The Inwood Theater continues its Midnight Madness series this weekend with what it calls the "Fun-loving Losers" double-header: Clerks and Slacker, already slump-shouldered classics in their own right; their creators, Kevin Smith and Richard Linklater, respectively, are the prime purveyors of this decade's new generation of fringe filmmaking.
Slacker, in fact, set the tone for a certain breed of indie film that inspired countless college-bound cinephiles to try their hand at the 16mm camera and flooded UT's film department with Hollywood hopefuls. Made for a scant $23,000 in 1990, shot in and around Austin with a score of non-actors, and warmly embraced by a pleasantly surprised festival crowd, it did more for alternative cinema than all of John Waters' films combined. Why? Well, it sure wasn't the acting or the camera work or the editing--all of this looks as low-budget as it is. Despite Slacker's datedness, the narrative sets it apart from the crowd: In improvised style, it dips into each character's self-absorbed activity for a few moments before moving on to the next--down the street, across town. Every viewer can find at least a few daffy losers to relate to, whether it's the Madonna-obsessed androgyne (she hawks the celebrity's pap smear in a vial) or the homebound conspiracy-theorist. There's something infinitely appealing about people who live outside the productive world because they've resigned themselves to the edges. In other words, these people aren't only losers--they embrace their loserdom, and nearly anyone who's been to college has probably at least flirted with joining these lowest ranks.
Linklater has gone on to direct and write movies of a more conventional nature--Dazed and Confused (another twentysomething favorite), Before Sunrise, Suburbia, and The Newton Boys. While his subject matter and style matures, he maintains a teenage-level energy and guilelessness, and Slacker will always be his grand entrance to filmgoers' consciousness.
Smith, the creator of 1994's Clerks, also has advanced his profile in steady pace, the miserable Mallrats notwithstanding. His 1997 sleeper Chasing Amy and his tag as co-producer of Good Will Hunting have fortified his name. Nonetheless, his most rabid fans still speak of Clerks with swooning nostalgia. Again, the tiny budget rendered an unimpressive-looking thing--black and white, jumpy, bad sound (frankly, Smith's technical prowess hasn't improved much since)--but his two protagonists, Randal and Dante, in all their whiny, apathetic angst, have captured the spirit of millions of real-life, post-college-age kids. Sex, sports, Return of the Jedi, and the miserable details of the service industry fill a profanity-laden, quasi-theory-bound 90 minutes; Dante and Randal go through a typical day of clerking at Quick Stop and a video store next door. They harass each other and their customers, play roof hockey, and tolerate the loitering duo Silent Bob (Smith in a cameo) and Jay, whose appearance onscreen invariably inspires whoops from the audience. A tiresome foray for anyone outside this sub-subculture, and a recognizable, downhill joyride for anyone who's lived it, Clerks has earned its own dark corner in the indie hall of fame.