07 March 2007


Written & Directed by Richard Linklater

Grade: A-

Anyone familiar with Linklater's work (cf. Before Sunrise/set) knows he's just about the only living filmmaker who can make a great film about people talking. Just, you know, about stuff. Slacker is a de facto documentary of early-'90s, Austin-American alienation; at the conclusion of the end credits there's a sly spin on a familiar disclaimer: "This story was based on fact. Any similarity with fictional events or characters is entirely coincidental." It's also, however, an avant-garde call to and celebration of artistic anarchy, going so far as to have a digression on the only American anarchist, though not an artist per se, worth his salt, Leon Czolgosz. (And, incidentally answering the age old question of how the heck you pronounce his name!)

Linklater intentionally and importantly opens his film with himself in the backseat of a taxi, describing a dream that he had to the cab driver in which he did nothing but read and watch television. (See the film's title.) He also talks about how he dreamt that every time we make a choice in life, the option we reject goes off to become its own reality, and how that reality, like ours, thinks it's the only one. All of these realities intercommunicate through dreams; it may, at least here, sound like a lot of gobbledygook, but it's the film's starting point: Slacker is, essentially, a series of phantasmagoric short films, told in long rambling takes by a curious camera and overseen by the omniscent dreaming director, connected only by the fact that its characters usually pass one another by, handing off the narrative like the baton in a relay race.

With a strong DIY aesthetic, every person who turns up on screen—and there are a lot—seems to be either a friend of Linklater's or some local character. Their conversations sway with ease from automotive mechanics to the intricacies of the Kennedy assassination—we are in Texas after all. (Any film that uses a woman randomly picking up Mark Lane's Rush to Judgment in a bookstore as an excuse to have an in-depth review of the individual merits of various assassination-books is all right by me!) Overflowing with interacting youngsters and philosopho-political digressions, it's the purest form of Gen X portrait, Baumbach stripped of his bourgeois morality and narrative conceits. It's also end-to-end hilarious; though it celebrates its generation's morally coherent turn-on, tune-in, drop-out, and sit-still ethos—"I may live badly, but at least I don't work to do it," one character intones—it also never stops laughing at it.

Linklater's a good sport, but beneath the good-humored veneer is a formal seriousness, a declaration of a radical break from the traditional filmmaking style; as one woman notes in the film, "breaking a wall is really making a brick," and so Linklater tries to tear down the Fortress of Hollywood in the hopes of ending up with his own tiny building block of the future. There's a scene in which some guys throw a typewriter off of a bridge, and the film ends with a shot of a dude tossing his movie camera off a mountain, suggesting: kill your parents' narrative-form, man.

Even better though than active destruction, the characters find, is inactivity as revolution. As in an early scene, a coffee shop patron, named "Dostoyevsky wannabe" in the credits, remarks on the great effort required not to create. Don't, however, confuse Linklater's generational avatars with the frightened, lazy smarms popularized later in the '90s in, for example, the films of Kevin Smith. Linklater himself, for one, is anything but lazy; it requires a great effort indeed to make a movie this good. For instance, when was the last time anything made you actually want to go to Texas?

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