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Darren H

Film Club: Slacker

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So, what did you think?

For the next day or so, this thread will be a place for you to post your initial thoughts on Richard Linklater's breakthrough film, Slacker. For now, please fight that urge to respond to everyone else's posts. There will be plenty of time later for discussion.

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I didnt really care for Slacker. Ive seen several of Linklater's films....Waking Life, Before Sunrise/Before Sunset, Dazed and Confused, and School of Rock. I loved BS/BS and found the conversations fascinating. I really enjoyed Dazed and Confused and School of Rock; the former really reminded me of high school. I also enjoyed most of Waking Life. I found the animation to be spectacular and I found some conversations to be interesting, although, I also found some to be pseudo-intellectual crap.

All of that being said, Slacker fell short for me. I think I understood what he was going for after the setup in the initial scene and the discussion of different realities. He seems to follow that and those realities from one group to another. I also assume he's wanting to explore Austin and its underbelly of losers which he obviously has some affection for. Really what fell short for me are the characters and their enabling philosophies that allow them to continue to be losers. I didnt find them amusing, I just found them to be annoying. These are the type of people that when Im having a conversation with them Im trying to find ways to end the conversation and move on. All their whining and paranoia about "the man" essentially is a way for them to avoid life and responsibility. I respect artists and their passions, but I dont think most of these characters fit into that mold. Wannabes maybe.

Anyways those are some of my intial thoughts.

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Slacker felt like Waking Life in a beta version. This movie felt like an attempt to get the audience to understand what was going on in the "underground" community of that period. I'd have to agree with GrandPrixGator that it felt like a bunch of wannabe artists avoiding responsibility in order to create... what? Art? Noise? Madonna's pap smear? I wonder, however, if this is Linklater's attempt at trying to get that community to "open their eyes", that is, to realize what they aren't accomplishing with their lives. Is that why the guy at the end of the movie throws the camera off the rock into oblivion?

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My reaction-- after one viewing-- is mixed. I'm going to watch it again tonight to see how my experience changes now that I'm freed from any expectations or preconceptions. It's odd how I managed to know pretty much nothing about the film before seeing it. I'll be interested to see whether and how much I'll retract from the below after viewing #2.

I wish I'd first seen it closer to '91. Or, at the very least, before Waking Life. Well, maybe I take that back: they're very different films, despite the temptation to compare them because both are structured around seemingly unrelated conversations.

On a purely content basis, Linklater's monologue is my favorite. I like the way he consciously enunciates the "t" in reality. I like the way he gestures with his hand.

Once I caught on to it, I enjoyed the flow of the film's point of view. I was more frustrated by some of the b***s*** conversations here than in Waking Life. There, I was able to take them in as part of the unwinding cacophany of ideas. I wish I'd seen the movie closer to '91 because I think the Madonna bit and the Sccoby Doo bit wouldn't have been so reflexively cliched to me in the absence of a decade worth of meta-celeb stories and film monologues about the true meaning of popcult. But that's a little quibble, and outweighed by some of the really great conversations-- particularly the one on the bridge with the typewriter and the one immediately afterward. I like drawing a parallel between those two, but wonder whether I should even try.

Linklater's got affection for the denizens of Austin, but he certainly doesn't see it as just a paradise for post-college kids. There's also the persistent reminder that Austin attracts its share of square pegs: the coffee shop of the insane, the man who runs over his mother and the conspiracy nuts. We see things through the matricide guy's eyes for a scene early on, and it's a strange moment. In the other cases, we typically see the unhinged acting toward or upon the person we're following, but there he's the focus, and it put the tone of the film in momentary jeopardy for me. I guess, though, it's the natural and necessary end of that fantastic crane shot where Linklater and the jogging woman meet over the woman's corpse and it goes back to the house and up into the window.

I read Linklater's essay defining the term Slacker afterward and enjoyed it. Certainly, there's the issue of how I can distance myself from the people he's following because they aren't living by the routines and cadences that define my life. And it's easy for me to think, yeah, I'd like to sit around and talk all day and go to the movies and stuff, but I've got to pay my mortgage and if a man won't work neither will he eat, et cetera. But it's too easy to do that, and it's not fair not to take the film on its own terms first.

I'll check in again after viewing #2.

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It's always hard for me not to begin by connecting dots to external referents -- to the director's other works or possible influences or models. I'm still learning to block that stuff out and begin inside the work in question. My initial reactions had to do with trying to figure out what was being asked of me: Am I supposed to hunt for clues and decode this? Am I supposed to focus less on the clues and symbols and allow a particular mood or attitude to wash over me? I think I decided on a combination of those two. The clues included repeated references to violence and political assasinations, combined with indifference or morbid curiosity of "spectators" to such violence, hence some serious moral and social implications for being a "slacker". I felt an undercurrent of judgment upon certain kinds of responses -- or lack of response -- which would seem to require the viewer to ask if they're part of the problem -- if I'm "slacking", too. Which, given the contagious indifference in the film, the meandering from curiosity to curiosity, is certainly easy to fall into as one watches. (I don't mean that as a judgment on anyone else's response to the film but my own. Ich bein Slacker.) The form of the film -- from the production values to the meandering quality -- requires a commitment on the part of the viewer that I'm usually reluctant to give until I feel like I can trust the director. But I'm really intrigued with this director, I want to get inside his head and find out what he thinks and feels -- and I'm challenged to do it via the particular mode of expression he has chosen for us to engage. I'm not finished wrestling with this one.

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I think this would have made a very good 20 or 30 minute short film. It certainly illustrates a certain world of over-educated people with no real purpose in life, with no way or desire to apply this knowledge into useful employment. However, after a half hour, it got pretty tedious and repetitive, as if we've gotten the point the filmmaker is trying to make, and we're just watching the same kind of thing over and over again. Overall, it's a worthwhile piece of performance art, but I wish a edited version could have been made with only the best scenes (the scene when the old lady is hit by the car, the typewriter scene, the coffee shop scene, the conspiracy theorist).

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I came to this film as an almost complete Richard Linklater newbie. I'd heard the titles, but I checked on IMDb to make sure, and indeed, the only other movie he directed that I've actually seen is (don't laugh) School of Rock, which I found pretty entertaining, for a film starring Jack Black.

That said, Slacker struck me as essentially high-concept--is that the right word? And I tried to stay interested in the techniques, but the unending self-absorption of the characters became wearying. I found myself veering between frustration and pity or compassion. The characters represent truth about the human condition--self-centeredness 'R' us--but the bleakness of it all!

In spite of the self-centeredness of each character's concerns and rants, one element of the film's structure seemed to deconstruct their isolation--each individual was subtly connected to the next by the eye of the camera, whether one character was aware of the next or not.

Are spoilers necessary here? Just in case:

At least until that final spin-out

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Fifteen minutes or so into Slacker, a college-aged guy (Tom Pallotta) steps out of a coffee shop and is greeted by Jerry Deloney, a fast-talking, 40-something conspiracy theorist in a Batman T-shirt. Tom is headed home, and Jerry invites himself along for the walk, unloading a stream of paranoid fantasies as they go. Anti-gravity technologies, Mars landings, "secret groups in charge of the government," drug cartels, missing scientists--Jerry's ideas sound deluded and absurd even when they creep into the realm of verifiable fact. (Fifteen years later, his warnings about greenhouse effects seem eerily prescient.)

On his commentary track on the Criterion DVD release of Slacker, writer/director Richard Linklater recalls his one direction to Tom:

"It's very important how you react. This is the tone of the movie." I didn't want any judgment. I said, "Don't look at him weird. Don't judge him. That's up to the audience to do."

That refusal to judge, I'm finally realizing, is what attracts me again and again to Linklater's films. Even in a genre picture like Dazed and Confused he avoids the typical teen movie cliches by affording equal value to all of his characters, regardless of their clique or social standing. That some of the characters come off looking worse than others (Ben Affleck's O'Bannion and Parker Posey's Darla, for example) is more the product of their particular behavior--a kind of socially-sanctioned sadism not uncommon among teens (and adults, for that matter)--than any too-simple, prescribed plot device.

Linklater, perhaps more than any other contemporary filmmaker, is alive to the potential and the basic human value of the men and women who walk in and out of his films. And he seems to have a particular fondness for the folks who live on the margins, whether by choice or necessity. Slacker takes on one particular marginalized community--that class of restless, searching, "underemployed" artists, musicians, and drop-outs who seem to congregate in the corners of all American college towns--but his attitude toward them is not markedly different from his treatment of those teenagers in Dazed, the lovers in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, or the philosophers, scientists, and poets who drift through Waking Life: all are people of ideas with active imaginations and complex human desires. That we instantly fall into the habit of judging them is a bad thing, Linklater reminds us again and again.

The young men and women of Slacker often talk nonsense. Their ideas are seldom fully-formed, and the most articulate of the lot are occasionally guilty of parroting whatever book they've read most recently. There's the "Dostoyevsky Wannabe" who grabs a pencil to transcribe his own pretentious ideas at the moment of inspiration, and the "jilted boyfriend" who reads from Ulysses as he tosses his friend's typewriter from a bridge. The film is smart enough and self-aware enough to acknowledge that simply parroting other's ideas isn't enough. As in Waking Life, there's an existential bent to much of the film, a constant debate between theory and action. "You just pull in these things from the s*** you read, and you haven't thought it out for yourself, no bearing on the world around us, and totally unoriginal," one girl tells her boyfriend. "It's like you just pasted together these bits and pieces from your 'authoritative sources.' I don't know. I'm beginning to suspect there's nothing really in there." And by that point in the film, we're already feeling a bit bored and a bit superior, and so we nod our heads in agreement.

But, while it's not enough, reading and debating, becoming engaged with the world of ideas, is something of value, even when in its earliest stages of development and even though it can't be easily commodified by a consumerist culture. Linklater refers to several of his characters as "uncredentialed authorities"--people like the JFK assassination buff, the old anarchist, and the video backpacker. They are experts in their various fields, knowledgeable and articulate, and yet they remain marginalized just the same. With a Ph.D. after their names or a five-figure price tag beside their art installations--with a credential--their place in society would be more secure, their market value more easily quantifiable. But, instead, they're "slackers," a term that has become derogatory in the years since the film's release.

There's something wonderfully subversive about Slacker. I think so, at least. Linklater gives us a world functioning within a different economy. People live communally in shared houses, taking with them little more than a pile of clothes and books. They repair their own cars using borrowed tools and junked parts. One stamp and a few licks gets several people into a bar for free. "I may live badly, but at least I don't have to work at it," one guy says. Of course, as anyone who has ever toyed with radical ideas knows, even alternative economies are slaves to "the real thing," and so viewers of <em>Slacker</em> are forced to balance whatever romantic idealism they find in the film with the practical questions of life in capitalist America. I enjoy wobbly discussions of the Smurfs as much as the next guy, but somebody's got to buy the next round of beers, know what I'm saying?

Is there a single issue more important in America today and more absent from our movie screens than class? We occasionally get one of those fairy tales about some guy (usually white) who has it all but who doesn't learn to live until he is befriended by some world-weary and wise person (usually black) from the wrong side of the tracks. Or we get satires of the suburbs that ask us to "look closer." But we seldom see films that fundamentally challenge the system itself. I love that <em>Slacker</em>, like a good documentary, explores this other world, this other economy, while allowing us relative freedom to judge its merits.

In one of Slacker's final sequences, an old man walks alone, speaking into a tape recorder.

My life, my loves, where are they now? But the more the pain grows, the more this instinct for life somehow asserts itself. The necessary beauty in life is in giving yourself to it completely. Only later will it clarify itself and become coherent.

It's as close to a defining moment for Slacker as you're likely to find. The first time I watched the film, I fixated on that last sentence, reading it as a challenge to anyone who would dismiss Linklater's experiments in form. "Coherence is a lie of narrative cinema," he seemed to be saying. (And I still believe that, by the way.) But now I can't seem to get past the old man's comments about the "necessary beauty" of the struggles of life. Or perhaps that should be the struggles withlife. Active rather than passive.

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Some initial, semirandom thoughts that may very well reveal me as the film poser that I am:

- a dizzying film to follow, without a main character or a clear storyline - certainly a challenge to pick up the various conversational threads - a comment on the fragmenting aspect of modern/postmodern life mayhap?

- what was up with the 'Be All You Can Be' guy who ran over his mother?

- a prominent theft motif: the enterprising capitalist children, the 2-for-1 newspaper guy, the junkyard thief, the shoplifter / ethics classmate, the dude sticking up the anarchist, the pap smear pilferer, and probably one or two more

- I don't think there was a single scene that was set in a locale possessing any significant natural beauty - plenty of ugly urban/suburban architecture, graffiti, despoiled wooded areas, etc. - does this reflect the inner barrenness/ugliness of the numerous people we follow?

- the woman in the coffeeshop - a spot-on depiction of a schizophrenic

- very few relationships of any substance were depicted - so many of these folks seemed locked in their own strange fancies and pet interests (anarchy, JFK, paranoid worldviews, car repair, etc.), with a real coldness when it comes to intimate personal concerns (for instance, the callous way in which the woman recently discharged from the psych hospital is questioned)

- lots of folks who are interested in bullsh***ing about social concerns, but no focus on meaningful action - the only guy who seems to possess any real passion for social action is the anarchist, who is later revealed to be a confabulator. There's plenty of exploitation going on however, as revealed by the theft motif and the coldness/nastiness of the male/female dialogue

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Anyone else planning to post initial thoughts? If not, I'll plan to open up the discussion this evening.

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My viewing experience with Slacker went something like this: interested and engaged during the first third, becoming a bit bored during the middle section, annoyed and longing for it to finish by the final third. So I agree with Crow: Shorter would have been better, IMHO.

I guess I'm left pondering my own reaction to the characters. This film came out when I was in high school, and I remember that attitude so well. It was cool to be bored with life and so far above the mundane nature of it, cool to be anti-establishment without ever actually doing anything to better society. That attitude bugged me then, and it still bugs me now. So it was hard to sympathize with many of the characters. (I wonder what that says about me. It makes me feel a bit guilty and self-satisfied.) Sympathy did develop, however, when characters revealed a bit more about their personal lives (i.e. the girl who's just been released from the institution; the woman handing out cards who reveals a black eye when she removes her sunglasses).

There is quite a bit to like here, but my admiration is more for the film's innovative style than for the subject matter. I loved the way the film flowed so easily from one character to another. I didn't really have a problem with the lack of main characters or an actual plot. But on the whole, this just didn't quite work for me. This was my first Linklater film, and I wouldn't mind seeing more. If it's at all similar, though, I'd probably steer clear of Waking Life for a while.

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For this film more than almost any other, plot isn't anything. Still, even though my viewing of the film is pretty fresh, the canvas of characters and details is so broad that I find myself realizing how much I took in and forgot but am reminded by reading the comments here. I haven't got to watch this a second time yet, but I really think that, for me at least, a second viewing is necessary.

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Darren

Can you wait until tomorrow? I will be watching the film as soon as I get home and will post thoughts tonight. If you need to do it today I will still post tonight and then join the discussion. I just got the film today.

Reuben

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That's fine, Reuben. Today is my 9th wedding anniversary, so I should probably spend all (or at least most) of the evening away from the computer. wink.gif

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Darren:

Congratulations! I hope you have a great anniversary. I will be celebrating my 9th on July 5th. Well hopefully I will have something intelligent to write about the film. I figure I have been hanging around this board far too long (since the old board) without getting involved.

Reuben cool.gif

Edited by rjkolb

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Yesterday I posted my response to Slacker on my website, and today another blogger who I enjoy reading posted some comments of his own in response. I hope no one minds my pasting them in here.

Linklater's Omnipotent Narrative

As Dan Green notes, Long Pauses has a very good post up about Richard Linklater's films. Darren points out that all of Linklater's characters are represented in an egalitarian light, but if one is to judge these characters, it is the behavior that is the culprit, not the social status or the circumstances behind it. Life's the thing, whether it's the cruel hazing by Parker Posey in Dazed and Confused or even Giovanni Ribisi's slacker, reduced to living in a pup tent and unable to come to grips with a singular decision, in the underrated SubUrbia (a film that also has the interesting distinction of merging Eric Bogosian's savage wit with Richard Linklater's cheery joie de vivre).

I'd like to take Darren's idea one step further. First off, it's worth noting that Linklater generally tends to favor long takes, whether it's Richard Linklater himself rambling on in a cab about the four different roads at the beginning of Slacker or the fantastic shot without dialogue in Before Sunrise, where Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are secretly looking at each other in the record store. Endless comparisons have been made between Linklater and Eric Rohmer because of this deliberate stylistic approach. And certainly letting the camera roll affords Linklater the opportunity to show life unfolding at its own pace -- a cinematic idea remarkably subversive in today's environment of quick cuts and easily digestible tales.

But where Rohmer allows his characters to get lost within the fine art of conversation (also a laudable goal), unlike Rohmer, there's a casual concern for narrative in Linklater's films, almost as if narrative's the very veneer between audience and characters, existing to offer meaning not even remotely graspable in five lifetimes. If Linklater's goal is to portray a nonjudgmental view of American life, then there's the added problem of finding a narrative to tie into, whether it be the titular twist of Waking Life or the dangling question of whether Hawke and Delpy will stay together in the Before films. With Before Sunset, Linklater found a fantastic way out by insinuating fate with a final fadeout.

But I would suggest that what makes Linklater's films additionally interesting is the way in which his narratives function as omnipotent barriers to unraveling the mysteries of life. It's taken Linklater a few films to develop this, but his films can now be viewed as bright beacons for multiple subjective reactions instead of a unilateral, preprogrammed response. One can emerge from Before Sunset and start questioning a gesture, a specific pause, or a single line of dialogue and use these to form a working theory about what happens to the characters. The behavior presented is not so much nonjudgmental, but, if we ruminate upon the characters (as most people seem to do), it says more about our judgments of other people.

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I had two main motivations for recommending Slacker, and I'm pleased to see that in our initial responses to the film we've already begun to address both.

First, Slacker puts form front and center. It's a "high-concept" film, as Beth put it. And, if you'll allow me a broad generalization, I think we are much better at discussing plot and content than form and technique. (By "we" I mean the group that congregates at this forum, specifically, but also, in more general terms, post-Enlightenment Christians, who have been trained in Biblical exegesis through years of "and this is what the passage really means" sermons, Sunday School classes, and Bible studies.) A friend once helped me understand another film by reminding me that the gap that separates traditional narrative from experimental filmmaking isn't necessarily that wide, and Slacker seems to prove his point. Crow, I like your comparison to "performance art." It will be good for us, I think, to wrestle with formal analysis a bit.

Some questions about Slacker's form:

- Does the form (a series of brief vignettes that collectively span a 24-hour period, each vignette typically filmed in a single take) serve the larger concerns of the film? (We'll get to those concerns in part 2.)

- Am I supposed to hunt for clues and decode this? Am I supposed to focus less on the clues and symbols and allow a particular mood or attitude to wash over me? (Thanks, Mike)

- What effect does a long take have on a viewer? And, if I can be a bit leading, is there a moral dimension to editing?

- Nearly every character is given equal screen time. How does this change our relationship with them?

- How do we judge the success of Linklater's editing? Is there a better or worse arrangement of vignettes? How is the tone of the film determined by the two opening sequences (Linklater's monologue and the mother-killer)?

- And, just out of curiosity, what do you think of my interpretation of the old man's final lines? Is "coherence" really a lie of narrative cinema?

- How is Linklater's interest in film form brought to life in the dialogue of certain characters? The old man with the tape recorder? The Dairy Queen photographer? The Hi-8 filmmakers at the end? The history student with the shotgun and video camera? This bit from the video backpacker might be worth discussing:

To me, my thing is, a video image is much more powerful and useful than an actual event. Like back when I used to go out, when I was last out, I was walking down the street and this guy, that came barreling out of a bar, fell right in front of me, and he had a knife right in his back, landed right on the ground and... Well, I have no reference to it now. I can't put it on pause. I can't put it on slow mo and see all the little details. And the blood, it was all wrong. It didn't look like blood. The hue was off. I couldn't adjust the hue. I was seeing it for real, but it just wasn't right. And I didn't even see the knife impact on the body. I missed that part.

My second motivation for recommending Slacker is that I love how it puts us in the position of judge. This is something we do all of the time when we watch films, of course, but Slacker complicates things by more closely approximating "real life." There are no stock villains and heroes here. Instead, as almost all of us have commented, we're judging people we know -- a subculture of "losers," "wannabes," "bullshitters," "thieves," and "people with no real purpose in life," who are "unsympathetic" and "self-absorbed."

- By what standards are we judging the characters? (For a group of Christians, I would think that this is a particularly important question.)

- Which of the characters is most self-absorbed? How did you come to that conclusion? What do you know about him or her?

- Does the film hold out any hope for real, meaningful human relationships? (Several of you mentioned the coldness and the lack of real communication.)

- Does the ugliness of Slacker's Austin reflect the inner barrenness/ugliness of the numerous people we follow? (Thanks, Andrew)

- And, just to be snarky, what would Linklater's camera capture if it filmed a three-minute conversation between you and your best friend? wink.gif

That should be enough to get the ball rolling . . .

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Well, this is (happily) going to take a while. I'll pick one at a time, and probably way out of order.

]- How do we judge the success of Linklater's editing?  Is there a better or worse arrangement of vignettes?  How is the tone of the film determined by the two opening sequences (Linklater's monologue and the mother-killer)?

It's interesting to me that the film starts out with the linking together of two otherwise unrelated characters and events. There's a sort of free-form flow that I guess Lynch had started playing with in Blue Velvet, but until it came back into vogue with Short Cuts and Magnolia and their imitators, it hadn't really been seen much in American film (to my admittedly limited knowledge) since Nashville. Linklater's film is unique in that neither of those events seem to have any appreciable effect on the rest of the conversations. (aside: or do they? Now I'm wondering.) When the guy runs his mom over, I certainly thought it was the precursor to a moderately narrative-driven film. You certainly don't see these things happen with no consequence or effect in film normally.

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Well, this is (happily) going to take a while.  I'll pick one at a time, and probably way out of order. 

Me, too.

Some questions about Slacker's form... Am I supposed to hunt for clues and decode this? Am I supposed to focus less on the clues and symbols and allow a particular mood or attitude to wash over me? (Thanks, Mike)

Rush to Judgment indeed. On second viewing, I became quickly self-conscious about hunting for clues and connecting dots as I reflected on the role of conspiracy theorists, ideologues, and schizophrenics ranting authoritatively along with everyone else. Any pat conclusion about the film would seem to be one more rant, one more narrative among narratives. Which has interesting implications for our own interpretation(s) of the film from this point on, I guess. But I'd like to figure out how to get beyond that problem, and I think Linklater does, too... maybe.

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On second viewing, I became quickly self-conscious about hunting for clues and connecting dots as I reflected on the role of conspiracy theorists, ideologues, and schizophrenics ranting authoritatively along with everyone else.

Awesome! We're conspiracy theorists, too! I love that.

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Part of my impatience with the film is that while I suspect Linklater is more sincere in some of his questions, his style/method is too close to what I've experienced from artists (be they film or literary) who move from the fragmented to the uncrafted not just to make a philosophical statement but because they lack the ability to craft a narrative skillfully, whether in traditional or untraditional forms. That is to say, the philosophical foundation (life is not crafted) rather than being subject matter that is explored, becomes a simple excuse for not having to be coherent.

That's really well put, Ken. And it's a point that I'm very sympathetic to. It's interesting that you mention Joyce later. If someone put me on the spot and asked, "Why should I spend more than five minutes trying to make sense of Finnegan's Wake?" I'd be hard-pressed to come up with an answer better than, "Um, because James Joyce wrote it?" (For the sake of full disclosure, I should admit that I've maybe spent fifteen minutes trying to make sense of Finnegan's Wake.)

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I doubt I'll be able to convince you in a single post that Linklater is worthy of that trust and effort. Hopefully the thread will evolve in a way that works toward that end, though.

I'm not going to argue that Linklater abounds with the "ability to craft a narrative skillfully" because there isn't much evidence to support it. I mean, right after Slacker he made Dazed and Confused, which is a much more traditional and convincing narrative. But, especially if we discard films like School of Rock, which he directed but didn't write, I think it's safe to say that Linklater isn't particularly interested in traditional narratives. Like I mentioned in the other film club thread, his first film, It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books (1988), owes a great debt to structuralist experimental filmmaking. And Slacker, though very different, shows the same influence.

That's a start. I'll try to get back as more time allows . . .

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Does the form (a series of brief vignettes that collectively span a 24-hour period, each vignette typically filmed in a single take) serve the larger concerns of the film?  (We'll get to those concerns in part 2.)

In terms of a link between form and his larger concerns, if he has them, Linklater seems to be interested in narrative both formally, but also in terms of narrative claims about reality

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Mike, I do think that is one of Linklater's concerns--at least if I'm understanding your idea of "narrative authority" correctly. Maybe as a counter example, we can talk about someone like Hitchcock, whose every move, from casting to art direction to camera movements to cutting, is in service of the story. When watching the best Hitchcock films, we are moved precisely from point A to point B, with little freedom to choose how we are to feel about certain situations. That's not to say that specific characters aren't complex--Ingrid Bergman in Notorious is an impossibly complex character--but when she's trying to get away from Claude Rains at the end of the film, we'd better be exhausted by that tension. Every moment in the film has led to that point.

I like that image of "flattening" narrative authority. I'm not sure how else one might accomplish that in film without fracturing the story into smaller pieces. I mean, if Linklater's character had returned even once more in Slacker, I'd be tempted to call it a film about him. And as soon as it's about one person, I naturally begin constructing a story for him. All of the other characters become reflections of his situation. I start looking for "heroic gestures" in his "quest" and begin squeezing him into any number of other narrative conventions.

I've been trying to come up with an analogy to Slacker from another artistic medium, and the best I've found yet is Dos Passos's U.S.A. Trilogy, where we're given a sweeping portrait of Modern America through a series of "Camera Eye" and "Newsreel" snippets that blend fact and fiction. And having come up with the U.S.A. Trilogy, I have no idea how that helps our discussion. wink.gif

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Wow, this is a great discussion. I suspect I'll be doing a lot more listening than contributing, but that's fine by me.

A couple of brief thoughts, in response to Darren's questions and others' subsequent comments:

- Am I supposed to hunt for clues and decode this? Am I supposed to focus less on the clues and symbols and allow a particular mood or attitude to wash over me?

I don't see these as mutually exclusive. Freud spoke of the proper attitude of the listening psychotherapist as one of suspended attention - i.e., the therapist is sufficiently attentive to follow the narrative thread, but is also sufficiently detached that he can pick up larger themes, the overlying mood or emotional tone, etc. This probably isn't a bad posture for us as filmgoers, either.

- By what standards are we judging the characters? (For a group of Christians, I would think that this is a particularly important question.)

Interesting synchrony here - between the preceding comments and the megachurch discussion, I'm realizing how I also tend to rush to moral judgment in a way that can be less than charitable. Earlier today, I read about N.T. Wright's concept of a 'hermeneutic of love,' as opposed to a 'hermeneutic of suspicion.' This would seem to balance the Pauline concepts of having the discernment to (eventually) judge angels while recognizing that love alone will endure.

- And, just to be snarky, what would Linklater's camera capture if it filmed a three-minute conversation between you and your best friend?

Ouch! Please excuse me while I remove this plank from my eye.

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I link the notion of narrative authority both to the "flattened" structure/attitude of the film but also to the authoritative narratives of most of the characters. Instead of a strong author, we have a myriad of strong authors, as it were. In this Slacker reminded me of David Byrne's True Stories, which was similar in strategy and tone (a catalog of oddball characters -- and also set in Texas!). I remember Byrne explaining his own non-judgmental perspective toward his characters, saying something to the effect that they were all there to be appreciated and enjoyed. I both sympathize and resist this -- for good or for ill. Earlier I mentioned I felt like I was being pulled in the direction of making a judgment -- and the consensus (confirmed by Linklater) is that judgment -- or at least hasty, pseudo-objective judgment, is a bad thing. (Which of course is a judgment itself.) So, in a sense, maybe the film can be seen as a sort of set up: a sting operation maybe, to catch you in the act of judging and then judge your judging.

But I can't help but think there's more going on here than just refraining from judgment and judging judgers. Of course, when I listened to the commentary, some of the things I thought were intentional and patterns seemed to be explained away by Linklater as accidents, or autobiographical flotsum, or pure serendipity. But I can't believe it's an accident, for example, that we cut from the guy who wants to give away free weapons to everybody to somebody pointing a camera at the guy like a gun. Before I listened to Linklater talk about his film, I was almost ready to believe he wasn't rejecting moral judgments so much as wrestling with the postmodern condition, casting about for a way to say the Texas Tower Sniper was wrong, without resorting to yet another judgmental narrative.

But, again, the implicit attack on narrative authority makes me unsure of what if anything else he was up to.

(And I love the "Camera Eye" etc in Dos Passos, too. But weren't those sequences occasional intermissions in an ongoing main narrative that we kept returning to?)

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