Written and directed
by Richard Linklater.
Cinematography by Lee Daniel.
Starring: Richard Linklater, Rudy Basquez, Jean Caffeine, Jan Hockey, Stephan
Hockey, and about 90 other slackers.
Rated: R -- language, slackery.
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A few movies that influenced the themes and structure of Slacker:
The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939), La Ronde (Max Ophuls, 1950), The
Phantom of Liberty (Luis Bu˝uel, 1974), Kings of
the Road (Wim Wenders, 1976), Alice in the Cities (Wim Wenders, 1974).
By Jim Emerson
Richard Linklater's Slacker is a genuine American original that manages to work its low-key
magic on an infinitesimal budget of $23,000. Using a cast of about 100, Linklater's camera
prowls around his hometown of Austin, Texas, for a 24-hour period, encountering a series
of slackers -- some for only a few seconds, others for a few minutes.
In some ways it's
like watching an old Monty Python episode, as they searched for the
"link," or transition, that would lead from one vignette into another. Except
that Slacker is ALL links, and the transitions are effortless. Linklater's roving
camera just floats from one eccentric with too much time on his/her hands to another, as
these folks spout their theories -- in coffee shops, bars, libraries and private
residences -- on every conceivable subject, from UFOs to JFK assassination theories to
Elvis sightings to Charles Whitman to whether you can really tell the difference between
television and first-hand experience.
The movie's serendipitous structure mirrors the free-associative imaginations of its
many characters. Most of them are in their 20s, at that awkward stage just after college
where they're not quite sure what to do with themselves. So they kill time in limbo,
sitting around talking and thinking and drinking and smoking and theorizing and dreaming.
"I may live badly," says one of the scraggly, stringy haired denizens of this Texas
college-town, "but at least I don't have to work to do it."
Whenever one of them encounters another, there are the usual stammers and awkward
pauses, and then somebody asks: "Hey, well, what have you been doing?" The
answer, invariably, is something like: "Not much," or "Just lollygaggin'
around," or "Been gettin' lots of sleep."
And speaking of sleep: Slacker has the fluid structure of a dream -- inspired
by Luis Bu˝uel's surrealist The Phantom of Liberty.
It begins with a dream-image that seems like something out of a Wim Wenders movie: A man
asleep, his head leaning against a bus window as the sun comes up, the world outside
passing by like a dreamscape. That man, the one who sets the movie in motion, is played by
writer-director Linklater. Once he awakens and gets off the bus, he climbs into a taxi and
starts the picture spinning.
"Man, I just had the weirdest dream..." he tells the uninterested cabbie. "There was nothin' goin' on,
just staring out of windows..." And then he got this idea. "You know in The
Wizard of Oz where Dorothy meets the Scarecrow and they do that little dance at the
crossroads and they think about going in all those directions and they end up going in
that one direction?" he sputters.
"All those other directions, just because they thought of them, became separate
realities. I mean, they just went on from there and lived the rest of their lives... you
know, entirely different movies, but we'll never see it because we're kind of trapped in
this one reality restriction type of thing." (Although Slacker was made
years before somebody with way too much time on his hands discovered the
"connection" between Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and The
Wizard of Oz, it was probably one of these guys who stumbled onto it. Hey, and
come to think of it, the main character in Linklater's next movie, Dazed
and Confused, is named Pink -- after the band... Conspiracy or
Slacker is like a hundred little movies strung together. It floats freely between realities, giving us
glimpses into the cracks between the ones we usually see on screen. People in this movie
do all the things we normally do, but characters in movies never seem to have time for:
lay around, read the paper, hang out, have inane conversations, go for walks, pass the
time of day.
That Wizard of Oz-type crossroads comes into play shortly after Linklater's
character disembarks from his taxi and witnesses an apparent accident: A station wagon
runs over an old lady with a bag of groceries at an intersection. But at this point, just
when it seems something is about to "happen," instead of closing in on the
action, Linklater's camera slowly recedes.
We eavesdrop from
an ever-increasing distance as the bus guy, a jogger and a passing motorist -- all
confused -- stop to help, while other cars zip by on the main thoroughfare. The set-up
emphasizes how each of these lives is following its own set of vectors, intersecting or
ricocheting off of others for only a moment before caroming off in some other direction.
Finally, when the camera is about half a block down the street, the hit-and-run car
pulls into the frame below and we follow the driver into his apartment, where he enacts a
series of private rituals. Turns out, he's just run over his mother.
That's the closest
the movie gets to a "dramatic incident," and it's something that actually
happened to somebody who lived in Linklater's apartment building, which is also where this
scene was shot. Linklater has said he was always intrigued by what this fellow did when he
returned to the apartment and just waited for the police to find him.
Those moments -- of waiting, daydreaming, vegging out, hypothesizing and generally
mulling things over -- are what make up Slacker. The movie could be described as
a series of comic digressions upon digressions, sort of like Nicholson Baker's brilliantly
and infuriatingly funny, footnote-riddled novel, The Mezzanine.
For those of us
whose daydreaming brains are in synch with Linklater's, Slacker is a source of
endless fascination. And even if you're not particularly interested in one character, you
know it'll be only a few moments before another comes along to distract you. As one
of them says: "I've got band practice in, like... five hours. So, I thought I'd be
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