“And If it’s a funny old world, mama, where a little boy’s wishes come true” really is the perfect lyric from Springsteen’s song The Wish, which perfectly sums up Malcolm Ingram’s documentary Clerk. Ingram’s chronicle into Kevin Smith’s career (which just premiered at SXSW) captures the sense of bewilderment that Smith feels to this day about his life. The strength of Ingram’s documentary is in structure. It’s like we are on this long winding yellow brick road lined with “f-bombs,” Stan Lee, Comic Books, discarded blunts, and dildo lightsabers.
While Clerk certainly does spend time digging into each of Smith’s past projects, the joy in the near two-hour deep dive into smith is how introspective the piece felt. Ingram does a great job of framing the piece through this lens of how Kevin managed to keep going down that yellow brick road no matter what detours presented themselves. It’s how he overcomes the challenges of no financing, bad reviews, personal issues that make the triumphs so much more satisfying.
Ingram assembles a list of luminaries from Smith’s past and present who are open about what went on doing any number of shoots. His friend and producer Scott Mosier gets very candid about those stressful moments where Kevin would make promises and keep to a particular budget, not knowing if that was possible. This ultimately leads to Scott’s sleepless nights and a straight diet of coffee, Rolaids, and cigarettes. How were they able to film Chasing Amy for 250,000? That is crazy!
Richard Linklater and Jason Reitman are integral parts of the documentary too. Smith waxes poetic about how Linklater’s independent spirit has influenced his career. Reitman deep dives into how Clerks was a big reason why he became a filmmaker. While those moments are fine, Ingram’s Clerk is most compelling when discussing some of the more controversial moments Kevin faced.
Seeing the toll that the controversy Dogma had on everyone around the film was eye-opening. Ingram weaved in clips of protest in with the personal testimonials about that time in their lives. Hearing Kevin discuss the death threats they faced and seeing his wife almost breakdown discussing the film was hard to see. People will appreciate how Clerk manages to insert moments of levity to break the tension. Hearing Kevin retell how George Carlin ask if he believed in all of this “nonsense” was certainly priceless.
The documentary does dedicate a great deal of time discussing Carlin’s influence on Kevin and how Jason Mewes’s persistence ultimately leads to being “hetero” life mates. Smith does give audiences the sense that if Carlin was still around to this day, that he’d find some way to put him in a movie or even podcast because he felt his talents were underappreciated. Mewes openly admits how this all started with him just showing up unannounced much to Smith’s annoyance. Now, it’s hard to imagine one without the other.
The last act of the documentary is dedicated to Smith morphing into more of a cultural icon. We see how parenthood has changed him and how much he still wants his daughter Harley Quinn to like his work more than Quintin Tarantino’s. What’s amazing after all his triumphs over adversity, Smith didn’t care much about his legacy until things almost came to an end. Ingram’s best work comes from framing the heart attack in 2018 and how it invigorated him. His desire for Tusk not to be his last film is why we ended up getting Jay and Silent Bob Reboot in 2019.
Clerk manages to capture the soul of a comic book-loving cinephile who, no matter what stood in his way, managed to overcome and continue down that yellow brick road. Sometimes heart and guts are all one needs.
This review is from the 2021 SXSW Film Festival.