SXSW 2021: Clerk

Kevin Smith in Clerk. Photo credit: Bruce Lee Roberts III.

Clerk is an inspiring documentary that manages to take us back to where everything all begin for filmmaker Kevin Smith and then some.

It’s more than just a film about the QuickStop Groceries, of course. Yes, the store played a huge role in his life as he was working there when he first got the idea for Clerks. Smith drives us around his New Jersey hometown while pointing out the important places in his life. Most importantly, there’s the Highlands Recreation Center. This place would go onto forge friendships that would stay forever.

“You cannot argue the power of cinema when I saw a movie and it made me change everything–EVERYTHING!” Smith says. “Like what I thought about myself and it’s not like I saw this movie and it challenged what I thought about myself because it spoke to me on some level. I’m just like, this counts. This is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life–like I want to do this.”

If not for Slacker, there is no Clerks. There is no View Askew universe. Without Slacker, Smith does not come to the realization that he can explore his writing through film. It is really amazing how much one film can make a difference.

The documentary goes through both the highs and lows of Smith’s career. While Clerks put him on the map, sophomore effort Mallrats got panned by the critics. He followed it up with Chasing Amy–a film that gave Ben Affleck his first leading role. After the challenges that came with Dogma, Smith opted for less challenging fare: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. We might not have realized it at the time but Smith was building his own cinematic universe.

Filmmaker Malcolm Ingram talks to all the important people in Smith’s life. Family, friends, other filmmakers, Joe Quesada, and what may very well be the final interview with Stan Lee. Years later, Captain Marvel would go on to pay respect to Smith with Stan Lee’s cameo. While it was super meta with a Mallrats script, having the cameo happen in a Daredevil movie would be even more meta.

The real heavy stuff in Clerk doesn’t come in until the film’s final half hour or so. This is when Smith opens up about his heart attack and we see how friends and loved ones react to the news. One year later, Smith would go onto make Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. The rest–as they say–is history.

Richard Linklater’s Slacker is the film that changed Smith’s life. In seeing Slacker, Smith realized that he could use film as an outlet for his writing. Because of this, he would go on to influence many other filmmakers including–yes–Jason Reitman. It’s a funny story since Reitman’s father is a major Hollywood director, Ivan Reitman. Yet in watching Smith’s films, the younger Reitman found them as an access point to independent cinema. Before Smith, he didn’t think that art house films could be funny. So in a way, without Kevin Smith, we might not see Jason Reitman directing the likes of Thank You For Smoking or Juno. How about that?

More than a documentary on Kevin Smith’s life, Clerk shows how one filmmaker was able to single-handedly change pop culture.

DIRECTOR:  Malcolm Ingram
FEATURING:  Kevin Smith, Scott Mosier, Grace Smith, Jason Mewes

Clerk holds its delayed world premiere during the 2021 SXSW Film Festival in the 2020 Spotlight program.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.