How Richard Linklater (Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Boyhood) Tells Stories with Time: Six Video Essays

The ever more crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed, ever more res­olute­ly Austin-based auteur Richard Lin­klater grounds each of his movies in a par­tic­u­lar place, but even more so in a par­tic­u­lar time. His sec­ond fea­ture Slack­er, which broke him into the world of Amer­i­can inde­pen­dent film in 1991, takes place not just in Austin, but in a sin­gle day in Austin. Its much big­ger-bud­get but also Austin-set fol­low-up Dazed and Con­fused takes place on May 28, 1976, the last day before grad­u­a­tion for its high-school-age char­ac­ters. 1995’s Before Sun­rise began a tril­o­gy of films released every nine years, each of which con­tin­ues the sto­ry of the cen­tral cou­ple by fol­low­ing them in near-real time around a dif­fer­ent place: first in Vien­na, then in Paris, then in Greece.

Lin­klater has main­tained his pen­chant for tem­po­ral speci­fici­ty, set­ting last year’s Every­body Wants Some!! in south­east Texas in 1980, specif­i­cal­ly on the day before the begin­ning of col­lege for its char­ac­ters. Before that, his low-key epic Boy­hood made cin­e­ma his­to­ry by hav­ing been shot over a peri­od of twelve years, demon­strat­ing defin­i­tive­ly that the direc­tor’s inter­est in time goes well beyond sim­ply evok­ing peri­ods or repli­cat­ing the real flow of events.

“It’s a big ele­ment, isn’t it, of our medi­um?” he asks in “On Cin­e­ma & Time,” the video essay made by “kog­o­na­da” for the British Film Insti­tute at the top of the post. “The manip­u­la­tion of time, the per­cep­tion of time, the con­trol of time — kind of the build­ing blocks of cin­e­ma.”

“What I’ll say is, like, ‘Carve out some­thing of real time,’ you know?” says Lin­klater, with his char­ac­ter­is­tic deliv­ery of artis­tic insight in a high­ly casu­al, Texas-inflect­ed locu­tion, in the Film Radar video essay “Richard Lin­klater and Time” (not view­able in all regions). “Some kind of hyper­re­al­i­ty, you know? Try­ing to make sense of the world in a movie way, of just how peo­ple live or think or inter­act.” But would his time-carv­ing, expert­ly though he does it, strike us as pow­er­ful­ly with­out he and his col­lab­o­ra­tors’ equal­ly high skill at craft­ing images (whether live-action or, occa­sion­al­ly, in ani­ma­tion, as in the roto­scop­ing of the philo­soph­i­cal dia­logue-dri­ven Wak­ing Life, or his Philip K. Dick adap­ta­tion A Scan­ner Dark­lyexam­ined in Siob­han Cavanagh’s “Form and Func­tion”)?

You can see that skill on dis­play in the video essays “Cin­e­matog­ra­phy in the films of Richard Lin­klater” and “Silent Con­nec­tions” just above. In the lat­ter, fre­quent Lin­klater col­lab­o­ra­tor Ethan Hawke quotes the direc­tor: “I’ve nev­er been in a gun­fight. I’ve nev­er been involved in espi­onage. I’ve nev­er been involved in a heli­copter crash. And yet I feel like my life has been full of dra­ma, and the most dra­mat­ic thing that’s ever hap­pened to me is, real­ly, con­nect­ing with anoth­er human being. When you real­ly con­nect, you feel like your life is dif­fer­ent, and I want to make a movie about that con­nec­tion.” In a sense, Lin­klater has spent most of his career tak­ing dif­fer­ent approach­es to mak­ing that movie, always draw­ing on his vast breadth of film knowl­edge; the video essay “Real Time and New Wave Her­itage” just above looks at just a few of the par­al­lels between his work and that of his pre­de­ces­sors in cin­e­ma.

“It’s fun­ny, the way mem­o­ry works,” Lin­klater says in a ten-minute Inde­pen­dent Film Chan­nel fea­turette on the mak­ing of Boy­hood. “I’m kind of obsessed with that.” You can see a younger Lin­klater speak about his life as a film­mak­er, then only just begin­ning, in the 1991 Austin pub­lic-access tele­vi­sion clip just above. “I don’t get work,” he says. “For me, film­mak­ing’s not even a job, it’s not a career, it’s just some­thing I’m doing. For the first time it looks like I should be mak­ing mon­ey at it, but we’ll see.” Now we’ve seen what Lin­klater can do, though he’ll sure­ly sur­prise and impress us for decades to come with the ways he can dig, cin­e­mat­i­cal­ly, into his obses­sions — and the obses­sions his films have let us share. To quote a 23-year-old Hawke in Before Sun­rise, quot­ing Dylan Thomas read­ing W.H. Auden: “ ‘All the clocks in the city began to whirr and chime. Oh, let not time deceive you; you can­not con­quer time. In headaches and in wor­ry, vague­ly life leaks away, and time will have its fan­cy tomor­row or today.’ Some­thin’ like that.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear the Great Mix­tapes Richard Lin­klater Cre­at­ed to Psych Up the Actors in Dazed and Con­fused and Every­body Wants Some!!

Scenes from Wak­ing Life, Richard Linklater’s Philo­soph­i­cal, Fea­ture-Length Ani­mat­ed Film (2001)

Watch Matthew McConaughey’s Audi­tion Tape for Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Con­fused, the Indie Com­e­dy That Made Him a Star

In Dark PSA, Direc­tor Richard Lin­klater Sug­gests Rad­i­cal Steps for Deal­ing with Tex­ters in Cin­e­mas

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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