Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Scenes #5: Clerks 2 (Project: A-Z)

(One Day I cut an alphabetical swatch through my DVD collection for shits and giggles. This is the result.)

Nothing has made me feel older then the decline in Kevin Smith's reputation. Not to get all "Back in my day" but back in my day liking Smith was a matter of course. Among a certain strata he was ubiquitous as Vans, Alex Garland's The Beach and Elliot Smith. Not only was he crude, funny, and talked about Star Wars, but he was the indie filmmaker who made it, one of us.

Now fifteen years in his career, on the backside of Zack And Miri Make A Porno, which earned Smith some of the best reviews of his career while tanking and Cop Out, which well do I even have to talk about the fall out from that one, Smith is looking like a very different filmmaker from the friendly, unassuming guy who made Clerks.

But still, even though I haven't like all of his movies, Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back doesn't really work for me, and it almost goes without saying neither do Mallrats, Jersey Girl and Cop Out, I've been kind of shocked by the glee that people take in being allowed to ignore Smith. True he's painted a big target on himself, but is that really a reason to ignore an entire body of work? This is let me say, despite my bet hedging a firmly positive piece on Smith, which is part of why I wanted to write it. I have a feeling they'll be in short supply.

After all...

There's no way a director who can communicate such levels of longing and apprehension with a simple fucking two shot, a slight push in and a fifteen year old pop song isn't worth some serious consideration.

But this is not the moment I want to explore from Clerks 2. A flawed but ultimately rewarding movie that has waiting inside it a perfect three minute gem of a scene, that is as perfect an expression of happiness as I've seen in a film and sums up everything likable about Kevin Smith as a filmmaker.

Clerks 2 takes as it's unlikely premise that Rosario Dawson is in love with Brian Halloran. Well look if I can believe in Jedis for two hours...

At the start of this scene, Halloran has confessed his apprehension about dancing at his wedding, so Dawson's taken him up to the roof to show him a few moves...

Enlisting the help of Jay and Silent Bob and their Jambox. Because of course it's a Jambox. Which in another nice Smith touch takes a second because the tape deck refuses to close. It's not much, not even a gag really, just a bit of business. But it's a great little detail, that speaks to the tactile working class nature of Smith's best films.

One of the things I love about Rosario Dawson as an actress is how utterly transparent she is. Yes I know she's an actress, but the way she lights up when she hears the opening bars of ABC (Remember this was pre Michael Jackson death and reputation resurrection. Something that made this choice probably several million dollars cheaper) belies a pleasure that seems so genuine, that it makes the moment beautiful.

And er... Stills aren't the best medium to convey this, but seen in motion it's... a... Oh my!

Brian Halloran may never be a great actor but he is a perfectly good reactor. Which is fine because that's all Smith's scripts ever really call on him to do. In this case all he has to do is convincingly fall in love with Rosario Dawson...

Which is kind of hard not to do.

The burst from the de-saturated palate we didn't even know we were in, to this beautiful magic hour light is startling and kind of perfect. Anyone accusing Smith of lack of visual style is doing so out of habit at this point. Unfortunately that includes Smith himself.

The Golden stock literalizes what I've always thought was Smith's primary appeal. The secret of Smith’s enduring popularity is how friendly his vision of the world is. The title Smith chose for his company, “View Askew” was spot on, his world is our world, but just a bit off. Our world in which everyone is just a little bit smarter, funnier, stranger, kinder and on the whole less mundane. A world that is in this case literally brighter. For all the potty humor Smith's world has always been a surprisingly innocent place.

Though it wouldn't be Smith if we didn't get a little scatological...

I want to touch on this later but, note the goofy abandon of the moment. Smith is probably the lease ironic Gen X filmmaker out there. It's disarming of him and yet another element of his style that feeds his fan's affection of him.

Remember what I was saying with about "Goofy Abandon"?

Seven film's into his career and Smith still hadn't lost that "Let's put on a show!" vibe that has always been a part of his work. And I think, that is at the end of the day what separates good Kevin Smith films from bad ones. When he makes a film like Cop Out which is just process, you know it. Because when it comes to Smith there is perhaps no other filmmaker whose love of the filmmaking process is more palatable.

And if the following moment doesn't make you a little happy, then I think you might actually be the grinch.

That's one of the most appropriate launchings of a cheerleader I've ever seen...

What I love is that while some of these people are obviously professional dancers just as many of them are obviously not. Smith has always had an eye for people and this sequence rewards a close watch.

Like the woman in the I Heart NJ shirt. Look at that smile. This shot is only two seconds long but it's always stayed with me. It's a moment of perfect happiness that crystalizes the feeling of the entire scene for me.

Of course the real world and it's problems rear it's ugly head. And we're back to the de-saturated world. This time with an acute awareness that we are in it. But it's the promise of that sequence that stays with us. The promise that all of Smith's films make, echoed in the lyrics of that perfect song choice.

That's how simple love can be/
That's how simple life can be/


Jake said...

I cannot say how glad I am that you love Clerks II. I've recently been catching up with and/or reappraising a lot of '06 movies and have come to realize what a strong year it was (Pan's Labyrinth, Deja Vu, The Prestige, Syndromes and a Century, Inland Empire, Half Nelson etc.) but I still would put Clerks 2 on my top 10. It hits me in a way that no other Smith film outside of Chasing Amy has. CA spoke to the person I was right when I saw it, but Clerks II, perhaps more impressively, seemed to speak to fears I didn't even realize I had.

It's the ultimate auto-critique, showing how sad slackers really are even after the first Clerks very surreptitiously did that back when it became a slacker icon (Dante loses both chicks, is left with no foreseeable future). Dante and Randall have, if anything, moved down in the world, now stuck in a fast food joint because Randall is so dumb he burns the Quick-Stop down. It's funny as hell, possibly Smith's funniest, but the mounting emotions of hopelessness are devastating, and it somehow earns its heart-on-sleeve ending through sheer audacity and empathy with the characters. I can't believe so many hit him for going back to the well when he said so much more than he did the first time around.

It's such a shame he's locked in his self-pity at the moment. I think the critics inflated his expectations for Zack and Miri, but when it barely made bank he got disillusioned with the "power" of the critic over box office success -- have critics ever really had that power? Then Cop Out came out and was dismal and he took it out on everyone else. I love the man, deeply love him. I use his web board, listen to his podcasts (or as many as I can now that they're multiplying like bunnies) and think that he pioneered a relationship between filmmaker and fans that was unprecedented and ahead of its time. But I really hope Red State does well, not only because I think it looks brilliant and unique but because maybe he'll just calm down for a bit and go back to being the affable Kev and not the one who just takes random shots at people all day and then plays the victim card when they poke back.

Biba Pickles said...

It's in color!

Bryce Wilson said...

Very well put Jake.

That ending man I could do a whole Scenes on that last shot alone. You've got to love the choice of Soul Asylum to take things out. Not just because it's the perfect song for the moment, but because of way it lets Smith both acknowledge that he is both a total product of Gen X, and has artistically outlived just about everyone else who has worn that moniker.

Back when he used their music in Clerks Soul Asylum was as big as any other band. Nowadays you'd be lucky to get a "Who?" From anyone who didn't live in the era.

I really do have a lot of affection for Clerks 2 as a whole. I think after the prologue it takes a good fifteen minutes to really find it's rhythm (Sequences like "Crippy Boy" feel like they're trying too hard) but once it does it does.

My expectations for Red State are sky high, I literally can't wait to see it.

Kschenke said...

Clerks II is one of those movies that doesn't get enough credit for what it does right. Rosario Dawson is a big part of what gives the film its charm and the scene you highlighted is a great example. This was the film that really had me like her as a actress.

I also loved the ending, even if I've heard criticism of it. Sure, it's not the level of success others thought of for them, but they actually created something that was their own. That slow zoom out with them behind the counter and the sad woman checking the milk as we fade to black and white was lovely.

Bryce Wilson said...

I think any other ending wouldn't have merely been bad it would have been a lie.

Like I said above it's a great last shot. You have to love that heavy silence that follows the line "Today is the first day of the rest of your life."

Joe said...

Brian Halloran may never be a great actor but he is a perfectly good reactor.

It's been submitted by many that acting is reacting. As an acting teacher, I'm not sure I cotton to that 100%, but it's a theory with merit. My view on Halloran is that he's a good actor, which is to say that he's believable in roles that suit him, but if he goes outside of his "lovable shlub" zone, he's in trouble.

Bryce Wilson said...

Thankfully those are rarer then Bigfoot sightings.

AK said...

Saw this in the theater with my nephew about a week after it opened and we both agreed it didn't completely work, but we loved it. The next day at work, I was trying to explain why it was so great to a very cool co-worker: "There's this scene where she's dancing on the roof with him and it's BEAUTIFUL! It's just natural and it feels real..."(not always too articulate when I'm excited about a movie). Rosario Dawson is completely marvelous here. Sometimes I think she looks kinda goofy, other times I think she's incredibly beautiful and radiant (here and in Death-Proof, when she's going "...Kim?!" as Kim's chanting to the road "Please don't dead-end, please don't dead-end").
Thanks for reminding me of this wonderful moment. Fucking beautiful.

Bryce Wilson said...

Thank you Rob.

For me the moment with Dawson that kills me in Death Proof is when they start playing Ship Mast, and she realizes what they're doing, then realizes that they're doing it, and you see that fear just give way to elation.

It's a beautiful moment.

Anonymous said...

While I love the tits bouncing, I prefer slightly more firm breasts that bounce slightly slower due to more weight and firmness. That said, fuck that scene. It's a time filled like that atrocious Smashing Pumpkins 1979 song being thrown in. Neither track fits the movie and it's just lame. At least Clerks has edge with the music it shows and it all fits. Those two songs are overplayed and don't fit the movie. Even Jay singing to Goodbye Horses is a time filler, but it's funny in the sense that Jay looks like Buffalo Bill enough. Seeing a fat girl smile and wave while hearing Corgan sing? Only lame and annoying. Clerks 2 is a good film due to the writing. And RD being a hottie.

Unknown said...

This is one of the simplest yet most joyful, beautiful scenes I can think of in just about any movie. At first I thought it was a love letter from Kevin Smith to Rosario Dawson, but now I'm starting to think it's from Kevin Smith to all of us. Thanks for enshrining this moment.