Review by Ed Nguyen
Richard Linklater, Jerry Delony, Teresa Taylor, Frank Orrall, John Slate, Denise
Director: Richard Linklater
Audio: English Stereo
Video: Color, 1.33:1
Features: Four commentary tracks, early Linklater films, trailers, reunion footage, audition interviews, film treatments, stills gallery, booklet, and more!
Length: 100 minutes
Release Date: September 14, 2004
town has always had its share of crazies. I
wouldn't want to live anywhere else."
more than a decade, Richard Linklater has been one of the most respected
directors upon the American independent film circuit. A native Texan, Linklater first achieved widespread fame with
the cult indie film Slacker (1991),
set in his lazy college hometown of Austin, Texas.
His film captured the spirit of the Bohemian subculture of Generation X,
even popularizing the term "slacker" into household vernacular.
As a quirky portrait of a typically hot summer day in Austin, Slacker
soon established Linklater as the voice of a generation.
was filmed in 16mm stock with a budget of $23,000 and a large cast of
non-actors. It was photographed in
frequently long, uninterrupted takes, which gave the film a documentary feel.
improvisational style, it was actually carefully scripted, with many scenes
based upon real-life anecdotes. Often
though, the dialogue often felt real and just natural, one of the hallmarks of a
film, as Linklater envisioned it, was primarily about "people on the
fringes of any meaningful participation in society."
Eschewing a conventional plot, Slacker
instead presented a sequential narrative of multiple inter-related episodes,
each one offering brief glimpses into the lives of eventually over one hundred
different characters. Each
mini-storyline, complete with eccentric personalities, begs a single question
that is ultimately the film's unifying theme - how might life be different upon
the path not taken?
himself even appears as the film's first character. He is a traveler, arriving at a bus depot and then hailing a
taxi. During the ride, this young
man disserts upon a lengthy monologue about dreams and choices.
He ponders what would happen, hypothetically, if we choose path B over
path A? How might things be
different? Where would the
direction of our lives go? Are
there infinite realities then that might reflect these alternate routes, and
where would they lead? These very
questions form the essential premise of the film's structure.
the film's very nature makes Slacker
somewhat of an acquired taste. It
is essentially plot-less, very much in a stream-of-consciousness mode.
Slacker is filled with many
characters whose lives drift only briefly into contact with one another.
As one character wanders off-screen or passes another person along the
street, so then the camera (and the storyline) might choose to follow the new
character, abandoning the just-developing storyline of the previous character. This pattern is repeated again and again, and by the film's
end, we in the audience have encountered many fascinating characters, all of
whom might just as easily have been the subject of his or her own film.
Slacker's structure reveals
glimpses into the multiple pathways of life, those infinite realities all of
which play out whether we are present or not.
film makes use of familiar settings in Austin, Texas, most notably the Les Amis
Café, a formerly favorite hang-out for students, artists, and even professors.
In fact, several members of the Slacker
cast were even recruited from the restaurant, and many were accomplished
musicians or band members. Austin,
in Slacker, looks a bit like a sparsely-inhabited hick town where
people seem to be very diligently trying not to perform any meaningful task.
In one sense, the film is a celebration of the art of not-doing, of
non-creation. Characters walk around aimlessly or sit in cafes or their
homes and engage in intellectual or philosophical discussion.
the huge cast and the massive flow of information directed at audiences, Slacker
never feels rushed or forced. It
possesses an almost laid-back, casual pace that allows audiences to register the
undeniably intriguing quirks of the film's Texan personalities. Among the more interesting encounters, we meet one character
who tries to sell a pap smear slide from a famous celebrity singer.
Conspiracy theorists abound on everything from aliens to the JFK
assassination. Every deli or coffee
shop seems to harbour philosophy students.
Everywhere else, there are anarchists and marginal beatniks and
there is a sense of loneliness to many of these encounters.
For all the conversations that occur in this film, no one appears to be
truly listening. The speakers
expound upon their favorite subjects, while listeners only provide modest
displays of awareness or acknowledgements - a nod now and then, occasional eye
contact. Sincere interest, as when
a failed robber listens intently to an elderly anarchist, is rare and to be
cherished. Ultimately, all these
natural yet fresh characterizations provide Slacker with its vitality and cultural footing.
These are the qualities which helped the film to spark the independent
film movement in America during the 1990's.
concludes Slacker with a wonderfully
delightful jazzy montage sequence. Set
upon a mountain dawn, this ending expresses a wondrous joie de vivre, a flashback to the true joy of filmmaking and life
that once permeated so many films of yesteryear, especially those of the early
New Wave films. Of course,
Linklater, being an avid film buff, would know.
is not a film about any particular story. It
is a film about a presence of mind, a love of life and independence. It encourages everyone not to be afraid of self-expression or
individualism. If all these things
are what define a true slacker in today's youth culture, then perhaps the world
might benefit from more slackers.
is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
A 16mm interpositive was used for this transfer, which was supervised by
director Richard Linklater and Slacker's
cinematographer, Lee Daniel. Due to
the 16mm film stock, the image quality is slightly grainy but otherwise quite
sharp and fairly pristine in its presentation.
Portions of the film were also shot in super8. Linklater mentions in one of the commentaries that the
contrast level of certain scenes was adjusted, so the film actually looks
clearer now on DVD than it did originally in the theaters!
is presented in its original English stereophonic sound.
English subtitles are also available.
The audio presentation is adequate, since the film is almost entirely
dialogue-driven. Much of the sound
was recorded on location, so there are occasional background noises (airplanes,
cars, etc.) but nothing that drowns out the dialogue.
in disgust is not the same thing as apathy."
arrives from Criterion as a double-disc set overflowing with bonus features. The film itself is contained on disc one, and the extras are
split between the two discs. Accompanying
the film are three different commentary tracks.
The first track is a director commentary, featuring Richard Linklater.
He describes the premise behind the film and how it evolved during the
production. He also comments on
certain aspects of Slacker which, in
light of recent events around the world in this new century, may seem either
prescient or subversive. More
significantly, Linklater expresses some regret that the term "slacker"
has come to embody certain negative connotations, as he has always felt that a
slacker was an intelligent, independent person, one unconcerned with commercial
interests or "selling out." The
film is filled with such opinionated, well-spoken people, often deemed as
hippies or other such unconventional people (just the sort of crowd one
typically finds around any college town).
second commentary track brings twelve members of the original cast together to
offer their words of wisdom or foolhardy. The
comments are frequently funny and usually enlightening.
One commentator even reveals the true origin of the term
"slacker," which has actually been around for decades.
last commentary track unites Richard Linklater with best buddy and
cinematographer Lee Daniel and co-producer Carl Walker.
Daniel had a touch of laryngitis during the recording session, so he
often sounds like a mafia moll on the few occasions he can summon the breath to
speak. Generally, there is a lot of
fun banter spiced up with small details and trivial facts pointed out by the
commentators. They also point out
the original locations in the film of several deleted scenes and the ways in
which limitations in equipment dictated how certain scenes were photographed.
on the disc is No Longer Not Yet, a
45-page treatment for an early script of Slacker.
It is an interesting read, with some similarities to the actual film
but also many differences.
features a few brief introductory pages by Richard Linklater and his casting
director Anne Walker-McBay about the audition process.
Included are excerpts of the actual video interviews (14 min.),
whimsically revealing that some of the real people did not differ so greatly
from their on-screen personalities. Following
that is Taco and a Half after 10 (12
min.), which presents home videos made during production of the film.
ten-minute trailer for Viva Les Amis,
by Nancy Wiggins, explores the communal role of the once-popular Austin cafe
(long-since replaced by corporate America, in the form of Starbucks).
Wiggins was herself a waitress for several years at Les Amis Café.
The documentary is a nostalgic concession towards the inevitable process
of urban renewal. The trailer
itself is quite a cool trip back in time but regrettably, even at ten minutes,
feels so very short and leaves audiences hungering for more.
on disc one is Shooting from the Hip, a
portrait gallery with over three hundred entries (stills, photographs, publicity
shots, production shots, video captures, etc.).
This is an extremely huge gallery, so be prepared to spend quite some
time if you wish to see everything in it!.
a rarity for Criterion releases, there's also an easter egg hidden on disc one!
It's an article - "Austin and the Fine Tradition of Slack," by
R.U. Steinberg. This brief editorial offers some history about the city of
Austin and its unique qualities and people.
To read the article, highlight "Shooting From the Hip" on the
Supplements menu and push the left arrow. The
highlighter will completely vanish; click enter at this moment, and voilà!
on to disc two, the biggest feature is the 85-minute super8 film, It's
Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books (1988).
Plow is mostly a quiet film with incidental dialogue or background
ambient noise. It follows the
voyage by a young man after he accepts an invitation by a friend to hang out.
This was Linklater's first feature film, an "oblique narrative"
about the bleakness or monotony of everyday life in general.
The film's super8 stock results in an understandably soft and grainy
image, and the sound quality is variable (for best results, I would recommend
keeping the subtitles on). Considering
that the film was shot for only $3000, it's not bad as a travelogue about the
alienation and banality of the urban American landscape.
The origin of Plow's cryptic
title is also revealed later on in the film.
a bonus, there is another commentary track by Richard Linklater.
He speaks at length about the challenges of making his first feature
film, which he considered akin to a graduate thesis.
Interestingly, Linklater suggests that Plow's
main character, played by himself, is the same as the taxi passenger of Slacker, as played by Linklater.
In this sense, Slacker could be
considered a continuation, briefly, of this character's story.
is another movie on disc two - Woodshock
(1985), an early seven-minute 16mm short by Richard Linklater and Lee Daniel.
Its subject is the Woodshock music festival held annually around Austin
to promote local music. The image
quality is a bit dirty and grainy with lackluster contrast levels but otherwise
captures the youthful exuberance and chaos of the typical summer concert scene.
next section offers information about the Austin Film Society, co-founded by
Linklater to help promote independent filmmaking. There are articles by Denise Montgomery and Lee Daniel about
the early days of the society during the mid-1980's. Also included are scans of several dozen flyers used to
promote various movie screenings during the society's early years.
Roadmap," a working script for Slacker,
is the next bonus and includes nearly thirty minutes of fourteen deleted scenes
or alternative takes. These scenes
can either be viewed separately or within the context of the script pages
themselves. Among these scenes are
an extended Linklater taxi scene, an extended UFO-paranoia guy scene, more
bizarre fun with a schizophrenic deli woman, more lecturing by an elderly
anarchist, and an offbeat destruction-of-mankind-via-termites conversation in
Les Amis. For the most part though,
these scenes are unnecessary, and their exclusion from the final cut was
justified, but some are fun to watch.
a promotional trailer for the film is "Slacker Culture," an essay by
Linklater, in which he attempts to define what he feels a "slacker"
is, as opposed to what a slacker has generally been perceived to be.
In a nutshell, Linklater describes a slacker as anyone "who is
striving to attain a realm of activity that runs parallel to their
desires," even if that means rejecting the conventional hierarchy and
expectations of society.
but most interestingly, there is "End of Interview," chronicling the
2001 screening for Slacker in Austin,
Texas. Present are many former
members of the cast and crew, and seeing how they have changed (or not) over the
years is quite cool. It's like a
fun high school reunion!
if all the features on this double disc set weren't enough, Criterion has
included an impressive 64-page booklet. It
contains a huge number of essays and publicity shots from the film itself.
Among some of the more unusual features are a list of production expenses
and many memorable quotes from the film.
first article, "Slacking Off" by John Pierson (host of IFC's Split
Screen), relates the twisting post-production odyssey of Slacker
from the film festival circuit into the consciousness of the American film-going
Oblique Strategy," by Ron Rosenbaum, argues that Slacker, behind its humor and eccentric quirks, is similar in heart
and tone to the metaphysical aspects and philosophizing of Russian cinema and
literature. It is an intriguing
article and sounds very much like one that could have been written by any of Slacker's
the other articles, there is "Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothing to
Do," by Chris Walters, which discusses the impassivity of the film and the
existential sense of loss or aimlessness exhibited by its many characters.
"Looking Back," by Michael Barker, co-founder of Sony Pictures
Classics, is a short documentation of the film's voyage from indie film to cult
phenomenon from the distributor's standpoint.
"From the Notebooks" is a selection of quotes and notes used by
Richard Linklater to motivate the cast and crew and to keep them in the proper
spirit of the film. And finally,
"It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books," by Monte Hellman,
is a brief introduction to this early film by Richard Linklater.
After this article, the remaining second half of the booklet is jammed
with promotional artwork, photographs, quotes, and many cast/crew portraits.