In the late 1980s and early 1990s, “Independent Film” was a “thing.” Today, the Independent Spirit Award nominations are nearly indistinguishable from the Oscars. Probably a good third of the films at Sundance already have distribution and nearly all of them have their own publicists. However, back then there was the quaint idea that indie filmmakers could finally make very personal statements. In fact, that was maybe the whole point. Kevin Smith’s Clerks was a big part of the romantic vision of indie filmmaking. His career has had its ups and downs, but Malcolm Ingram essentially serves up an infomercial for the Smith’s brand with Clerk, which releases this Tuesday on DVD.
If you paid any attention to the “golden age” of indie film, you probably remember how fresh and honest Clerks felt when it first released. Then he experienced the sophomore jinx with Mall Rats, but as someone who worked in a 7-11 and then a mall bookstore, both films felt pretty darned on target. Nevertheless, Smith is relatively forthright addressing the critical drubbing of his second film and the challenges it posed to his career. Frankly, this is might be the best part of Ingram’s doc, because the rest largely celebrates his hits (Chasing Amy) or excuses away his bombs (Jersey Girl, Cop Out).
Clerk might technically be Ingram’s film, but it is clearly Smith’s show. It is interesting to hear a filmmaker talk at length about his work, especially one who is also a personable performer (in podcasts and one-man shows) like Smith. However, Clerk would have benefited as a film if Ingram had included dissenting critical voices to argue he is just an overrated mediocrity, or whatever. To his credit, Smith addresses the Harvey Weinstein issue head-on (Miramax distributed most of his early films), but Ingram never challenges him when he claims he never knew about the film mogul’s predatory behavior (it seems like a lot of people in the business did).
Film Hawk (which apparently never received much distribution). Appearing in that film, Smith gave Hawk credit for saving Clerks from obscurity after his disastrous first screening.
Maybe Hawk isn’t a household name, but his personal and professional relationship with Smith is much more interesting than the extensive time Ingram spends on Smith’s podcasting and one-man shows. The truth is the last forty minutes or so of the documentary are quite dull. Seriously, this film is nearly two full hours, when it could and should have been around 70 minutes. Not recommended, Clerk is only for Smith’s bizarrely loyal fans when it releases Tuesday (12/28) on DVD.