Double Review: Slacker (1991) vs. Clerks (1994)

Just this morning I watched Richard Linklater’s cult classic Slacker, a film which heavily influenced Kevin Smith when he made his popular low-budget comedy Clerks. Now, I’ve decided to review them both back-to-back in one post.

Slacker (1991)

Director: Richard Linklater

Cast: Richard Linklater, Jerry Delony, Teresa Taylor, Scott Marcus

My Rating: 7/10

In Short: Clever Social Analysis

Richard Linklater’s earliest acclaimed feature Slacker is a beautiful portrait of a society, a group of Generation X losers and winners, and a carefully distanced but undistracted analysis of people. Linklater presents it as a series of vignettes; he starts with one character, and then moves to another character as they pass by or meet, completely forgetting about the first character and focusing on this second character, until the second person meets a third, and so on. The stories all flow together almost seamlessly, and it grabs the audience’s attention tightly, bringing them into the world of this special, inimitable civilisation.

There’s no “main” character… there has to be around one hundred different characters, most of whom are given the same amount of screen time. There is no plot, there is no story… the film is almost Altmanesque in the way it traverses through the lives of all these people, but some viewers will feel disappointed and detached by the way it never returns to any of them again.

Some of the highlights include a man who contemplates the possibility of a series of infinite parallel universes to a disinterested taxi driver; a disturbed young man who runs over his own mother; an obviously drugged man who believes the US have been on the moon since the fifties and that it’s all a cover up; a young woman trying to sell Madonna’s pap smear; a Joyce-quoting paranoid who tosses a typewriter into a river; a man who is writing book on a conspiracy regarding JFK’s death; an anarchist who befriends a man trying to rob him; a maniac who hoardes old televisions; a man who is obsessed with the effect the Smurfs are having on children, and dozens more.

The characters are all interesting, and Linklater does not waste time with them. He provides us with a short enough or long enough glimpse into our life for us to get the point, and then he swiftly moves on, ensuring he keeps his audience entertained. Problem is, so many of these characters are similar that between some there is no difference, and after about an hour it starts to get a little tiresome. I like the way it ended, though; with a quick montage of a group of teenagers playing with a Super 8 camera before tossing it into a river as triumphant music plays.

This is Linklater’s ode to a generation of people he so clearly admires, loves, and was probably even a member of. It is not his most well-known film (he went on to do the brilliant Dazed and Confused, the entertaining School of Rock, and the trippy A Scanner Darkly, among others), but I would give some argument to it being his best film, absolutely.

Clerks. (1994)

Director: Kevin Smith

Cast: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Lisa Spoonhauer

My Rating: 9/10

In Short: Hilarious Cultural Experiment

Kevin Smith has said that Richard Linklater’s Slacker was the film that made him want to become a filmmaker. It was heavily inspirational on Smith when he made his debut feature Clerks, shot on a minimal budget and filmed inside the convenience store where Smith worked. It took a lot of time and effort and begging for money for Smith to get it made, and certain sacrifices were made (the most notable being that Smith decided to use black-and-white film to shoot the movie with, as it was cheaper than colour), but the end result is an assuredly modern but still very funny comedy.

Like the film that inspired it, Clerks. is heavily dialogue-driven, and there is virtually no “action,” in the true sense of the word, except for perhaps a game of hockey played on the store roof. I like this approach; I think it works. An almost constant flow of dialogue allows true characterization to form. We get to know these characters not by seeing how they react to plot developments (well… not wholly), but mainly from just seeing them talk, examining their attitude.

And when the time does come for them to react to an event or person, they do it wonderfully. Not only is it funny, it is real. It feels real. The whole movie almost feels ad-lib, and it’s difficult to believe the original draft of the screenplay was more than 150 pages long.

The two main characters are Dante and Randal, the two clerks of the title. The entire film is spread out over the course of one Saturday, as the two of them chat, deal with customers and make plans for their day. It is a very routine day. Customers come and go, some causing more trouble than others, but the focus remains generally on the two leads as they deal with sometimes annoying requests from people.

I’ve mentioned that the film is very funny. It is. The humour is typical of Kevin Smith: immature and extremely explicit, but I personally have no problem with it. It is bloody hilarious. From discussions about hermaphrodite pornography to a long monologue consisting of Randal reading a lengthy list of extremely graphic porno movie titles which I don’t dare repeat here, the humour is gross, extreme, but never seems to go too far. Sure, topics like necrophilia and hermaphrodite porn are extreme, but Smith keeps it on a grounded level. He doesn’t delight in necrophilia; he only implies it has happened and the characters are disgusted by it, but the idea of such a ludicrous thing happening is in itself, hilarious.

Smith speaks to a generation of louts, layabouts and losers who despite their idiocy and ignorance are unmistakably lovable. We love watching them, hearing them, and even when they’re rude to us, we love to distance ourselves and analyse them anyway as they go about their day.

That’s my thoughts on two great cult comedy classics. Have you seen either of them? What did you think? Leave a comment below.

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Posted on October 24, 2011, in Movie Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. I saw Clerks in a film class 🙂

    • Haha it wouldn’t have happened if the film wasn’t shot in black-and-white. Most people believe it was an artistic choice, but that’s bollocks – he just couldn’t afford colour.

  2. Love Clerks. A true film of a generation.

    I have never seen Slackers but it sounds very interesting. Great couple of reviews tyler!!

    🙂

    NZ For The Win!!

    • It’s Slacker, not Slackers. SLACKERS is a different movie entirely; dangerous to get the two mixed up.

      I highly recommend you see it, I think you’ll really like it.

      NZ FTW!!!

  3. Hi, Tyler and company:

    Two films that are definitely of their time(s)!

    There are many entertaining scenes in ‘Slacker’ that remind me of the tracking/dolly shot in ‘The Player’. As Linklater sorts through an assorted bag of Halloween candy and select a random few to focus on. A great early effort with raw, unrecognized talent. That helped set the stage for ‘Dazed and Confused’ and ‘SubUrbia’.

    Kevin Smith’s ‘Clerks’ is a decent enough film. With more than a hint of George A. Romero’s no budget, pioneer spirit about it. Kind of a high end film student’s project that can stand alone on its own merits. As its B&W heightens the boring banality of Dante’s and Randal’s lives.

    An admirable start for a rather on again, off again career.

    • Yeah, the tracking shots in SLACKER were reminiscent of other movies. I think both SLACKER and CLERKS are fine examples of the influence other directors like Robert Altman and etc. have had on modern directors. They’re both really clever, smart experiment that work.

  4. I watched Clerks a few weeks ago, after not seeing it for a few years. I was even more impressed with it than I was after seeing it the last time. Clerks is one of my favorite Kevin Smith movies, after Red State, Chasing Amy, and Jersey Girl 🙂 It definitely deserves its inclusion in the book 1001 Movies To See Before You Die.

    • I haven’t seen too much Kevin Smith, but CLERKS is easily my favourite. Though other than that, I’ve only seen CLERKS 2 and ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO, but I really liked all three films. Oh, and I also saw COP OUT, but that was terrible.

  5. It’s honestly a little hard for me to appreciate Clerks fully simply because I think Kevin Smith, with the exception of Clerks and Chasing Amy, is a no talent, outspoken hack.

    With that in mind, Clerks is a very good, very original, and very funny film. But, if we’re comparing, it’s not nearly as good or original or funny as Slacker. Sure, Slacker could be 15 minutes shorter, but I love it to death. Definitely Linklater’s best film.

    Great write up, my friend.

  6. I have to confess that I’ve always been a little put off by the amateurish quality of Slackers, and much prefer the earnest, crazy energy of Clerks, though I think history has clearly proven Linklater to be the greater and more important filmmaker by far. (I just saw his Me and Orson Welles over the weekend, despite the top billing of Zac Efron[!], and was unexpectedly delighted.) For all of Slackers’ shortcomings, Linklater more than made up for it with Dazed and Confused, which easily takes a place among the three or four greatest high-school films ever. Matthew McConaughey’s creepy quote remains a sleazy classic: “That’s what I love about these high school girls, man–I get older, they stay the same age!”

  7. I’ve seen both, love dialog driven films

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