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In 1992 Kevin Smith gave his parents a heartfelt video as he headed off to film school in Vancouver. Two years later, Clerks was the darling of the Sundance Film Festival, and the legend of Kevin Smith rose (then fell, then rose, then fell, ad nauseam). Clerk is a chronological documentary about not only the career but the life of the acclaimed director. Nothing is off-topic and Smith speaks freely about the highs and lows of being assessed critically and how a near-fatal heart attack saved his life.
Director: Malcolm Ingram
Release date: March 17, 2021 (SXSW)
Smith credits Richard Linklater’s Slackers as the revelatory tipping point that a major budget wasn’t needed to create a film. While Smith spent much of high school on stage, he wanted to be the one doing the creating. So he maxed out some credit cards and made Clerks for $27,000. Smith takes the cameras through his hometown, pointing out the school where he got his Catholic upbringing that would circle back when a Catholic group protested the premier of Dogma.
Of course, there’s the Quick Stop: the convenience store that Smith worked at while filming Clerks, and the video store attached to it. Between the store and the nearby rec center, Smith met a group of friends that remained throughout his career, most notably Scott Mosier and Jason Mewes. Mosier is featured heavily in Clerk, and is referred to on more than one occasion by Smith as his “battery” that kept him going. There’s a long list of actors, friends, and family members who chip in to tell different parts of The Kevin Smith Story. Fans of his may not learn things they didn’t already know, but it’s an entertaining look at his films and Smith’s reaction to acclaim or criticism and his constant chase of hitting a $100 million box office.
There’s a reason Smith returns to actors throughout his films. Smith was told early on that it wasn’t possible to make films with his friends all the time, and he set out to disprove that notion. Smith was such a charismatic guy who made what he wanted, that it drew people to him. Matt Damon talks about how excited he felt when Smith offered him the role of Loki in Dogma, and how Smith helped get Good Will Hunting made and set Damon’s career on a rocketship.
Smith leveraged his film career to other avenues of creativity. He bought a comic book store, started podcasts that spun off to other podcasts, and created a show about a bunch of people talking about comics and pop culture. He learned at an early age he liked being on a stage and having the attention on him. This is funny to think about when you see home videos of him on stage and then in his own films gives himself a literal silent character. He has no shortage of fans to speak of his influence, there’s even a group that created a recreational hockey league in his honor.
Smith opens up about his heart attack. He talks about how Seth Rogen is the person who introduced him to weed. He briefly touches on Harvey Weinstein and ensures to mention how funds from his films are being donated to women in film. He expresses the hurt he felt when a movie he was sure would be well-received wasn’t. He talks about Tusk and how he made that movie because he wanted to and fully expected it to be divisive among those who watched it.
Clerk is a documentary that explores decades of a person’s life and influence, filled with Smith’s self-deprecating humor and fawning loved ones. It’s mostly light, mostly fun, with the heavy and dark moments feeling fleet. It’s a film for the fans, by the fans closest to Smith. Clerk isn’t a pros and cons list for one to sit back and judge Smith’s movies or decisions. Instead, it feels more like a celebration of a man who made a decision a long time ago that has branched into a storied career.