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Twin Town High (vol. 8)
Clerks II: An interview with Kevin Smith
Thursday 20 July @ 13:15:55
by Paul Bachleitner
The films of director Kevin Smith aren’t larger than life; they are his life. His breakthrough came in 1994 with the release of “Clerks,” a comedy that draws from his experience as a New Jersey convenience store worker to portray a day in the life of two fictionalized clerks, Dante and Randall.
Twelve years later, Smith is revisiting both characters and the acridly humorous world of consumer retail with a sequel, “Clerks II,” which opens in Twin Cities theaters on Friday. The film is part of Smith’s fictionalized film milieu that centers on a group of recurring New Jersey-based characters, settings and themes—the “View Askewniverse,” as he calls it.
When Smith met me for an interview on his PR junket in Minneapolis during late
June, he mentioned he hadn’t filmed “Clerks” intending to
write a sequel.
“If you asked me in 1994 if I could ever conceive of a ‘Clerks II,’
I would’ve said, ‘No, man I think we said all we could possibly
say about working in a convenience store.’”
But things changed after shooting his fourth feature film, “Dogma,”
in 1999. “I kind of hit this place where I wanted to tell what it was
like for me to be in my thirties. Dante and Randall would be my proxies.”
Smith in person seems a lot like many of the View Askewniverse characters. He
wears a loud black-and-red button-up sports shirt and a pair of shorts. He chain
And, in fact, in both “Clerks” films, and in several of his others,
he plays the character Silent Bob, an aptly named street rogue who always holds
a cigarette and rarely says anything on screen except for an occasional late-film
But unlike Silent Bob, Smith is talkative. His words have the same casual, matter-of-fact
tone and unsparing wit as his film dialogue. This openness has earned him a
very loyal cult following.
of the cool aesthetics about Kevin’s films, especially with ‘Clerks,’
is that people feel like they’ve discovered this thing that no one else
knows about and that makes them cool,” said Trevor Fehrman, an actor who
grew up in South St. Paul and appears in “Clerks II” as Elias, a
geeky Christian co-worker of Dante and Randall.
Fehrman established such a strong rapport with Smith that he joined him all
day for the press junket, and the two talked as if they’d worked on several
films together and not merely one. It’s no coincidence. Smith has a knack
for connecting with people in a way that feels unique and personal. Fehrman
refers to this as “indie cred.”
Smith also keeps his ears low to the ground through his extraordinarily interactive
website, www.ViewAskew.com, which offers weeks’ worth of “ingredients
for a recipe of interactive inactivity.” Site visitors can page through
Smith’s daily blog/journal titled “My Boring-Ass Life”; peruse
“Hate Letters of the Week” for Smith’s portrayal of Christianity
in his film “Dogma”; and of course read loads of information about
his past films and present work.
The site even features a detailed listing of his daily schedule. It sure feels
personal, but with over 19 million visitors it might also seem confining, although
Smith didn’t use the word.
“We’ve always approached filmmaking from a garage band point of
view,” he said, “but the moment you get a little credibility within
the mainstream, some people kind of turn on you.”
The term “garage band” is apropos. Smith’s ‘90s films
embodied Gen-X’s angst as a satire of mainstream society, a film parallel
to the grunge rock appeal of early ’90s groups like Nirvana and Pearl
Jam. Just as the success of grunge rock alienated some fans who didn’t
appreciate hearing Kurt Cobain’s voice on pop music stations, some of
Smith’s fans believe he’s sacrificed his indie taste for Hollywood’s
Questions arose about his integrity when he announced plans for a “Clerks”
sequel. Even the film stock became a contentious issue. Smith shot the first
film entirely in black and white.
“When people heard that [‘Clerks II’] was in both color and
black-and-white,” Smith said, “there was a percentage out there
that immediately made up their minds that the movie was going to suck.
“But, dude,” he added, “you can’t go hatin’ on
the movie when you haven’t even seen it yet.”
Fans’ concerns about the sequel, though, aren’t without merit. “Clerks”
is a classic for good reason. The film won high critical acclaim, including
an Independent Spirit Award and awards at Sundance and Cannes. If you were twenty-something
in the mid-’90s and hadn’t rented “Clerks,” your forehead
had a big “L” tattooed on it for loser, or, as Uma Thurman in 1995’s
“Pulp Fiction” might attest, a “square.”
Smith is also on a two-film slump. In 2001, “Jay and Silent Bob Strike
Back,” tanked at the box office and is generally regarded as one of his
worst films (outside of his sophomore effort, “Mallrats”). His last
film, 2004’s “Jersey Girl,” also tanked and received more
bad reviews than good, including a drubbing from his core fan base, who objected
to the film’s cutesy-girl theme and its co-star, J-Lo.
Smith doesn’t take the criticism lightly, but he believes “Clerks
II” is strong enough to stand on its own without merely trading on memories
from the original. “It wasn’t just a vulgar grab of a loyal fan
base,” he insisted.
Dante and Randall are back. Instead of manning a convenience store, they’re
flipping burgers at a fast food chain with the fittingly droll name, Mooby’s.
But the only other major returning characters from the View Askewniverse (aside
from cameos from Ben Affleck and Jason Lee) are Silent Bob and his rambunctious
friend Jay, who cusses when he describes himself as a born-again Christian and
parodies a dance from “Silence of the Lambs.”
Smith describes the characters as assorted parts of his personality playing
some of his deeper thoughts on life for laughs.
“You laugh your ass off with the movie,” he said. “But then
it goes into this really emotional place about the kind of heterosexual same-sex
marriages that guy best friends are in that are really just one step shy from
being actual flat-out gay relationships.”
In fact, Randall plays a corner of two love triangles vying for Dante’s
affection. One involves Smith’s wife, Jennifer Schwalbach, as Dante’s
fiancée Emma, who is an incarnation of everything he could hope for in
a woman, complete with blond hair and rich relatives in Florida who want to
hand over the family business to him. But even the best-laid wedding plans are
in jeopardy when the charming, leggy Rosario Dawson (as their manager, Becky)
completes the triangle shortly after Dante paints her toenails.
But ultimately the film seems to be about Smith’s relationships and the
fun he can bring to his films.
Fehrman seems to think so, too. “Making the film was one of the most fun,
exciting experiences of my life—”
“What do you mean one of the most?” Smith interrupted. “What
experience could possibly be better?”
“Uh, doing your wife. Snap!”
Laughter all around as Smith nods. “You’re right. She is.”
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