Slacker Richard Linklater

Fans of Richard Linklater's Sundance-acclaimed 1991 film Slacker will flip for this Criterion two-disc treatment, which reveals his meandering non-narrative as much more structured, almost formal, than it ever did upon an initial viewing. Given its loosey-goosey arrangement, one could be forgiven for thinking this a feature by a bunch of lazy losers who make it up as they go along. The film opens with a traveller arriving in Austin, Texas by bus — he contemplates walking to his destination but takes a cab instead. During the ride, he discusses with the cab driver the nature of a linear universe, in which his decision to take a cab will impact everything about his day and maybe everything about the rest of his life. The rider is director Richard Linklater (now better known for Dazed and Confused and School of Rock) and the philosophical musings pretty much sum up the subtext, if not the narrative, of Slacker. From this initial cab ride, Linklater's narrative picks up different passers-by and follows them: into houses, stores, on meandering journeys and with purposeful strides. But what it doesn't do — purposefully, forcefully and occasionally, irritatingly — is return to anyone we've met along the way. Each person we meet is only a brief glimpse into the banality of their lives, a moment in time that we can observe but not really share; we are flies on walls, not participants and this distance is essential to understanding (or not) the intent of Linklater's film. This edition is focused not just on Slacker itself but even more so on Linklater's early career and the Austin film scene (home to Robert Rodriguez and Aint It Cool News, among others). Slacker gets three full-length commentaries by Linklater and the cast and crew of Slacker (yeah, three is overkill), as well as a ten-minute trailer for a documentary about Austin cafe Les Amis, which serves as a backdrop for several Slacker scenes. A working script, audition tapes, footage from a tenth anniversary reunion and an essay on slacker culture by Linklater round out the Slacker-oriented extras. Revealing for its links to Slacker's aesthetic, and if you're a serious Linklater fanatic, but otherwise really pretty damn dull is the filmmaker's first full-length effort, 1988's It's Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books. Filmed on a $3,000 budget, with Linklater not only starring but doing all the crew work himself, Learn To Plow is an exercise in what the director calls "an oblique narrative" and what most people would call "boring." There's almost no dialogue and the film purposefully explores the most mundane elements of life: brushing teeth, reading a magazine, staring out the window. The only way to make the film remotely interesting is to turn on Linklater's commentary, even if you've never seen the film before, because he quite eruditely explores his various influences and the impetus to make what he freely admits is kind of an "anti-film." Not only is this the first time that Learn To Plow has been available on any home format, it's almost never been shown outside of Austin since it was made. Not exactly the Holy Grail, but a nice find for serious Linklater geeks. (Criterion/Morningstar)