter than other movies.
Clerks fills all of the criteria set for slacker comedies by films such as Slacker. The two main characters Dante and Randall both work in low paying, dead-end jobs. Neither of them has attended college. Caitlin, Dante?s high-school sweetheart is engaged to an Asian-studies major, and while he is never on screen, he is generally shown contempt, partly because of his successfulness. Kevin Smith is a near perfect reflection of his characters. He worked at the Quik Stop and the RST Video where the movie was filmed (Clerks.com). Smith went into debt filming this movie. He sold his prized comic book collection, and used numerous credit cards to help fund the movie. He was barely able to raise the $27,500 needed to make the film. The lack of money is shown in the low production value. At times, the audience might feel as if they are watching through the eyes of a security camera, which, while fitting, is not very pretty. The actors had very little experience, some of them had none, and it definitely shows. However, Clerks succeeded critically and fiscally. It grossed over three million dollars, and reviewers loved it. On the onion.com, Kevin Smith talked about how forgiving an audience can be.
You know, if my career has done anything, it proves you don’t need a visual style to work in film–which is ironic, because it’s a visual medium–as long as you have something worthwhile to say. And if my first film proved anything, it’s that they will forgive you so many things. Clerks looked *censored*ty. Some of the performances are downright wooden, you know, and God, for something that takes place in a visual medium, there’s not much visual going on. But the script was there, the script was tight, the dialogue was tight, and people dug on it. If that’s the case, they’ll forgive you a lot.
Perhaps part of the reason that Clerks succeeded was that the audience clearly identifies with the very human characters. Shown with all of their flaws, none of the people in the film seem to be super human or special. They just seem like normal, funny people.
Clerks conforms to the standards of the slacker comedy genre, but it also adds new criteria that must be addressed if one is to make a slacker comedy today. Clerks pushed the genre into the spotlight of independent films. It also made low production values less important and yet increased the need for sharp and witty scripting. This means a lot to young writers who truly have a talent for writing good movies, but don?t have the capital to make a wonderful production. Another constraint that Kevin Smith broke was the death of a character at the end of the movie, and the focus on violence. He thought that all indie films had someone important die at the end, so he originally wrote the script with one of the main characters, Dante, dying in a robbery at the end. On Clerks.com, Kevin says that this scene was written because ?in independent movies, someone always gets killed in the end. I didn’t think anyone would ‘get’ the movie because it didn’t have any violence.? People did get Clerks, and it now stands as a testament to an audience that does not need violence to enjoy a movie.
Clerks is a perfect example of a slacker-comedy, and yet it also changed the rules of the genre. Few movies achieve this kind of balance. Clerks also made the public aware of the genre, and it made us aware of a brilliant mind in Kevin Smith, who later went on to make Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and Dogma. Clerks managed to please just about everyone. The Sundance Film Festival, the critics, and the public all sang its praises. One of the most endearing characteristics