Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A brief note on Lisa Spoonauer, 'Clerks,' and lightning in bottles

Lisa Spoonauer died today. She played Caitlin Bree in Clerks and then moved on to what sounds like a quiet, normal life with her family. Not many people would know her by name, but for those of us of a certain age, she was part of something genuinely momentous.

I've encountered quite a few younger film folks who are baffled that Clerks is regarded as any kind of classic, and I sorta get where they're coming from. Everything that seemed so radical about it at the time was quickly copied and compromised by both the mainstream and indie film industries (I worked for a sizable film festival in the late '90s and roughly one out of every three short film submissions we got was a blatant attempt at Kevin Smithery). I can definitely see how someone coming to it after growing up with all of its progeny, not to mention a working knowledge of post-success Kevin Smith, would be underwhelmed by watching shaky actors make dirty jokes in a convenience store for an hour and a half.

But man, when Clerks first hit video stores, I sure as hell had never seen anything like it. There were probably other filmmakers doing more with even less than Kevin Smith had, but their movies weren't on the shelf at my small-town Wisconsin video shop. Watching it for the first time was one of those "Oh, you can do that?" epiphany moments that means a ton to the folks who experienced it but seldom translates across generational lines.

All that is to say that Lisa Spoonauer played a vital role in something truly special to a generation of people, even if it seems to have been a footnote in her real life. That's a better legacy than just about anybody can hope for.