#280) Slacker (1990)

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#280) Slacker (1990)

OR “Before ‘Before Sunrise’”

Directed & Written by Richard Linklater

Class of 2012

The Plot: It’s Linklater, there ain’t no plot. “Slacker” is a single day in 1989 Texas that goes from one group of Gen X misfits to another. Among them, a taxi passenger (Richard Linklater) who contemplates his alternate universe options, a conspiracy theorist (Jerry Deloney) who claims we’ve “been on the moon since the ‘50s”, the film’s literal poster child (Teresa Taylor) pushing a sample of Madonna’s pap smear, a smattering of young filmmakers and artists, and more discussions of presidential assassinations than should be allowed in any movie.

Why It Matters: The NFR hails “Slacker” as “a touchstone in the blossoming of American independent cinema during the 1990s” and says the film has a “considerable quirky charm that has influenced a whole generation of independent filmmakers.”

But Does It Really?: Linklater has done better movies, but “Slacker” is the one that started it all. “Slacker” isn’t just a representation of one director’s work; it expands beyond that to a representation of a whole new genre: the Generation X indie. Using the thread of loosely connected vignettes, Linklater not only shows us a slice of life, but an entire community of modern bohemians. After watching “Slacker” I feel like I have a better understanding of what Richard Linklater was like in his ‘20s, as well as his environment and lifestyle in 1980s Houston. “Slacker” is an engaging film, and I’m glad there’s room for it on the NFR.

Shout Outs: “The Wizard of Oz” comes up in a discussion about Chaos Theory. Featured among the TV screens in Video Backpacker’s apartment are clips from “2001: A Space Odyssey” and…I’m gonna say either “Duck and Cover” or “The House in the Middle”.

Everybody Gets One: Born in Houston, Richard Linklater didn’t get into filmmaking until he was a young adult, when a viewing of “Raging Bull” showed him that film could be an expression of one’s self. Linklater founded the Austin Film Society (which is still going) and honed his craft on short experimental films before making “Slacker” on a budget of $23,000. Also making their sole NFR appearance: literally everyone else in this movie.

Wow, That’s Dated: This may be the definitive Gen X movie. Everyone is fresh out of college, struggling to pay rent, and having philosophical conversations about “Scooby-Doo” and “The Smurfs”. Also on display are an ad for Ron Paul’s 1988 presidential bid, and a slam on then-president George H.W. Bush.

Seriously, Oscars?: No Oscar love for “Slacker”, but the film did receive two Independent Spirit Award nominations: Best First Feature (losing to “Straight Out of Brooklyn”) and Best Director (losing to Martha Coolidge for “Rambling Rose”). The Best Director category also included such future Oscars staples as Todd Haynes and Gus Van Zant.

Other notes

  • This is what I call a “French Braid Movie”: each scene loops into the next. Some of the connective tissue is a stretch, but for this movie it works.
  • Richard Linklater is Owen Wilson-ing so hard in his scene. He’s even got the same haircut.
  • Wow, this movie predicted global warming. We really need to stop ignoring the warning signs.
  • So in Texas, everyone is a twentysomething white male that sounds like a Kyle Mooney digital short?
  • One of the postcards left behind in the co-op features Uncle Fester from “The Addams Family”, as played by Jackie Coogan who, and I can’t stress this enough, was also the kid in “The Kid”.
  • We have a boom mike! Even the greats mess up in the beginning.
  • For those of you like me with zero street cred, Teresa Taylor is the drummer for Butthole Surfers.
  • There’s a lot of mental illness in this film. What was going on in 1989 Texas?
  • I’m just amazed Linklater was able to get this many actors for his first movie. More amazing, none of them are Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy or Matthew McConaughey.
  • Promotional consideration for “Slacker” provided by Coca-Cola. Can’t beat the feeling!
  • And then we get an extended monologue from the JFK assassination conspiracist. You can practically see the MAGA hat on this guy.
  • I think the alternate title of this movie was “People Getting Out of Awkward Conversations: The Motion Picture”.
  • The Funeral Hitchhiker guy is giving me a real Billy Bob Thornton vibe.
  • In addition to the “Conspiracy-a-Go-Go” discussion, the Old Anarchist mentions the Lincoln and McKinley assassinations. Is anyone else concerned about young Linklater’s mental well being?
  • And now a Hinckley reference? Is this an adaptation of “Catcher in the Rye”?
  • AND footage of the Challenger disaster? You got some issues, Linklater. I know we’re all a little morbid in our ‘20s, but Jesus.
  • Shoutout to cinematographer/editor Lee Daniel (no, not that one). As longtime readers are aware, I’m a sucker for one-take scenes.
  • Uggggh, white dreadlocks. I would not have done well in 1989 Bohemian culture.
  • Can’t you just imagine Quentin Tarantino watching this film in the early ‘90s and saying, “A movie where people over-analyze pop culture references? Hold my beer.”
  • The Anti-Artist admits that all he does is “sleep and eat and watch movies”. And now you understand the life of someone who cranks out three movie blog posts a week.
  • We leave you now with footage of an 8mm camera being thrown off a cliff.
  • “This story was based on fact. Any similarity with fictional events or characters is entirely coincidental.” Nice one, Linklater.

Legacy

  • “Slacker” launched the film career of Richard Linklater. His immediate follow-up was another slice of life called “Dazed and Confused”, and he’s been off and running ever since. My personal favorites of Linklater are “School of Rock” and “Boyhood”.
  • This is the movie that inspired Kevin Smith to become a filmmaker, so that’s something we have to live with.
  • “Slacker” is also responsible for popularizing the term “slacker”, though I believe Principal Strickland was the first person to use the phrase. Regardless, Linklater had hoped that slacker would take on a more positive connotation.
  • Easily one of the best “Simpsons” episodes, “22 Short Films About Springfield” takes its general premise from this film. Mmmmm…steamed hams.
  • And of course, the uninspired drastic departure of a sequel: 2002’s “Slackers”. Oh Jason Schwartzman, how could you?

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