Richard Linklater’s debut film is a love it or hate it affair – 90 minutes in the company of over a hundred 20-somethings in Austin, Texas, none with jobs but all seemingly qualified to comment on society, politics and the general state of the world.
Linklater’s gimmick is to follow one individual or group as they go about their daily business, and then move his camera on to the next as they pass by. So we have the young man (played by Linklater) who opens the film as he steps off the bus and gets a cab in to town, ruminating about an alternate reality, the flatmates who discover one of their number has disappeared, a UFO conspiracy nut, the girl trying to sell Madonna’s smear test, a group of entrepreneurial kids and a loveable, ageing anarchist. And on it goes – new age hippies, JFK obsessees, students, musicians, criminals, party girls, and people with too much damn time on their hands – until dawn rolls round the next day.
It would be so easy to make a film like a tedious yak-fest – and no doubt there are those who feel it is. But Linklater structures the film superbly – never hanging on a scene too long, mixing up the characters well and always creating the sense of movement, as we travel from day to night and from the outskirts of Austin into the centre of town. The film was entirely scripted but has an improvised feel; Linklater wisely has his cast play personalities not that dissimilar from their own and the result is collection of pretty decent performances from a predominately amateur cast.
Some of it is very funny (the Madonna smear girl, the guys discussing the sinister subtext of The Smurfs), some dramatic (the jilted lover dumping anything that reminds him of his lover in a river), and some plain weird (the media-freak obsessed with collecting TVs). And for such a low-budget, 16mm picture it looks great – there are steadicam and crane shots, and Linklater masters the tricky technique of making a film shot over several weeks look like it’s all taking place in one day.
There’s no great insight from any of the characters – typical observations include "I may live badly, but at least I don't have to work to do it", "Who's ever written a great work about the immense effort required in order not to create?", and "Every action is a positive action, even if it has a negative result" – but that’s kind of the point. These people have nothing much to say but they’re gonna say it anyway. Luckily, Linklater was one member of his generation who wasn’t just going to sit around, and Slacker remains one of modern American indie cinema’s most enduring gems.
Skilled indie director, specialising in dialogue-driven comedy-drama. Linklater's 1989 debut Slacker was an unusual but well-realised portrait of disaffected 20-something life in his home town of Austin, Texas, while many consider Dazed and Confused, his warm but unsentimental snapshot of mid-70s youth culture, to be one of the best teen movies ever made. Linklater's first stab at the mainstream - comedy western The Newton Boys - was a disappointment, but Before Sunrise, SubUrbia, Tape and the animated Waking Life are all intelligent, intriguing pictures.