Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Kevin Smith|
|Produced by||Scott Mosier|
|Written by||Kevin Smith|
|Edited by||Scott Mosier|
|Distributed by||Miramax Films|
|Box office||$3.2 million|
Clerks is a 1994 American independent black-and-white buddy comedy film written, directed, and co-produced by Kevin Smith. Starring Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson, it presents a day in the lives of titular store clerks Dante Hicks (O'Halloran) and Randal Graves (Anderson), along with their acquaintances. Clerks is the first of Smith's View Askewniverse films, and introduces several recurring characters, notably Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith).
Clerks was shot for $27,575 in the convenience and video stores where director Smith worked in real life. Upon its theatrical release, the film received generally positive reviews and grossed over $3 million in theaters, launching Smith's career. The film is considered a landmark in independent filmmaking and, in 2019, was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, who deemed it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Dante Hicks, a young man who works as a retail clerk at Quick Stop Groceries in Leonardo, New Jersey, is called into work on his day off to cover another employee's morning shift. Arriving at the store, he finds that the locks to the security shutters are jammed closed with chewing gum, so he hangs a sheet over them with a message written in shoe polish: "I ASSURE YOU; WE'RE OPEN!". Soon after opening, Dante's best friend, wisecracking slacker Randal Graves, arrives for his own workday at the video rental store next door.
The two prepare for another ordinary day immersed in their tedious customer service jobs. Dante repeatedly laments that he is "not even supposed to be here today," while Randal neglects his job at the video store to keep Dante company at the Quick Stop. They pass the time engaging in philosophical discussions on a wide variety of topics, including movies, sex, relationships, and difficult customers. Some of the customers they encounter during the day are angry and demanding; others, clueless and impolite; still others prove unexpectedly wise. After several hours, Dante discovers that his boss has left on a trip to Vermont, leaving him to run the store alone for the rest of the day. Dante and Randal find a number of reasons to leave the store and slack off, from a rooftop hockey game with Dante's friends to an ill-fated wake for one of Dante's ex-lovers.
Dante is torn between two women: his current girlfriend Veronica Loughran and his ex-girlfriend Caitlin Bree, with whom he still secretly communicates. Dante is distressed when he learns Veronica has given oral sex to 36 other men before him, and engaged in snowballing with at least one. Despite Veronica's doting on him, Dante chooses to rekindle his relationship with Caitlin. However, Caitlin is traumatized by an incident in the Quick Stop bathroom; in the dark, she has sex with a person she thought was Dante, but who was actually a customer who had died of a heart attack while masturbating to a pornographic magazine Dante provided him. Caitlin leaves catatonic in an ambulance.
Jay and Silent Bob, a pair of drug dealers who have spent the day loitering outside the store, invite Dante to party with them after hours, but Dante declines, considering the various seedy characters the two have been attracting all day. Aware of Dante's problems, Silent Bob tersely convinces him that he really loves Veronica, but Randal has already confessed the previous events to her, prompting Veronica to dramatically dump Dante. Dante fights with Randal, trashing the Quick Stop.
Dante and Randal have a crucial moment of clarity after their fight. Randal hears Dante repeat his refrain that he's "not even supposed to be here today" and points out that Dante could have left at any time and prevented the day's events; furthermore, he says they are not as "advanced" as they think they are, or else they would not be stuck in such lowly jobs.
After the two make amends, Dante plans to visit Caitlin in the hospital and try to reconcile with Veronica. Randal leaves, but not before tossing Dante's shoe-polish sign in his face and declaring, "You're closed!"
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The MPAA originally gave Clerks an NC-17 rating, based purely on the film's explicit dialogue, as it contains no real violence, and no clearly depicted nudity. This would have serious financial implications for the film, as very few cinemas in the United States screen NC-17 films. Miramax hired civil liberties lawyer Alan Dershowitz to appeal the decision and the MPAA relented and re-rated the film with the more commercially viable "R" rating, without alteration.
The film was shot in black-and-white and roughly edited due to a very modest budget of $27,575. To acquire the funds for the film, Kevin Smith sold a large portion of his extensive comic book collection in 1993, maxed out eight to 10 credit cards with $2,000 limits, dipped into a portion of funds set aside for his college education, and spent insurance money awarded for a car Jason Mewes and he lost in a flood. The film was shot in 21 straight days (with two "pick-up" days). Smith based the character of Dante Hicks on himself, and Randal Graves on his friend Bryan Johnson who appeared in Smith's subsequent films.
The Quick Stop convenience store (located at 58 N. Leonard Avenue in Leonardo, New Jersey), where Smith worked, was the primary setting for the film. He was only allowed to film in the store at night while it was closed (from 10:30 pm to 5:30 am), hence the plot point of the shutters being closed due to a vandal having jammed gum in the padlocks. Because Smith was working at Quick Stop during the day and shooting the film at night, he frequently slept no more than an hour a day. By the end of the 21-day shoot, Smith was unable to stay awake while some of the most climactic scenes of the film were shot.
The events of Julie Dwyer's wake were scripted by Smith, but were not filmed due to the prohibitive cost of producing the scene. For the tenth anniversary Clerks X DVD release, the scene was produced in color using an animation style similar to that of Clerks: The Animated Series. The "lost scene" was also presented in comic-book form of the Clerks comic book series, with the title of "The Lost Scene".
The original ending for the film was meant to continue from when Randal throws the "I Assure You We're Open" sign to Dante. After Randal leaves, Dante proceeds to count out the register and does not notice another person entering the store. Upon Dante's informing the latecomer that the store is no longer open, the customer shoots Dante, killing him. Afterward, the killer makes off with all the money from the cash register. The sequence ends with Dante's dead face looking off past the camera; after the credits roll - the soundtrack over it being a cash register making noises - a customer (played by Smith with his beard shaved off) wearing glasses and in a ponytail and a baseball jersey comes into the store, sees no one around (as Dante is lying dead behind the counter) and steals some cigarettes.
The depressing ending was criticized by Bob Hawk and John Pierson after its first screening at the Independent Feature Film Market, and under Pierson's advice, Smith cut the ending short, ending with Randal's departure and deleting Dante's death. Fans have since analyzed the death of Dante as an homage to the ending of The Empire Strikes Back, which is discussed earlier in the film as Dante's favorite Star Wars movie because "it ended on such a down note". Deleted scenes from the film's extended cut also implied that the killer would never be caught, as Randal disconnected the security cameras earlier in the day.
Kevin Smith has since claimed he concluded Clerks this way for three reasons. The primary reason was irony, the ending would be the payoff for Dante's repeated claims of "I'm not even supposed to be here today!" Smith also stated that the ending was an homage to Spike Lee's ending to Do The Right Thing, a comedic film with a dark ending. Lee's name can even be seen in the "special thanks" portion of the credits. Smith also stated that he ended Clerks with Dante's death because he "didn't know how to end a film". Both versions are available in Clerks X, the 10th-anniversary special edition; the lost ending itself was among the extras on the 1995 LaserDisc and the 1999 DVD release; Smith states in his commentary on the 1999 DVD that had he kept the original ending, likely no further View Askewniverse films would have been made. The culprit in question was played by Smith's cousin John Willyung, who went on to appear in later films (most notably as Cohee Lunden in Chasing Amy).
The film became a surprising success after it was taken by Miramax Films and grossed over $3 million in the United States, despite never playing on more than 50 theater screens in the United States at the same time.
The film was well received by critics, and is considered a cult classic. It currently has an 88% "Certified Fresh" rating based on 52 reviews, with an average rating of 7.42/10 on Rotten Tomatoes. The website's critical consensus reads, "With its quirky characters and clever, quotable dialogue, Clerks is the ultimate clarion call for slackers everywhere to unite, and, uh, do something, we guess?" On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 70 out of 100, based on 17 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". In his 1994 review of Clerks, Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of a possible four. Ebert praised the film for interestingly depicting a full day of "utterly authentic" middle-class life, adding: "Within the limitations of his bare-bones production, Smith shows great invention, a natural feel for human comedy, and a knack for writing weird, sometimes brilliant, dialogue." Peter Travers gave the film four out of four stars, calling attention to Anderson's "deadpan comic brilliance" and writing that "Smith nails the obsessive verbal wrangling of smart, stalled twentysomethings who can't figure out how to get their ideas into motion."
When released, the film was noted for its realism and memorable characters. Clerks won the "Award of the Youth" and the "Mercedes-Benz Award" at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, tied with Fresh for the "Filmmakers Trophy" at the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards (Best First Feature, Best First Screenplay and Jeff Anderson for Best Debut Performance). In 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted Clerks the 16th-greatest comedy film of all time and in 2006, British film magazine Empire listed Clerks as the 4th greatest independent film. The film is also No. 33 on Bravo's 100 Funniest Movies. In 2008, Entertainment Weekly ranked it 13th on "The Cult 25: The Essential Left-Field Movie Hits Since '83" and 21st on "The Comedy 25: The Funniest Movies of the Past 25 Years". Also in 2008, Empire named it one of their "500 Greatest Movies of All-Time", placing it 361st on the list. The film was also one of the 500 films nominated for a spot on AFI's 100 Years…100 Laughs but failed to make the top 100. The film was also included in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
In 2019, Clerks was among 25 films chosen to be added to the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Clerks was first released on VHS on May 23, 1995. On August 30, 1995, a LaserDisc version was issued. This version features the original letterboxed version of the film, audio commentary by Smith and various cast and crew members, seven deleted scenes from the film, a theatrical trailer, and a music video for "Can't Even Tell" performed by Soul Asylum.
The first DVD incarnation of the film appeared on June 29, 1999. The special features for the DVD do not vary from the LaserDisc features. It was then released as a three-disc, 10th-anniversary edition set in 2004.
The film was released on UMD (playable on PlayStation Portable) on November 15, 2005. Special features include "Clerks: The Lost Scene", "The Flying Car", and original cast auditions. In the fall of 2006, a new edition of the Clerks DVD appeared in Canada, dubbed the Clerks: Snowball Edition. The new release included a photo of a bikini-clad model on the cover and some of the extra features from the 1999 edition. It appears Smith was not involved in this release, as he indicated on his official message forum in August 2006 that he was not aware of its release.
Clerks was released on Blu-ray on November 17, 2009, as a "15th Anniversary Edition". It has the same special features as Clerks X, below, along with a new documentary, Oh, What a Lovely Tea Party, as well as an introduction to the documentary by Kevin Smith.
On September 7, 2004, a tenth anniversary edition of Clerks was released. The 3-disc set is commonly known as Clerks X as part of the Miramax Films Collector's Series. The features for this version of the DVD include:
Disc 1 – Theatrical Feature
Disc 2 – Clerks: The First Cut
Disc 3 – Bonus Features
The soundtrack was released on October 11, 1994. It was composed of various new and previously released songs by alternative rock, grunge and punk rock artists such as Bad Religion, Love Among Freaks, Alice in Chains, and Soul Asylum. The soundtrack also featured various sound clips from the film. It has been noted that Clerks is one of the very few films in which the cost of obtaining the rights to the music used was a great portion of the production costs for the entire film.
The Soul Asylum song "Can't Even Tell", which was played over the film's end credits and featured on the soundtrack, peaked at number 16 on the Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart in 1994. The music video for the song was directed by Smith and was filmed in the same locations as the film. The video featured Smith, Jason Mewes, Jeff Anderson and Brian O'Halloran reprising their roles from Clerks.
Another song which appeared on the soundtrack was "Got Me Wrong" by Alice in Chains, which had previously been released on the band's extended play Sap (1992). The song was issued as a single in late 1994, due to renewed radio interest from the song's appearance in Clerks. The song peaked at number 7 on the Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart and number 15 on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks in 1994.
Although not direct sequels in terms of addressing the original film's storyline, characters from the original Clerks - primarily Jay and Silent Bob - appeared in the films Mallrats (1995), Chasing Amy (1997), Dogma (1999), and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), all of which take place in the same continuity as Clerks. Dante and Randal also reprised their roles in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, which was originally promoted as the finale to the series, but an official sequel to Clerks was announced a few years later.
The live-action, feature film sequel to Clerks was released on July 21, 2006. The working title was The Passion of the Clerks, though the film was released under the title Clerks II. The credits for Dogma stated "Jay and Silent Bob will return in Clerks 2: Hardly Clerkin' "; however, that project "evolved" into Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. The sequel features Jeff Anderson and Brian O'Halloran reprising their roles as Dante Hicks and Randal Graves. The two now work at a Mooby's restaurant after Graves' incompetence resulted in the destruction of the Quick Stop and RST Video.
During press for Clerks II, Smith briefly discussed the possibility of a Clerks III. Stating that "if there's ever gonna be a Clerks III, it would be somewhere down the road in my 40s or 50s, when it might be interesting to check back in on Dante and Randal. But I don't know about Jay and Bob so much, 'cause at 45, leaning on a wall in front of a convenience store might be a little sad." Smith repeated this sentiment on one of the audio commentary tracks on the Clerks II DVD, to which Jeff Anderson jokingly replied, "Oh, don't get me started", referring to Anderson's well known doubts about making Clerks II when first approached by Smith.
On March 29, 2012, Smith expressed his interest in producing Clerks III as a Broadway play after seeing the Theresa Rebeck comedy Seminar starring Alan Rickman, with whom Smith had previously worked on Dogma.
On December 10, 2012, Smith released a special Hollywood Babble-On episode, Hollywood Babble-On #000: GIANT SIZED ANNUAL # 1: CLERKS III, AUDIENCE 0, in which he revealed greater details on his plans for Clerks III. Smith stated that an ongoing audit over residuals from Clerks II with The Weinstein Company was causing a delay in several key Clerks III cast and crew members, including Anderson and Scott Mosier, from coming on board until the audit was resolved. Smith also revealed that he would like to crowdsource Clerks III, either through Kickstarter or Indiegogo, with contributors receiving anything from DVDs, posters, and even roles as extras in the film. On June 5, 2013, he changed his mind on crowdsourcing, stating "I've got access to money. And worst-case scenario, I can put up my house."
Smith worked on a script for Clerks III from March to May 2013, stating when he completed it that it was "The Empire Strikes Back" of the series. In July 2013, Mewes stated that they were now just waiting to hear back from The Weinstein Company about funding.
On September 26, 2014, Smith stated on his Hollywood Babble-On podcast, that he was glad that he made Tusk, stating, "Everything in my life would suck right now if I hadn't made that movie. I'm back in movies now. I've got three lined up, and this is the fucking grand news. Tusk was the absolute bridge to Clerks III. Because of Tusk, I got my financing for Clerks III". Smith continued: "A year and change ago, I was trying to fucking desperately get Clerks III made for the 20th anniversary. And that desperation, I must have reeked of it, because I couldn't fucking find money and shit. But it was Tusk, it was people going 'Holy fuck! What else do you have?' And I was like, Clerks III, done. So everybody that's like, 'He failed, he failed', thank you - I failed into Clerks III. So, never trust anybody when they tell you how your story goes, man. You know your story. You write your own story.”
There were plans to start shooting Clerks III in May 2015, but these were put on hold to film another sequel, Mallrats 2. However, by June 2016 the plans for a Mallrats sequel had been turned into plans for a Mallrats TV series.
In July 2019, Smith announced that he'll do a live reading of Clerks III at the First Avenue Playhouse in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. The reading was held on August 3, 2019. That same month, Smith has revealed at San Diego Comic Con that he's writing a new script for Clerks III and promises to make the film.
On October 1, 2019, Smith confirmed on Instagram that Clerks III was happening and that Jeff Anderson agreed to reprise his role as Randal. "It’ll be a movie that concludes a saga. It’ll be a movie about how you’re never too old to completely change your life. It’ll be a movie about how a decades-spanning friendship finally confronts the future. It’ll be a movie that brings us back to the beginning—a return to the cradle of civilization in the great state of #newjersey. It’ll be a movie that stars Jeff and @briancohalloran, with me and Jay in supporting roles. And it’ll be a movie called CLERKS III!" The new script will follow Randal, after surviving a heart attack, and Dante making a movie about their lives at the store, a plot initially conceived as a film adaptation of Clerks: The Animated Series titled Clerks: Sell Out.
Following Clerks, Smith set several more films in the same "world", which he calls the View Askewniverse of overlapping characters and stories. Of all of Smith's films, however, Clerks is the one with the most direct spin-off products.
A pilot for a live-action TV series was produced in 1995. It was produced by Touchstone Television and was to be developed by Richard Day. The pilot only referenced the character names and starred none of the cast from the original film, contained no foul language (except words suitable enough for a TV-PG rating), and did not feature Silent Bob. The character of Jay was featured, prompting Smith to point out that he owned the character rights to both Jay and Silent Bob (for the purposes of featuring them in separate films). The producers' solution was to change the character's name to Ray. Kevin Smith was unaware of the production of the series until casting was underway. Smith had been in production with Mallrats at the time and attempted to become involved in the series but became disheartened quickly as an episode he had written for the series was shot down to be used as a potential B-plot. He would later use the script for an episode of Clerks: The Animated Series.
O'Halloran and Anderson both auditioned for the role of Dante Hicks (as Anderson's part of Randal Graves from the film had already been filled by future SNL performer Jim Breuer). After seeing the result, Smith said that it was terrible, and O'Halloran and Anderson said they were both glad they did not get the part.
Touchstone Television (with Miramax Films) also produced Clerks: The Animated Series a short-lived six-episode animated television series featuring the same characters and cast of the original film. Two episodes aired on the ABC network in late May/early June 2000 before being pulled from the lineup. The full six episodes were released on DVD in 2001 before being run on Comedy Central in 2004 and Adult Swim in 2008-10. In a trailer for (but not in) Smith's 2001 film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Randal remarks on the series, saying to Dante: "If you were funnier than that, ABC would've never cancelled us."
Clerks. is a series of comics written by Kevin Smith featuring characters from the film. In the series are Clerks: The Comic Book, Clerks: Holiday Special, and Clerks: The Lost Scene. Smith has discussed plans for Clerks 1.5, a comic that would bridge the gap between the original film and its sequel, to be included in a reprint of the Clerks. trade paperback. The story ultimately was printed in the 2006 Tales from the Clerks collection, which also included the other Clerks comics with additional View Askewniverse material. Smith received the Harvey Award for his efforts.
Shooting Clerks is a biographical comedy-drama film about the making of Clerks. The film stars many of the original film's stars, including Brian O'Halloran, Marilyn Ghigliotti, and Jason Mewes, as well as Kevin Smith himself. Smith also served as the film's executive producer. The film had its world premiere at San Diego Comic-Con on July 20, 2019.
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