Directed by Malcolm Ingram.
Featuring Kevin Smith, Scott Mosier, Jason Mewes, Stan Lee, Justin Long, Penn Jillette, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Jennifer Schwalbach Smith, Harley Quinn Smith, Walt Flanagan, Bryan Johnson, Brian Quinn, and George Carlin.
Clerk. (with an intentional period at the end of the title) is a comprehensive documentary about the personal life and filmmaking career of Kevin Smith. It charts his trajectory from the early days of making Clerks on a shoestring to becoming the Hollywood flavor of the month, suffering through a few missteps, and eventually embracing his identity as father, filmmaker, public speaker, and Silent Bob.
Three things defined my outlook on life as a 20-something during the 1990s: Douglas Coupland’s novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, Richard Linklater’s movie Slacker, and Kevin Smith’s flicks, starting with Clerks. I was not a career-driven person – although I did have a focus on how I could make a living as a writer – so all three spoke to my general sense of ennui.
I managed to carve out a living for myself as a writer, although the vast majority of my income was in the corporate writing world, and now I find myself looking back, much as Kevin Smith does in this new documentary about his life, Clerk. Running nearly two hours, it’s a fairly comprehensive overview of his personal and professional lives, hitting all the highlights fans would expect while not shying away from controversies.
Smith was interviewed for the film along with many others, including his long-time former producer Scott Mosier, Jason “Jay” Mewes, Stan Lee (in archival clips), Justin Long, Penn Jillette, Richard Linklater, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, his wife Jennifer Schwalbach Smith and their daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, buddies Walt Flanagan, Bryan Johnson, and Brian Quinn, and journalist and podcast co-host Marc Bernardin.
Brian O’Halloran, who plays Dante Hicks in the Clerks movies, shows up too, although his co-star Jeff Anderson is a no-show, as are Rosario Dawson, Jennifer Lopez (yes, not a shock), and Jason Lee. Stan Lee and George Carlin appear in archival clips.
Smith also takes the camera crew on a driving tour of important places in his life, including his high school, the infamous Quick Stop Groceries convenience store, and his comic book shop, Jay & Silent Bob’s Secret Stash. Archival videos feature prominently in the film as well, including on-set footage from various film productions, shots from his speaking engagements, and even video of him in high school plays. Part of a grainy video Smith shot for his parents before heading off to film school opens the documentary.
A couple themes run through the film, such as the importance of family and the idea of bootstrapping your career without waiting for permission to do what you want. Interviews with his mother, Grace, and brother, Donald, augment the former, as do interviews with his wife and his daughter, who has become an actress in her own right. Unfortunately, his father passed away in 2003 and is only shown in old family video clips.
The latter theme, bootstrapping your career, runs throughout the documentary and even shows up when the participants are talking about his more recent movies. As Smith and others note, he’s managed to make a good living by simply being himself, including fees for speaking engagements, selling autographed merchandise, and making the kinds of movies he wants to make, regardless of how well they do at the box office. In his middle-aged years, he’s embraced being Kevin Smith and giving the fans what they want.
Clerk. also doesn’t shy away from the filmmaker’s missteps, including the infamous Tusk and Jersey Girl. I interviewed him for an article ahead of Dogma’s release in 1999, and I remember him saying that he wanted to start making other kinds of movies because no one wanted to see middle-aged versions of Jay and Silent Bob – I’d love to go back in time and show him his current filmography, which includes Clerks II and Clerks III (on a side note, I can attest to how open he is, which several people remark on in the film: I approached him cold at San Diego Comic Con and he was happy to give me the View Askew Productions office number and have me call to schedule an interview).
Smith’s connection to Harvey Weinstein is another controversy that the documentary doesn’t stay away from. He says he had no idea about the infamous producer’s horrific behavior, thinking it was limited to cheating on his wife, and adds that he would undo all his early success if it meant no women had to be subjected to such awful abuse. Clerk. also notes that he has donated to charity all his future royalties connected to Weinstein films.
In the end, Clerk. (yes, there’s supposed to be a period in the title) serves up a comprehensive overview of the life of an indie filmmaker who many people admire for making his own way and carving out a unique slice of the American dream. Hardcore fans may not learn much that’s new, since Smith has always been public about his life, but anyone who’s curious to learn more will get a well-rounded picture of the man. (No pun intended, and, yes, his heart attack is discussed too).
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Clerk is available on digital from November 23rd.