Film Threat archive logo


By Brad Cook | October 9, 2004

There’s a well-traveled piece of advice that teachers often give to students who struggle to come up with something for a creative writing assignment: Write about what you know. Director and writer Kevin Smith took that to heart when he set out to make “Clerks,” placing his film in the convenience and video rental stores that he actually worked at during his “What am I going to do with my life?” phase. As we learn in the excellent documentary, “Snowball Effect: The Story of ‘Clerks,’” which you can find on the third disc of this DVD set, Smith also based many of the characters in the film on people he knew, such as himself.

“Clerks” may be rough around the edges, but it’s still a joy to watch all these years after I first discovered the film, courtesy of my wife-to-be (she knows a great flick when she sees one). I’ve held a few retail grunt jobs in my day, so I can certainly sympathize with Randall and Dante’s disdain for stupid customers (well, actually, all customers), menial tasks and idiotic bosses. I have a feeling their “Just make it through the day” attitude rings true with many whose work histories are similar, which I’d guess is probably the vast majority of Americans. I just hope most of you are like me and escaped that trap.

I’d rattle off the story, but I’m sure most of you know it by now. “Clerks” really wasn’t plotted so much as it was put together as a series of short pieces that loosely tie together at the end. This probably isn’t a surprise once you learn that Smith’s first works were talent show sketches he wrote in high school. If you’re a “Clerks” virgin, don’t watch it for its adherence to the strict three-act plot—watch it for the character dynamics and snappy, often hysterical dialogue.

The film shows up on the first platter of this three-disc set, accompanied by a “classic commentary” track originally recorded for the laserdisc release back in the mid-90s, featuring Smith, producer Scott Mosier, Jason Mewes (Jay), Brian O’Halloran (Dante), and other cast members. It’s a fun track that features Mewes getting drunk and incoherent, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that he was also drunk while shooting many of his scenes.

This disc also includes an animated version of the scene where Dante and Randal knock over the casket at the funeral home (done in the style of the sadly short-lived “Clerks” TV show), which was never shot due to budget limitations; Smith’s very funny short film “The Flying Car,” which reunites Dante and Randal in a traffic jam,;17 minutes worth of MTV promos starring Jay and Silent Bob; the theatrical trailer; the Soul Asylum music video for “Can’t Even Tell;” original auditions by the cast; and three shorts that cover the digital restoration of the film, which looks as good as it’s ever going to look on home video. You can choose to watch the movie with the funeral scene inserted in the proper spot via seamless branching, but that’s kind of pointless since the clip is animated and the aspect ratio doesn’t match (it’s 4:3, while the movie is 1.85:1).

There’s also an “enhanced playback track” on disc one that pops up bits of trivia on the screen while you watch the movie. The information isn’t as dense as, say, the text tracks the Okudas put together for Paramount’s Star Trek DVDs, but this feature still manages to mine some stuff that amazingly wasn’t covered in any of the other 1,856 bonus features (or something like that) in this set. Finally, stick disc one in a computer’s DVD drive and you can also check out Smith’s original 168-page first draft of the film.

Disc two, which I’m sure will get the least number of spins in your player, features “Clerks: The First Cut.” This early version of the film is introduced by Smith and producer Scott Mosier in a video clip that, in typical Smith fashion, starts out with the two talking about anything but the movie but somehow segues into the topic at hand. In this case, the movie “Roadhouse” relates in some strange way to “Clerks”—just watch it.

This is a full-frame version of the film yanked off a Super VHS tape and not cleaned up at all, so be prepared for muddy clarity. Fans will want to watch this at least once, though, to check out the many different sound effects (Miramax gave Smith money to polish the film after they bought it) and 12 minutes of extra footage, including a character death that was rightfully excised. It doesn’t make much sense to throw such a curveball at the audience after making them laugh practically non-stop for an hour-and-a-half.

This disc also includes a new commentary track recorded by Smith, Mosier, O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson (Randal) and Mewes. It was recorded just recently for this set, so it’s not really screen-specific. Like many group commentaries for older films, this one is full of nostalgic reminiscing and very little screen-specific comments. There’s some good stuff in here for the fans, though, and you can even use the angle button on your remote to see the group delivering their commentary. Whee!

Moving on to disc three, the centerpiece here is the “Snowball Effect” documentary, which goes beyond the making of the film by giving us the making of Kevin Smith. Without the silly hyperbole that probably would have been all over it if E! had made this (“Next: Jason Mewes’ childish antics almost ruin Christmas dinner at the Smith household!”), “Snowball Effect” offers up a charming look at Smith’s childhood and the people and events that shaped his career. We get comments from childhood friends, family members and those who stepped into the picture, such as Scott Mosier, as Smith decided that what he really wanted to do was make movies. It’s very well done and should serve as an inspiration to anyone who wants to make a micro-budget movie. Smith proves it can be done, and he did it back when you couldn’t do it all digitally and skip the film processing costs as well as the cumbersomeness of editing a movie by hand. (Those old machines were huge.)

But wait, there’s more: Over 40 minutes of footage was chopped from the 90-minute “Snowball Effect,” and you can take a look at those bits individually or through a handy “Play All” feature. There’s plenty of great stuff in here too. You can see why most of it was deleted, but it’s still fun to hear about the creative writing class that Smith and a pal almost got kicked out of for being a******s, or the fight between Smith and Mosier during post-production that could have derailed the whole thing. (“Next on the E! True Hollywood Story: Kevin Smith’s amorous ways almost prevent the film from seeing the light of day!”) Some of it, though, such as Mosier talking about the roller coaster ride they went on after Miramax bought the film, or Smith explaining how Mosier is “the fuel that runs the engine,” really could have remained in the documentary. Just a little Monday morning editing advice, ‘cause, you know, I’m sure the guys who shot this documentary want to hear it.

You can also find some good information in the 42-minute tenth anniversary Q&A that was shot in an unknown auditorium earlier in 2004. Smith, Mosier and the principals from the cast showed up before an audience and fielded questions about “Clerks.” There’s an interesting group dynamic going on during the session that’s fun to watch, especially considering that it’s been a decade since the film came out and they’ve had all that time to really digest what happened. Too bad so many of the audience members were dorks. Do film geeks always have to be so, well, geeky?

Meanwhile, disc three’s “Mae Day: The Crumbling of a Documentary” is the movie that Smith and Mosier made in film school. You can see it in its entirety, complete with an introduction by the two (Smith has a thing for video introductions, judging by this and the DVD releases of his other films). They were supposed to make a documentary about a transsexual, but he/she disappeared shortly after filming started, so they turned the project into a documentary about how their documentary fell apart. It’s an ingenious idea, and “Mae Day” serves to showcase both their raw talent and their ability to overcome any obstacles, traits that were crucial during the filming of “Clerks,” as much of the bonus material in this set shows.

Disc three wraps up with a still photo gallery, copies of Kevin Smith’s journals and various articles and reviews written about the movie, including two pieces by Village Voice critic Amy Taubin, Janet Maslin’s review and more. Inside the DVD case you’ll find a little booklet that includes thoughts from Smith and Mosier, copies of ads, reviews, movie posters and other decade-old artifacts, including behind-the-scenes shots. (Dude, you could have watched most of the stuff on this DVD set in the time it’s taken you to read this review.)

Amazingly, a few little things from the first DVD release, such as a separate section for the deleted scenes (they’re all in the first cut, but you can’t watch them on their own), are not in this monster of a set. Go figure. So if you have it, you might as well hold on to it if you’re a “Clerks” completist. If you’re not as into “Clerks” as some of the dorks who asked amazingly idiotic questions during the tenth anniversary Q&A (one of them actually wondered if the Chewley’s Gum representative jammed the gum in the locks), then go ahead and trade it in for a copy of “Roadhouse” on DVD or something. But make sure you pick up “Clerks X” while you’re at the shop. It’s the most definitive release of the film on home video yet, at least until the 20th anniversary edition comes out on Blu-Ray. In fact, it may be the most definitive DVD of any movie I’ve ever seen, outside the four-disc Lord of the Rings Extended Editions or the behemoth that is Alien Quadrilogy.

Now where’s my “Mallrats 10th Anniversary Edition”?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join our Film Threat Newsletter

Newsletter Icon