Despite the Indie Poster Boy rep, Kevin Smith insists that Clerks is his "only truly independent film". Back in 1993, he flogged a bunch of his beloved comic books and maxed out 10 $2,000 credit cards to finance this profane and pacey caper on a day in the death of an inconvenienced convenience store drudge ("I'm not even supposed to be here, today!"). Shooting at the New Jersey one-stop where he'd worked for four years, Smith started the process a committed non-smoker. By the wrap, he was up to two packs a day.
After 11 years, Clerks still kicks because it's fast, frothy and retched right from the guts of the people who've lived the life. It's also oddly voyeuristic, as though we've been given uncensored snooping rights to a world we only normally encounter in passing (present thing, exchange money for thing, leave with thing). There isn't a better modern example of a filmmaker playing to his strengths to conjure something out of nothing. Given the lack of acting flair (all amateurs) or location glamour (we barely leave the interior of the cluttered store), it's all in the writing. Although Brian O'Halloran's Dante - a goateed little blunderball of stress - is the focus, it's Jeff Anderson as lazy-arse video-store clerk Randal who illuminates the film with swaggering, instant star wattage and swipes all the best lines and scenes ("I'm a firm believer in the concept of the ruling class," he drawls. "Especially since I rule").
By never flinching from grimy reality, Smith gleefully exposes the Have-A-Nice-Day service culture bullshit. These venders are venomous. They hate every aspect of their jobs: the boss, the hours, the products, but most of all, the customers ("perfect egg" checker, irate eavesdropper, bench-press bozo, "recommend me something!" loiterers). Tarantino-style, the film is steeped in Smith's movie obsessions: the `Salsa Shark' nacho swimming around to the Jaws theme, the Return Of The Jedi Death Star conversation, junkie Jay's "I'll fuck anything that moves!" (Blue Velvet).
There are times when Smith's swashbuckling dialogue feels a little too high-protein, with the raw actors blindly stampeding through on rote-learned autopilot. But it's gloriously cheeky how Smith saves the film's pivotal flash of stoner pith for himself, with Silent Bob's single line of wisdom shaking Dante out of his woman-funk ("There's a million fine-looking women in the world, dude. But they don't all bring you lasagne at work. Most of 'em just cheat on ya").