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SXSW 2021 Film Festival: Clerk Review

Clerk is the story of Kevin Smith, creator of films like Clerks, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and Dogma, among many others. The documentary from writer/director Malcom Ingram (Small Town Gay Bar) combines Smith’s own self-guided tour of his life with intimate insights from the friends, family members, and co-workers who know him best to chronicle the storyteller’s rise to fame across multiple media industries including film, comics, podcasting, and even his own brand of stand-up comedy. The result is an honest, comprehensive portrayal of the artist’s successes and failures to commemorate 25 of years of work since Smith’s first hit, Clerks, debuted.

What works in Clerk is the passion and love that went into crafting a narrative that would easily appeal to wide array of cinephiles curious about the Kevin Smith’s unique craft and influence on various mediums. Writer/director (and lifelong friend) Malcolm Ingram describes the film as “one giant easter egg for the fans” and while this certainly accurate—diehard followers will certainly appreciate the plethora of View Askew references—fans of film in general are likely to appreciate the raw look inside Smith’s somewhat tumultuous journey beginning with the wunderkind boost into fame after Clerks, the precipitous decline that occurred after the (then) flop of Mallrats, and then his personal expressiveness through Chasing Amy. And that’s really just the beginning.

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Perhaps even more fascinating than the details of Smith’s cinematic productions are his contributions to entertainment in other ways. For example, Smith essentially pioneered the open-access paradigm we now have with creators and entertainers through his early adoption of message boards as a way to directly connect with his fans. Another important milestone was how Smith helped reinvigorate the struggling comic books industry by using his prowess and recognition as a writer to pen series for both Marvel and DC which ultimately boosted sales.

Audience members wholly unfamiliar with Kevin Smith’s work (or who find his…expression not quite their taste) may not enjoy Clerk as much as others. That said, to Ingram’s credit, there is a wonderful balance of “fan service” and introductory context for those who are experiencing this content for the first time. Some may argue that Ingram’s documentary is a bit rosy, and it may be a fair point, but given the incredibly optimistic and positive nature of his subject matter, it feels perfectly appropriate.

Clerk is a fantastic human journey, with an inspiring narrative. Ingram does exceptional work portraying a versatile entertainer who loves their craft, but his documentary also showcases the incredibly special relationship between said artist and their audience, spotlighting that unusual and wonderful intimacy which is why Smith’s work and service is so beloved. To use a relatively new Kevin-Smith-ism from his Fatman Beyond podcast, I’d give it a “Jeff’s Kiss.”

Recommended if you enjoyed: 21 Years: Richard Linklater; Oh, What a Lovely Tea Party

FINAL GRADE: A

 

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