'I'm 37?'

When DVD was launched in the UK and the only thing you could buy was Batman and Robin film fans scratched their head wondering what the point of ditching their VHS collection or 'upgrading' from laserdisc if all you got was a cd with a film on it. For some time afterwards discs would appear and time after time they would be empty of all the bells and whistles of their US counterparts. Although some of these so-called vanilla discs were due to laziness or hubris on the part of what were and oddly still are called home video companies, in some cases it was because in the production and selling of the movie a different deal was struck internationally for distribution which meant that for the extras to appear elsewhere they would have to be re-licensed from the original film company. Since most DVDs are created on a budget because expectations are usually fairly low it was easier to release a vanilla than give the film fan what they want. This has changed gradually in the past few years, especially because distribution contracts have been re-written to include a clause regarding secondary sales. But even then some films have fallen through the cracks and into another category. VHS only releases. Like Kevin Smith's Clerks.

Although bought from Smith by Miramax in the US, they sold on the British distribution and video rights for the film to Artificial Eye who, along with Tartan were and still are the main supply of art house films in the UK. When the VHS arrived that fact didn't really matter much because all you were getting was the film. This deal seems to have been in perpetuity because when a DVD was released of the film the US in the mid-late nineties with commentary, deleted scenes and the usual extras, a comparable release failed to happen in the UK. There is little doubt that Miramax would have released the film already but they're stymieded by the original distribution agreement. And for some reason Artificial Eye have continued to decline even a vanilla release despite the popularity of all of Smith's other films in the UK. So the only way to see the film is on that ropey VHS which I believe might even have been deleted.

It's a bizarre state of affairs, especially considering his next film Mallrats has been released twice on DVD (without and with extras) even though it went straight to video in this country. It's become an even bigger tragedy this month because a three disc special edition has been released in the US to commemorate the film's tenth anniversary. It's the kind of rich package which would do really well in this country but unless Artificial Eye do an about turn with their release policy and (a) release any kind of dvd and (b) decide to license the material from this release, the only people who can order Region One DVDs and play them will be able to enjoy this. Luckily I'm one of those people and over the past week or so I've been working my way through what is a staggering achievement for DVD, and well worth seeking out if you can.

The first disc of Clerks X is features a restored version of the theatrical cut of the film. A hate to use the cliché, but this really is the best you're ever going to see this film. The transfer is so crisp you can see all the grain in the 16mm black and white material. To some degree it's a depressing experience because I've seen this film so many times that it's lost that shock of the new. It's the kind of piece which people are still discovering and I wish I still could. Even at student age I wasn't old enough to appreciate the melancholic desolation which seeps through the cracks of the comedy. Like the best film with longevity it changes each time we revisit because we are older and our perceptions change. Which is the film's real achievement - that something could cost that little money, be made under those production limits and still be have that value.

On the second disc there is a second version of film, the original version in fact, the one which first got the film noticed by agents and film festivals. In a brave move it's presented in a dub from the original Super-VHS, so its full frame and looks and sounds horrible. In comparison with the theatrical cut, even though it's longer it feels incomplete. The pacing is all off and some scenes, while giving more information, go on far too long. There is a weird naivety to it and reminds me of my own crack at a film from my school days, a made-on-video unfinished comedy about the apocalypse. As the extras reveal the film might have cost $28,000 to make, but it cost over $100,000 to get it ready for release.

Disc Three finishes the fine-tooth pick going over of the film with the documentary 'Snowball Effect: The Story of Clerks' which tells the rags to riches story of Kevin Smith and his friends, from birth right up until the theatrical release of the film. Ben Kenobi might say there is no such thing as luck, but believe me when you see the agonizing process the film went through from script to being picked up by Miramax at The Sundance Film Festival and all these stages were things could have failed you probably love the film even more. Almost everyone is interviewed, from Kevin Smith's Mom right through to Harvey Weinstein, with a few exceptions. It's as good a DVD documentary as any I've seen and only a hair's breath away from being worth a cinema release itself.

It is basically as comprehensive release of any film as you'd expect. As well as including all the content of the original DVD release, a 'lost scene' in the style of the animated series, a short film, Mtv adverts, audition tapes, 'Mae Day' (Smith and Mosier's student film) a 10th Anniversary Q&A (which covers the rather bitter falling out between the director and Jeff 'Randal' Anderson) and a mass of text articles and interviews charting the making of the film and the press which spurred it on. The only things missing are the comic books, the cartoon series and the aborted unapproved pilot for the tv series - but its understandable why all of those would be missing and with the exception of the latter are freely available.

Two main personalities pervade the whole package. Kevin Smith himself is there throughout, on the commentaries and introducing almost all the content. This has been customary on all of the View Askew releases and has the effect of personalizing everything. You really get the feeling that despite ten years of stardom and celebrity pals he's still the man from behind the counter at the Quick Stop and really understands how lucky he's been and above all wants to entertain the viewer and thank the people who continually turn up for everything he does.

The other face is Scott Mosier, Smith's producer and collaborator. In a deleted scene from the documentary the director comments that he couldn't function on set without Mosier around. He was there at the film's inception (even forgoing his own directing ambitions) and is very much the unsung hero of the enterprise. He's also the knowledgeable one and there to fill in the blanks when Kevin has one of his many memory lapses. Other figures include Walt Flannigan, Brian Johnson and of course Jason Mewes (who appears both before, pissed up on the original DVD commentary, and after, sober for a year on everything else), all helped by Smith's continued loyalty. Funny to think that the main thrust of the film is the friendship of Dante and Randall and how that is reflected in real life amongst the movie makers.

1 comment:

R3d said...

Great article, guy!
Well, that's what I felt. Maybe it's because I've just seen the movie only last month. It was so good. Much much better than any other comedy flick I'd seen the past two years.
Clerks is, was and will be a great movie and its characters will remain in my memory for a long time.
It's such a shame most people don't know about it.