We have a special guest blogger today. Frank Reynolds is a feature film editor - one of those films being Todd Field's, In the Bedroom. The film won much critical praise and was nominated for five Oscars. Today, Reynolds writes about a film that inspired a generation of filmmakers, including himself.
By 1994 I had already gone to two film schools, yet I had never seen anyone of my generation portray us and our everyday lives as well as Kevin Smith did with Clerks. Most of my fellow film students (myself included) were too busy trying to create "Art!" or some other piece of light fluffy entertainment. We never realized there could be a movie in the humdrum lives we had back home, the lives we thought boring and pointless and couldn't wait to leave when we ran off to film school in the Big City. It took someone like Smith, who had no real film school education to speak of, to not have the myopia that we had and find cinema in the places we thought there was none. (Full disclosure: I grew up in the Bronx and went to NYU film school. However, even though the Bronx was only a 45 minute ride on the D train away from NYU in the Village, psychologically it was a completely different world, a world as different as Smith's New Jersey. And I lived in the dorms just so I never had to go back home.)
When I said "us and our everyday lives" above, I didn't mean that I was from New Jersey like Smith, or that I worked in a convenience store like his characters. But I knew the characters were people like myself: white, middle-class, male, Generation-X, overeducated but underachieving, stuck in lowly jobs we considered beneath us but unable or unwilling to find a way to better ourselves. Either we were a Dante, wanting more out of life than a convenience store job but not knowing how to get out there and grab it; or we were a Randall, completely satisfied with his lowly station in life, and even relishing in it, getting his kicks wherever he can.
What was also impressive about Clerks was that Smith made it with equipment not much different from what we used in film school (and with a lot less of it). He actually kind of shamed us. Here we were just trying to make our little thesis short films with a 16mm cameras and some lights, and Smith went off and made a feature film that Miramax distributed. And a lot was said at the time about how low-budget Clerks was. "Made for just $25,000!" went all the hype. But it was its low-budget and film-school-grade equipment that actually made the movie more realistic. Even when the film felt chintzy and amateurish, that still made it more realistic. Smith couldn't afford to build a set so he shot it at his day job at night, an actual convenience store. He couldn't afford to hire actors for all of the smaller parts (and even some of the bigger ones), so he got his friends to play them. And even when these friends weren't good actors, they were still the actual people in Smith's life; they were the people the movie was about. They weren't professional actors giving a once-removed interpretation of the people in Smith's life; they were the real deal. If Dante and Randall shot a movie about themselves in 1994, this is what the movie would have looked like.
I did enjoy a lot of Smith's later work back when I was in my 20s, but I found that as I got older it didn't hold up for me; it didn't speak to the me in my 40s. So when I re-watched Clerks recently I was afraid that would also be the case here, but I was relieved to find that with Clerks this wasn't the case. The film held up very well. Maybe it's strength is in the fact that it was made when Smith actually was a store clerk. The film was a window into his life before he became a successful director, which in my opinion was too early and too young: he didn't have enough life experience yet to produce a well-rounded body of work. I wish Smith had been discovered after making his third or fourth low-budget effort while working dead-end jobs.FRANK REYNOLDS has been a feature film editor since 1992. His first feature credit was M. Night Shyamalan's first film PRAYING WITH ANGER. He went on to edit IN THE BEDROOM for former AFI classmate Todd Field, which Miramax released in 2001 and was nominated for five Oscars (including Best Picture) at the 2002 Academy Awards. Other films he's edited include the 1999 Fine Line comedy MAN OF THE CENTURY, the 1996 Troma cult film TROMEO & JULIET, and the 2008 IFC comedy IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS, which won the John Cassavetes Award at the 2009 Independent Spirit Awards. He's won the Editing award at the Woodstock Film Festival twice, in 2004 (for UNKNOWN SOLDIER) and in 2007 (for IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS). His most recent credit is LAST I HEARD, starring Paul Sorvino and Chazz Palminteri. In addition to editing work, he is also an adjunct professor at New York University's film school.
Photo by Todd Field's son Henry taken in the IN THE BEDROOM editing room.