The Slacker Richard Linklater


Through three decades of filmmaking, Richard Linklater has walked a varied path without ever shying from our suspicions of iconoclasm. He seems to carry the same inertia in his filmmaking that he articulated in the vignettes of misanthropic youth that propelled Slacker to its iconic status in the independent film world. We still see the long, sprawling shots and depictions of disaffected generations, and we still listen to the enduring scenes of heavy dialogue. Each new film seems to be a spiritual successor to the previous ones. But even as Linklater continues to elucidate his singular identity, he reveals a complexion that makes his work impossible to brand. After the success of Slacker in 1991 and Dazed and Confused in 1993, Linklater was considered to be the cinematic voice of Generation X. But while his longevity has carried him towards an enduring legacy, it has also confessed a tactile richness that surpasses his earlier labels.

The favorite son of the Austin independent film industry is undoubtedly a pioneer. The self-taught Linklater began his filmmaking career with a series of experimental shorts that served as his active cinematic education. The films that he writes and directs can be described, like his career, as meandering:  most take place within a 24-hour span and lack a clear narration or plot structure. Several, like Slacker and its spiritual companion Waking Life, are served in a series of vignettes that follow a motley stream of characters rather than adhering to a single narrative. In these films, Linklater allows audiences to glimpse someone just long enough for familiarity to set in before turning the camera onto a new character with all of their quirks and encumbrances. He is giving us a window into the collective identity of a generation rather than any storyline. He utilizes distant shots to showcase long scenes of dialogue that range from pseudointellectual to sexual, amicable to paranoid, and ponderous to critical.  “My plan B is to make a film about people who talk a lot,” Linklater once said, which makes it clear that his creations are the product of a visceral call that has formed his identity as a filmmaker. His films are entirely dialogue-driven, with conversations that characteristically meander from subject to subject and dominate almost every second of any film. Verbal intercourse has become paramount to the Linklater aesthetic.

Linklater is clearly unafraid to cover drastic new ground in order to fulfill a desired aesthetic. With Waking Life, and later on in his film adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel A Scanner Darkly, he used rotoscopic animation, which involves shooting and editing a complete live action film before animating it frame by frame. This method is rather time consuming. Though Waking Life, the first feature-length film to utilize rotoscopic animation, took Linklater only 22 days to shoot, the animation process took over 18 months. The process is precise, as the animators realistically render every individual moving hair and piece of wrinkled clothing. The finished product, however, is unique in the way that reality is abstracted into artistic expression. The result of the intensive labor is a visual enhancement of the film’s tone. The animation technique serves as an aesthetic tool for Linklater. In Waking Life, the animation is floating and dreamy, and Linklater had each character animated by a separate artist, in clever synchronicity with the story in which the main character passes through varying degrees of lucidity and meets an array of passersby. In A Scanner Darkly, the animation style is more akin to a drug induced psychosis with its fast cuts and twitches, lending an uneasy paranoia to viewers. In both cases, the animation matches the tone and characters of the film.


While Linklater’s early written and directed films were critically successful, they initially only garnered a cult following. Now in his third decade of filmmaking, he has reached the point in his career where his independent films are met with wide acclaim. His most recent film, Before Midnight, has impressed critics at the Sundance, Berlin, Tribeca and San Francisco festivals while serving as the quintessential product of Linklater’s craft. The public anticipation for Before Midnight, which will see a wider release in mid-June, was buoyed by the commercial success of Linklater’s Bernie. Before Midnight is something of a rarity in the independent film world. It is a sequel to a sequel, the third in a series of films that were made and take place nine years apart. Each film in the series, like most of Linklater’s films, takes place in the span of a single day. Yet he achieves a remarkable depth, and, with a pleasant metafictive element, leaves audiences waiting to pick up with the characters who have waited just as long as viewers to see each other again. Linklater is unshaken by long-term projects. He is currently at work on Boyhood, which is also known as the Untitled 12-Year Project. It is a film shot over the course of 12 years that follows the maturation of a young boy, all while using the same cast that he began with in 2002. He shoots what is the equivalent to a short film each year. The shooting usually lasts three weeks and will wrap up in 2014. Ethan Hawke, who has become a director trademark of sorts for Linklater, appears in the film as the boy’s father.

Linklater seems to be obsessed with possible worlds, with films that constantly speculate on what could have been and what almost never was. In the very first scene of his first full film, Linklater himself appeared as a character and mused to a silent taxi driver about the expired possibilities that a single decision would have led him to. There are no ancillary characters in a Linklater world. Instead, we get the sense that every character is a person living their own life with the momentum of their decisions carrying onto characters on- and off-screen. There are no accidents. One event leads to another. Richard Linklater’s world is one of coincidence and circumstance, and indeed the inertia of his art crosses into our own world.

Text by Cale Finta