Clerk is a documentary produced and directed by Malcolm Ingram that focuses on the life and career of filmmaker Kevin Smith. Beginning in Smith’s teenage years, Clerk follows his debut as a filmmaker with Clerks-a film that would grow to become a cult classic-and follows him through his victories and failures in life, peppered with interviews from family and friends.
As a documentary, Clerk succeeds in its mission of covering Smith’s entire career. Obviously Clerks is the highlight of the film as it served as Smith’s entry into the world of filmmaking but it covers where he got his inspiration. The Highlands recreational center in New Jersey gets its own spotlight, as Smith met his longtime friend and co-star Jason Mewes there. Another important location happens to be the QuickStop Groceries where Smith worked-which served as inspiration for Clerks. Perhaps one of the funniest bits of dialogue features Smith admitting he originally wanted to work at the video store next door, but was turned down.
While most documentaries tend to lionize their subjects or gloss over the darker days, Ingram doesn’t shy away from the struggles Smith has faced over the years. His second feature Mallrats was critically panned. The Catholic Church attempted to ban Dogma, despite Smith’s repeated statements that the film wasn’t meant as an attack on religion. But by far the most sobering statement comes when Smith discusses how most of his films were distributed by Miramax, whose co-founder Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to prison in 2018 after his sexual misconduct came to life. Smith willingly acknowledges that what Weinstein did is monstrous, which takes courage from both him and for Ingram to film.
Perhaps a large part of why this documentary feels so personal is that Ingram and Smith have known each other for years. Smith even served as a mentor to Ingram and helped finance his first film Drawing Files. It only makes sense that Ingram would pay it forward by making Clerk, which happens to feature multiple people whose lives Smith has influenced. From Mewes and Smith’s other longtime friend/producer Scott Mosier to Smith’s wife Jen and daughter Harley, and even his mother Grace, there isn’t a person interviewed who doesn’t have a kind word to say about Smith. Even Ben Affleck and Matt Damon stop by, a small reminder that Smith was in their corner long before Batman and Bourne.
Perhaps the most moving section for me was the interviews with Marvel executive vice president and creative director Joe Quesada and Smith’s Fatman Beyond co-host Marc Bernardin. Quesada illustrated the Daredevil: Guardian Devil storyline that Smith wrote, which served as a huge influence on the Daredevil Netflix series; he freely admits that it was one of the stories that helped Marvel get back on track after suffering bankruptcy.
Bernardin also discussed how in transitioning Fatman Beyond to a video format, most listeners learned he was a Black man-and how Smith used his influence to give his friend a bigger platform. As a huge fan of Marvel’s characters and the work Bernardin has done, I teared up during these portions. It was a huge testament to how Smith’s genuine nature and love of pop culture helped shape others’ careers-and how he’s still using those tools to this day.
Clerk acts as the perfect ode to Kevin Smith’s career, covering his successes and failures in equal measure and highlighting the impact he’s had on pop culture. Whether you’re a die hard fan of the View Askiewniverse or you’re wondering where Smith got his start, this is a documentary to watch out for.
Clerk screened at the virtual SXSW Film Festival 2021.
Collier “CJ” Jennings is a freelance reporter and film critic living in Seattle. He uses his love of comics and film/TV to craft reviews and essays on genre projects. He is also a host on Into the Spider-Cast.