Film director richard linklater`s use of idleness
Richard Linklater plays a pivotal role in the increasing growth of fantasy low-budget, narrative filmmaking. What is most fascinating about Linklater is how diligently he has shunned away from the snare of his own success by continuously creating intelligent, formally innovative films with relatively modest budgets.
People may find Linklater’s method interesting with most of his films taking place in one day, a method which has gained popularity. Among his most popular films include Slacker (1991), Dazed and Confused (1993), Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) which carry the said method.
This research paper shall look into some of Linklater’s films and his use of idleness in his films and how he favors character over plot-driven narratives.
Richard Linklater Films and Idleness
Linklater’s concern with idleness is the degree to which he is also incredulous about its limitations. His films are not purely easy and democratic celebration of The Idea. The dividing line between idleness and laziness is often unclear.
Corrigan (2005) noted that Linklater’s films are conspicuously marked by brilliant literary and philosophical sensibilities. Moreover, it is this studiousness that provides his films their formal interest and lets him to move away from simply replicating the styles and codes of Hollywood filmmaking.
In terms of form and style, according to Levy (1999, p. 213), Linklater is both the most subtle and radical of his generation. His generation of filmmakers may be described as the generation which showed a high degree of cinephilia. His is the generation who stopped imitating, or merely name-dropping, their beloved directors and to started to integrate that knowledge of film history into a genuinely new style.
Linklater’s film Slacker (1991) not only demonstrated a sensibility shaped by an immersion in film history but a filmmaker who was already doing more than imitating his beloved predecessors. Slacker (1991) is a powerful independent film which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize – Dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival the same year it was shown in movie houses.
Slacker is an exceptional film without plot, following a day in the life of an ensemble of mostly twenty-something bohemians and misfits in Austin over the course of a single day and night. The film chases various characters and scenes, never focusing with one character or conversation for more than a few minutes before picking up someone else in the scene and following them.
The characters include Linklater as a miscreant who just steps off a bus, a UFO buff who insists the U.S. has been on the moon since the 1950s, a JFK conspiracy theorist, an elderly anarchist who befriends a man trying to rob his house, a serial television set collector and a woman trying to sell a Madonna pap smear.
Slacker, according to Radman (2000, p. 156), introduced the very idea of idleness that runs throughout all of Linklater’s work. But at the same time, it is informed by Linklater’s indebtedness, at the level of form, to European, especially French, cinema.
Indeed, he frees the body from the constraints of time and space, as the final scene of the young man drifting upward indicates. Simply put, he gives the dream a certainty that one is always forced to grant reality. Moreover, the very ideas that the characters generate, which have been so central to Linklater’s previous work, often give shape to the images themselves. And at the level of production, it allows Linklater the freedom to explore a mind-bending range of philosophical ideas at the level of form as well. Idleness creates an entirely new form of filmmaking.
The release of the film is often taken as a starting point for the independent film movement of the 1990s. Many of the independent filmmakers of that period recognize the film with inspiring or opening doors for them, perhaps most famously Kevin Smith, who has said on numerous occasions that the film was the inspiration for Clerks.
Among other things, the movie also popularized the use of “slacker” to describe “a person regarded as one of a large group or generation of young people (especially in the early to mid 1990s) characterized by apathy, aimlessness, and lack of ambition”. Linklater, on the other hand, has said that he would like the word to have positive connotations.
Meanwhile, Before Sunrise (1995) bears the traces of the films of Eric Rohmer, of films like Ma nuit chez Maud (1969), where philosophical conversation is set at the fore and talk replaces action. The movie follows Jesse (Ethan Hawke), a young American on his way to Vienna to catch a flight back home after a traumatic break-up, and Celine (Julie Delpy), a young French woman traveling back to Paris to attend school at La Sorbonne after having visited her grandmother in Budapest. They met on a train and after talking for a while, Jesse convinces Celine to get off the train with him at Vienna so they can spend more time together.
The plot is very minimalist, since aside from walking and talking, nothing much happens. The two characters’ ideas, perspectives on life, love, reincarnation are detailed and thought out.
For Norton (2001), Before Sunrise is just a simple movie about the meeting of two young people on a train headed for Paris, who decide to get off in Vienna and spend an evening there getting to know one another. Linklater’s characters are often young, newly independent and thus poor. Jesse has to stay up all night because he does not have the money to pay for a hotel room. Still, idleness is just as important to those who do not have the money to be so.
The link between idleness and culture, underemployment and creativity, is an idea about which Linklater is quite prominent. In a 1994 interview conducted by the Idler with Linklater entitled Conversations: Richard Linklater held in September 6, 1994, for instance, the film maker addressed the difference between being lazy and being a slacker:
Daydreaming is a productive activity. Where do you get your ideas from? If you’re working all day, that kind of kills a lot. It’s also about visualizing your ideal world, both the kind of world you live in and also who you want to hang around with and what you want to spend your time doing, what are your ideal physical circumstances.
This shows that Linklater’s Slacker is plainly concerned with this. Take, for example, the scene of the young man who is obsessed with television, who sits in front of a wall of televisions and discourses about the virtue of videotape. It is, he says, better than reality, better than the eye, since to see something without a camera is to lack the ability to rewind, slow-down and better understand what happened.
For instance, the structure of Slacker bears a striking resemblance to Robert Bresson’s L’Argent (1983). In this film, Bresson traces the deleterious effects of the circulation of a forged note. The film follows the passing of this forged note from the hands of a greedy, young, bourgeois schoolboy to middle-class shopkeepers, to the hands of an unsuspecting oil worker, who is then arrested, only to lose his wife and child, thus transforming him into a cold-blooded murderer.
Following this structure, Bresson outlines a chain of exploitation wherein the greed of the upper classes is linked to the violence of the poor, who consistently pay the price of avarice and class division. But in Slacker, scenes are not linked by the circulation of a forged note. Rather, Linklater’s camera follows whatever person happens to walk into and participate in the ongoing conversation. The camera then follows one of the characters on their way to another meeting/conversation.
Like Bresson before him, Linklater refuses to structure his film in terms of conventional character psychology or action, but instead on the movement of an idea. Money is the determining object and idea of Bresson’s narrative; it literally controls what we see. In Slacker, conversation, and ideas themselves, become the determining force of the narrative. However, the succession of ideas that is the narrative of Slacker has an economic dimension as well. Linklater documents a group of people, mostly young, who find each other outside of the space of work. They are idlers; a generation of youths who drift, who prioritize the space of leisure as necessary to the development of ideas—no matter how inane any particular idea might be. It is, in this sense, a strange utopia, one that is articulated structurally as an antidote to the repressive structure of late capitalism so well revealed in L’Argent, the film to which Linklater refers.
On the other hand, Dazed and Confused (1993) is concerned with the social rituals of high school, especially the relations between lower and upper classmen. In offering a finely detailed rendering of the vicissitudes of the adolescent experience, we are also able to see the many shades of idleness—its limitation as well as its virtues. For example, the high school students in Dazed and Confused (1993) are in vigorous pursuit of the idle life, but with varying degrees of value. Randall (Jason London) is the school’s star quarterback who refuses the coach’s militaristic demand that he sign a contract promising to stay away from his burn-out friends—an important act of adolescent resistance.
On the other hand, when a teacher lets her class out for the summer, the teens get up and leave, ignoring her reminder to them that the bicentennial celebration in which they will no doubt partake is nothing more than the celebration of a bunch of rich white men who once refused to pay their taxes. The pursuit of the idle life here has no redeeming political value; rather, Linklater shows how the adolescent body only moves towards pleasure, failing to see the ways in which they are implicated in, and even grease, social and political structures.
With the film Dazed and Confused (1993) lack of conventional narrative structure and undemonized depiction of marijuana use have associated it somewhat with “stoner” culture.
The film paid substantial attention to period and location details, mostly the cars, clothing, slang and music of the time, the soundtrack featuring rock staples of the era and fads like citizens’ band radio. It also occasionally featured a sense of melancholy, the belief of having “missed out” by several years on the monumental events of the turbulent late 1960s.
An interesting item in the movie is the one that shows Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins) and Randall both leaving youth baseball leagues when they got their first licks by seniors during the summer before high school. The similarities between Mitch and Randall’s lives and their hazing events have led some to theorize that the movie is really about the same person experiencing the same event from different perspectives/times in his life.
Meantime, Before Sunset (2004), is the sequel to Before Sunrise (1995). Jesse (Ethan Hawke) again meets Celine (Julie Delpy), this time at a book signing to promote his first novel, which is based on their encounter nine years earlier. They again venture around and talk, this time in Paris, in the hopes of discovering each other again.
This film is known in its use of the Steadicam for tracking shots and its use of long takes. What is also remarkable about this film is that is takes place in real time which means that the time elapsed in the story is also the run time of the film. Furthermore, the sequel was also released nine years after Before Sunrise, the same amount of time that has lapsed in the plot since the events of the first movie.
People will never forget the tagline to this sequel which goes: What if you had a second chance with the one that got away?
Linklater’s recent animated film, Waking Life (2001), picks up where Slacker left off ten years earlier. Waking Life is about the productivity of daydreaming, about the visualization of an ideal world, as Linklater himself put it. Waking Life follows the path of a young man as he walks around asking people about, or merely observing others discussing, the relation between dream and reality. The film calls to mind the idea that animated Surrealist thought in the 1920s, namely André Breton’s desire for a reconciliation of dream and reality, his belief in the power of the imagination to produce a superior realm. “Why should I not grant to dreams,” Breton asked, “what I occasionally refuse reality, that is, this value of certainty in itself which, in its own time, is not open to my repudiation?” The reconciliation of dream and reality is effected, in Waking Life, at the level of form. The film was shot on digital video then animated. The figures bear a basic resemblance to those who play them, to how they would have actually appeared in digital video (in reality); however, by animating over these images Linklater is able to shape the world according to what his young character dreams. Indeed, he frees the body from the constraints of time and space, as the final scene of the young man drifting upward indicates. In other words, he grants the dream a certainty that one is always forced to grant reality. Moreover, the very ideas that the characters generate, which have been so central to Linklater’s previous work, often give shape to the images themselves. And at the level of production, it allows Linklater the freedom to explore a mind-bending range of philosophical ideas at the level of form as well (we are left, for example, to contemplate the ideas of thinkers as disparate as Benedict Anderson and André Bazin). Idleness produces an entirely new form of filmmaking.
Linklater’s films are often regarded for their uniqueness and leave the audience guessing up to the very end what happens to the plot. He’s such a remarkable filmmaker that he leaves a space to make his audience think. He is also known in Hollywood circles with strong convictions with a critical mind. He holds that 9/11 was perpetrated by the US government to build a police state.
People will always find his films interesting and worth watching.
Breton, André. Manifesto of Surrealism”, Manifestoes of Surrealism, trans. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1972
Conversations: Richard Linklater. Idler 6, September 1994
Corrigan, Timothy. A Short Guide to Writing about Film. (6th Edition), Dec 29, 2005
David Bellos, Jacques Tati, London, The Harvill Press, 1999
Levy, Emmanuel. Cinema of Outsiders. New York University Press, 1999
Linklater, Richard. L’Argent” in John Boorman and Walter Donohue (eds), Projections 4 1/2: In Association with Positif, London, Faber and Faber, 1995
Norton, Glen. The Seductive Slack of Before Sunrise, Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities, 19, no. 2, Winter–Spring 2000
Poyser, Bryan. The Revolution will be Animated: Is Waking Life a Wake-Up Call for Indie Animators? Independent Film and Video Monthly, 24, no. 3, April 2001
Radman, Jon. Generation X and Postmodern Cinema: Slacker”, Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities, 19, no. 2, Winter–Spring 2000
The 50 Greatest Directors and Their 100 Best Movies,” Entertainment Weekly, April 19, 1996