Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-Three

30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-Three: Film That Inspires You:

Slacker (1991)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Richard Linklater, Stella James, Marc Weir

Slacker was another one of those glorious accidental discoveries. I couldn’t sleep, I switched on what I believe was IFC, and there it was. The movie had just started. Had just opened on that wonderful, completely random scene of a man (writer-director Richard Linklater, who has almost always managed to blow me away) getting in a cab, rambling through some story about how he should have stayed at the bus station. There’s more to it than that, but I won’t go into it, if you haven’t had the distinct pleasure of seeing it for yourself. Describing and much of the movie is difficult. Impossible in the sense that it’s immensely tricky for me to relate with words what you should see for yourself.

For example, wouldn’t you like to know which one of these guys has probably been drinking a bit too much coffee?

Obviously, I’m going to try and relate my love of this independent (back when that meant something, or at least back when it meant more than it does now), but I’m just saying that it’s going to be difficult. It might help if you take my word for it now, see the movie and then get back to me.

Maybe.  It couldn’t hurt. This is one of those times when I feel as though I can only write for the people who have already seen it. I’ll try to keep the rest of you in mind.

Anyone who has ever successfully managed to listen to me for more than five minutes without running me over knows that the eventual goal of all this writing I do is to eventually get a chance to make a film. Hopefully, you’ve been paying attention to these rambling thoughts on films, but if you haven’t it might be worth noting that my greatest creative passion through the years has been filmmaking. I’ve never been to college (and there’s a good chance I probably never will get to go), so I’ve tried to give myself the best education possible with the vocation I’d like to spend the rest of my life in. Acting is fun, but I want to put the whole thing together. I watch movies for pure entertainment, but I also try to pay attention to the ones that really blow my hair (what little of it there usually is) back. Should I ever get an opportunity I want to at least have a rough idea of what I need to do. It’s an overwhelming, intimidating vocation. I barely know where to begin. Just writing the scripts I’ve written has had a difficult learning curve going for it.

Film inspires me for all kinds of different reasons. Some encourage me in the whole ridiculous thing of making a movie. Slacker has been a fixture on that last since seeing it in on TV that night. It was around 1999, and it’s unreal how much time has just flown past me since. The film is certainly a product of its time in certain ways (the way Austin was at that time, the whole Generation-X vibe), but in its most important ways, it doesn’t seem like something that belongs in a time capsule. This is largely due to the fact that I know people like this still exist. Slacker captures a long-gone time and place, but people like the character’s of the film’s world haven’t gone anywhere. Take out the inspirational aspect of the film, and it’s the characters that I love the most about Slacker. I know people along those lines. I’ve known a couple of guys like the Kennedy fanatic. I’ve seen friends compel a buddy to hurl something that belonged to his ex-girlfriend over a bridge (it was a moving car in my experience). I’ve run into people trying to sell things eerily similar to a piece of Madonna pap smear.

I’ve encountered dozens of real-life counterparts for the wide array of wonderful, believable and engaging personalities that make up Slacker. They’re one of my favorite things about traveling so much. Linklater uses non-actors and unknowns to bring them to life. That helps considerably with the realism and strength of their portrayals. Almost every performance here gets me in some way. A few are more interesting than others, but all are memorable.

Slacker is one the films I’ve paid the most attention to as an on-again, off-again unofficial film student. It’s also served as a long-standing influence on not only the few screenplays I’ve written but also on a great deal of the other things I write. It’s living proof of function winning out over form. At first glance it looks like a two-hour vacation film. Everything about the movie suggests a concept that just barely managed to be realized. Linklater is still going strong as a filmmaker. He would use this loose, multi-character story structure again in Dazed and Confused. He then moved from that to make a startling range of films. His resume includes the surreal adaptation of A Scanner Darkly to the straight-forward, commercial remake of The Bad News Bears. Slacker is still the reigning champion for my favorite of his filmography. It was not the first film to use this kind of wandering structure, giving us one character’s life for a moment, and then switching to another when they pass someone on the street. Not the first, but it’s one of the best. I think that’s because Slacker represents a mindset and culture unique to not only its era but to the city in which it was filmed. There aren’t twenty or thirty films exactly like Slacker (although I know there are numerous films and documentaries that certainly seek to evoke a similar spirit).

As far as I know, this is the only one.

That doesn’t automatically grant it greatness, and there will always be some who just can’t get into a movie like this. Slacker feels like the sort of thing in which a camera just happened to be around by coincidence. That kind of thing can annoy tastes that prefer stories to be a bit more linear and focused. Slackers is pretty easy to follow, and it has a linear form of sorts, but it’s not the kind of linear everyone tends to expect from their movies. To some Slacker may just seem like a whole lot nothing. Nothing in the way of the point and nothing in the way of a real story or meaningful, deep characters.

The structure, story (such as it is) and characters work just fine for me, and it seems to work pretty well for a lot of others. Slacker opts for a far-less traditional breed of storytelling and filmmaking at almost every turn. Less-than-traditional, but it works as both a compelling, funny and strange story, and as a lesson to anyone who wants to make movies on their own time. It proves that a good story, a great cast and an endless amount of creative enthusiasm can potentially override anything else that might be working against you. There isn’t a suggestion of a guaranteed artistic victory, but at least it conveys the fact that it can be done.

Slacker comes out of a different filmmaking era. This is very true. It’s also true that a whole lot more has to happen than what I listed above for a movie to go from idea to finished cut. I keep this mind, and I still choose to consider Slacker an inspiration.

I’ll watch Slacker because it’s just a great movie. My favorite scene remains the one in which a young man (Michael Laird) has his life changed by breaking into the home of an old anarchist (the great writer and Philosophy teacher, Louis H. Mackey). It’s the most appealing scene in the film, and one that had a tremendous impact on me. That kind of thing can indeed happen in the real world, and it perfectly illustrates a fundamental about Slacker that nothing in its celluloid world is artificial. Coincidence can change someone’s life, and we are sometimes most altered by the random. I’d love to know what happened to that burglar the next day.

I love this movie, but I continue to pay the most attention to its biology. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance someday to see if I can create something worthwhile out of what’s available to me. Filmmakers are out there doing that right now. That gives me a steady line of hope. It reminds me that it’s not easy, but it’s not impossible either.

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  1. “Coincidence can change someone’s life, and we are sometimes most altered by the random.”

    No such thing as coincidence and random

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