Clerks' Black-And-White Style Had Nothing To Do With Kevin Smith's Creative Vision

Those only familiar with Kevin Smith's more recent films, like "Clerks III" or "Jay and Silent Bob Reboot," which are pretty intensely absurdist and lined with in-jokes, may be surprised to see the kind of film Smith's career started with.

"Clerks" is an extremely low-key film: A black and white picture that simply focuses on two buddies spending the day working at a convenience store. The film's modesty is in part a result of its shoestring budget. It was Kevin Smith's first feature film as a director, and in order to scrape together the measly budget of $27,575 he had to max out ten credit cards and sell his comic book collection, among other things.

His hard work and sacrifice paid off, however, as the movie was positively received and made 4 million at the box office, which was a huge success compared to the budget. With this moderate success, Smith was able to kick-start his film career and make movies that were as weird as he'd always wanted them to be.

"Clerk" itself has gained a cult fandom, which Smith himself barely understands, and with intense fans you get a lot of analysis of your work. This has resulted in many theories regarding the fact that the movie was filmed in black and white. Many believe it has significant symbolic meaning, but in an interview with Stephen Colbert in 2019, Smith revealed that it was simply a money-saving decision.

Just to save some cash

The rabid fans of the View Askewniverse, the name for Kevin Smith's cinematic universe that comes from the name of his production company, have had many theories as to why "Clerks" was filmed in black-and-white. Some of the theories had to do with the mundane nature of the movie's subject matter, and how when you're working a job you hate, the world doesn't quite feel like it's in color. Others claimed that, because the movie was in black and white, it seemed to have been shot from the perspective of the store's security cameras.

In the Colbert interview, however, Smith and his longtime friend and collaborator Jason Mewes reveal how simple the real explanation is. "People think it was a creative choice, it was because there was no money," said Mewes, smiling and discrediting years of discourse at once. "I always have to say that cuz I don't want people thinking 'oh he did it, it was creative.'"

Smith acknowledged a critic who had put forward the security camera footage theory, handling the theories in his usual un-self-serious way. "Every interview I did after that, I'd be like 'We shot it in black and white because we wanted to seem like it was shot from the store security camera.'"

Even if "Clerks" being black and white wasn't an intentional artistic choice, it still made a great impact on the film. If people saw the movie in black and white and took away from that some extra bit of insight, who cares whether it was intentional or not? Once the art leaves the hands of the artists, it's all of ours to make a big fuss over.