These are our four categories for this list:
These guys have had it too easy. Far too easy. Don’t believe the insane hype.
Good flicks that have gotten too damn big for their britches.
Asshole, you love this film for all the wrong reasons.
WHAT THE FUCK
Something went horribly wrong here and it’s carried over the the fans, who are blinded by shizer.
Why Clerks is Overblown (37 Times)
Your guide: Andre Dellamorte
Its Legacy: Gave hope to too many would-be filmmakers who thought “hey, if I just tell my story and insert dick jokes, I can make it.” Started the distaste for Star Wars fandom. Proved to be one of the final nails in the indie coffin. Gave us a sequel that had Rosario Dawson talking about going ass to mouth (not necessarily the worst thing). Gave Kevin Smith his following, and then led him to write a review of The Phantom Menace for Chud (and Attack of the Clones for Film Comment. Step down, that). Led to the Askewniverse, which God closed the book on, and then when Smith’s well ran dry was re-opened for one of the least necessary (and most depressing) sequels since Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives. Gave Jason Mewes enough success to pursue a serious drug addiction (since recovered). Fought the MPAA over a rating given soley for language. Won.
Why It’s Here: Other than his ravenous (and, as I’m told, often smelly) fanbase, at this juncture it’s downright easier to bash Kevin Smith than to praise him. Post-Chasing Amy, there was hope the man might actually have something to say if he could figure out third acts, but once Dogma arrived, all hope was lost. I mean, really, it’s a pretty impressive thing to direct both Alan Rickman and Chris Rock to their worst performances. And after that he regressed to complete what he felt was his previous world – the Jersey films – but has since flailed about trying to figure out what movies to make, with nothing breaking out beyond his base. With Seth Rogen starring in his latest, he’s really got one last shot to prove he has anything to say. But – let’s set the wayback clocks – in 1994 he was a Sundance kid who got noticed by John Pierson. And Pierson saw the film as filled with possibilities. Clerks was picked up by Miramax, which was just staring to hit its stride (and get that much larger with Pulp Fiction), and the film became an art house hit.
To Smith’s credit, the script is fairly clever, and many of the jokes are funny. “Would you like to make some fuck” still gives me a smile, and the film isn’t without its charms. But as much as conventional wisdom puts Edward Burns’ The Brothers McMullen as the artistic decline of Sundance and the indie film movement, much of this can also be laid at the feet of Kevin Smith. When you think of the pioneers of the modern indie movement (excluding John Cassavettes and Orson Welles), when you look at the filmmakers that Smith himself thanked at the end of the film – Richard Linklater, Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee and Hal Hartley – you’re talking about people who are actual filmmakers. And Smith (over the course of the last fifteen years) has proved himself to simply be a screenwriter. When you look at those other guys who did it with nothing, in comparison even their films had some cinematic verve and got good performances out of their relative newcomers. They were usually good with actors. And understanding camera and working with performers are the requirements of directing, no ifs ands or buts. The sad but simple truth is that Smith has no visual style and can only diminish a performer through his directing. But where independent cinema was defined by films that attempted to be more artistic, adult, or real (even if such work eventually led to Jeremy Smith’s least favorite movie The Inkwell) than a standard Hollywood production, it was about outsider voices trying to reach an audience. Kevin Smith was the first hipster kid to move into that indie film playhouse, and the gentrification process was such that art house cinema hasn’t been the same since. Kevin may have been an outsider, but his tribe was the fanboy, and the internet has shown that few groups need less of a voice. At the time, and perhaps still, because it was a no-budget effort it was easy to forgive the often atrocious performances and absolute lack of direction beyond point and shoot. Since Kevin Smith hasn’t evolved, it’s fair to say these aren’t problems weren’t due to lack of money.
A Moment of Piss: Seriously, the woman playing the coroner – who reads exclusively from her clipboard and rat-a-tats her way through the dialog like she’s Jack Webb – is one of the worst performances ever put to film this side of Torgo.
These Ain’t Chopped Liver Alternatives: Poison, She’s Gotta Have It, Stranger than Paradise, Slacker, Simple Men
Jeremy Smith Agrees: I suspect that Kevin Smith missed his true calling as a stand-up comedian; had he honed his acerbic shtick in front of a live, paying audience, he might’ve developed into one of his generation’s sharpest satirists. Instead, he made a dingy, sporadically funny indie flick, which, in the throes of the comedy void that was the 1990s, was akin to flinging spackle at a black hole. Despite the film’s myriad shortcomings, a generation of slackers identified with the pithy listlessness of Dante and Randal, and a cult classic was born. Had Smith improved as a filmmaker with his subsequent movies, this would’ve been excusable; unfortunately, he plateaued (and, in the case of Dogma, regressed). Sure, Chasing Amy was an admirable stab at maturity (and a fairly solid script in its own right), but the lack of craft hobbles it; scenes that should absolutely kill – like the Hooper/Quint scar parody – only generate laughs of recognition (“I love Jaws, too!”). If comedies were the sum of their pop cultural references, Smith would be a latter day Lubitsch; thanks to the instant classic status bestowed upon Clerks (and the fact that most of his films have turned a profit), he’s just a well-read smartass with perpetual access to Harvey Weinstein’s pocketbook. Intellect isn’t everything.
Justin Waddell Disagrees: Quick, Kevin Smith. Over here! Let me shield you from the sharpened words of Andre and Jeremy with this pot lid, conveniently borrowed from my defense of Battle Royale yesterday. Anyway, I’m not convinced Smith has ever made a truly terrible film. Even Dogma, which gets some deserved hatred above, is an interesting and even sporadically watchable failure. I’m also not convinced that Smith has ever made a better film than his first, the very one on trial here.