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Darren H

Film Club: Slacker

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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.

That's really interesting, Andrew. Do you mean that this might be a good attitude for us a filmgoers, in general, or with Slacker specifically? "Detachment" is the last thing many filmmakers want of their audiences, but I agree that some kind of distance is necessary for criticism. I read an interview with Ray Carney, the Cassavetes scholar and film professor, in which he talked about pausing films midway through class in order to break the spell of the story. He wants his students to always be conscious of their position outside the film. It's an interesting idea, and one with a moral or ethical component, I think.

I'm realizing how I also tend to rush to moral judgment in a way that can be less than charitable.

Well, I'd be lying if I said that wasn't one of the reasons I recommended Slacker. The people in the film aren't nearly as grotesque as Flannery O'Connor's characters, but I find that I respond to them in the same way -- a mixture of curiosity and condemnation, followed by that old refrain: "whatever you did to the least of these, you did to Me." That's not to say that we can't judge their behavior; much of it is obviously worthy of criticism.

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So now I'm starting to worry that my questions have left too little room for response from those of you who didn't care for Slacker. Anyone have an opinion about any of the particular conversations or monologues?

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:::Re: 'Suspended attention': Do you mean that this might be a good attitude for us as filmgoers, in general, or with Slacker specifically?

That's a good question - to be honest, I had not thought of applying Freud's guidance to film-watching until this discussion. On some level, I suppose I apply this way of thinking to most films that are worthy of reflection - however, the more action-laden or intense films may demand so much of my emotions that I only look at it in a detached/synthesizing manner after the film has ended, perhaps as the credits are rolling. In a languidly paced or more dialogue-laden film such as this, it seems easier to apply both methods of thinking simultaneously.

:::He wants his students to always be conscious of their position outside the film. It's an interesting idea, and one with a moral or ethical component, I think.

Could you explain the bit about the 'moral or ethical component,' please? I want to be sure I'm understanding you on this.

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

Since my wiseacre initial reply, I've been thinking more about this. In a three-minute conversation, I might look like this - it depends on which snapshot in time was used. However, in this film, we've seemingly got a whole city full of people who are living this way, day in and day out. Perhaps I'm being judgmental again (my, how one's head can spin around that question), but that seems to be a real problem.

Perhaps this will clarify my point better: while I may look like this during the occasional (or frequent) three minute window, I've also made a career choice in which I strive to serve other people; I suspect most of us here have done the same thing. There is action behind our ideals and conversations. In 'Slacker,' however, we only see talk and more talk.

In Christianity, orthodoxy (right thinking) must beget orthopraxis (right behavior), or else it's all hollow. We've probably all known folks who study and study Revelation or Calvinism or whatever, to obtain the precise correct biblical interpretation, but they're narcissistic pains in the a**. There seems to be a similar moral anemia at play in the lives of these 'slackers.'

Edited by Andrew

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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It's interesting, too, that despite Linklater's attempt at non-judgmental portrayal, there's an element of judgment in the film's title. My 1955 American College Dictionary defines slacker as 'one who evades his duty,' while the adjective 'slack' is defined as 'loose, indolent, negligent, remiss, slow, sluggish, dull' -- not the most complementary terms, eh?


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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Could you explain the bit about the 'moral or ethical component,' please? I want to be sure I'm understanding you on this.

This is becoming one of my constant refrains. The cinema, more than any other artistic or communications medium, is a seducer. Again, Hitchcock is the classic example. He makes us "lose ourselves" for two hours as we willingly hand over to him control of our emotions. The more I watch films -- or, more precisely, the more I write and argue about films (I seem to watch fewer and fewer these days) -- the more bothered I am by this aspect of spectatorship.

I feel pretty comfortable in saying that I now see criticism's chief role as being a wrench that we can throw into this machine. By becoming better educated viewers, we become more conscious of the seducer's tricks, so to speak. And I think anything that makes us "conscious" while watching a film acts as some kind of moral shield, preventing us from simply absorbing the filmmakers's values as if by osmosis.

As you can probably guess, I'm not much fun to have around when a bunch of friends want to go see, like, Sin City, or something. wink.gif

In Christianity, orthodoxy (right thinking) must beget orthopraxis (right behavior), or else it's all hollow. We've probably all known folks who study and study Revelation or Calvinism or whatever, to obtain the precise correct biblical interpretation, but they're narcissistic pains in the a**. There seems to be a similar moral anemia at play in the lives of these 'slackers.'

That's a great point. I think it's fair to say that, by focusing on a group of 20-somethings, Linklater significantly increased his odds of portraying that moral anemia. I remember when I was I was an undergrad and someone asked who I planned to vote for, I thought I was being so witty when I responded, "No one. I'm a registered apathetic." (True story, I'm afraid.) It's taken me ten years and a whole lot of growing up to find some semblance of an articulate, informed voice. (And hopefully ten years from now I'll be embarrassed by the naivety and immaturity of the 32-year-old Darren.)

So what kind of conclusions can we draw about the film itself? If we address it on Linklater's terms -- which I've been, perhaps, too willing to do -- then we can look at these people as potentially-interesting humans in an early stage of gestation. They might not be great artists, thinkers, activists, and political animals yet, but, based on the brief glimpses we get of them, they are, at least, interested in the arts, thinking, activism, and politics. And that's more than can be said for many Americans.

But, as so many of you mentioned in your opening comments, Slacker, by giving voice to all of this talking, talking, talking outside of any meaningful (or meaning-making) context, can have a quite different and not nearly so positive effect on the viewer.

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Thanks for clarifying your earlier point about the moral/ethical component of film-viewing - that makes a lot of sense. I can see how this plays out in 2 of the typical Hollywood genres: 1) the revenge film, where one sees that a particular bad guy or group of bad guys 'need killing,' and resolution/satisfaction is felt when this takes place; and 2) the contemporary love story, where resolution is felt when the protagonists hop into the sack. As regards the former genre, I'm more and more convinced that the love of violence that this type of film engenders is just as soul-eroding as pornography.

I also appreciate your comment about thinking of 'Slackers' from a developmental standpoint - late adolescence may be a necessarily narcissistic stage to some degree, as one talks (and talks) through various ways of seeing the world. Yet another reason to withhold harsh judgment of this film's characters...


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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I just watched Richard Linklater's film previous to Slacker, It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books. I turned the commentary on pretty early, I must confess, but it was very helpful to get to know a bit more the way Linklater thinks about his work, especially what he was thinking early on. He described his experiments in form in that film as a quest for "oblique narratives" -- which confirmed that the character's use of the phrase "oblique strategies" in Slacker was highly significant. It was good to hear about his own deliberateness in seeking a way out of the Hollywood narrative structure and how that continues to evolve through Slacker and beyond even up through Before Sunset. I'm intrigued by the moral implications of his structural and stylistic choices, though my own experiences have left me suspicious of too-facile conclusions along these lines, i.e. "the syncopated beat is of the devil" or what seem to be variations on the endless conflict between Classicism and Romanticism.

At the same time, Andrew's mention N. T. Wright's call to turn away from a Hermeneutic of Suspicion to a Hermeneutic of Love got my attention (I've been reading Wright lately, too.) The notion of how we see and treat others as somehow connected to or echoing the way we see and engage with art is particularly intriguing. I've always thought the distinction C. S. Lewis makes between good readers (who "receive" works of art) and bad readers (who "use" art for their own ends) could also be applied to human relationships. Indeed, Lewis himself spends a bit of his Experiment in Criticism on speaking of a right relationship to art as a particular kind of knowledge -- that is, knowledge as love (to "know in the Biblical sense") as opposed to the "knowledge is power" sense. The notion of classical Hollywood narrative form as a seducer is something I've experienced often enough and my viewing choices reflect this, but at the same time I'm somewhat leery of declaring the inherent good or evil of a particular form (as in, Will I be forced to admit that Bob Larson and Allan Bloom are right about rock-n-roll? Or Francis Schaeffer about Modern Art?) I'm much more ready to assent (as in Lewis's Experiment) to speak in terms of Good or Bad Readers, moral or immoral readings, than inherently Good or Bad forms.

All that to say I continue to be intrigued by the so-called "morality of the tracking shot" -- and am increasingly skeptical of obviously manipulative montage-y works -- but need more convincing. Still, I can see how Linklater's chosen form seems to inherently raise questions without imposing easy answers and I appreciate the work I have to do and recognize this confers a certain dignity both on me the audience and the characters that formulaic works often obviously do not.

Edited by mike_h

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While I dont really have a lot to add I would like to say that the responses to this film(especially the passion held by Darren H) are the reasons I love this forum. While the film didnt connect with me, some of you have really expressed aspects that I possibly missed in one viewing. I definitely can be a judgemental son of gun, so those aspects have me re-examing my take and considering a rewatch.

Edited by GrandPrixGator

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I can't remember ever having so much trouble getting through a movie in my life. I tried to watch it again thinking I must have missed something but the second veiwing was just a s difficult, actually more because I didn't finish it.

Now to begin reading this thread.


...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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While I dont really have a  lot to add I would like to say that the responses to this film(especially the passion held by Darren H) are the reasons I love this forum.  While the film didnt connect with me, some of you have really expressed aspects that I possibly missed in one viewing.  I definitely can be a judgemental son of gun, so those aspects have me re-examing my take.

Yup.

I can't remember ever having so much trouble getting through a movie in my life. I tried to watch it again thinking I must have missed something but the second veiwing was just a s difficult, actually more because I didn't finish it.

Yup again.

- 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. 

Funny, Slacker had the exact opposite effect on me - I left not really judging anything at all about the characters. I had the same feeling you get at a really interesting party where there are tons of people you don't know, each of them talking about something interesting, but none of it really connecting with you. You leave thinking, "It's all good," even if some of it is not so good, morally speaking. Slacker had that kind of numbing effect on me, a feeling that I should have a better moral compass by which to judge these characters and their life choices.


"The most important thing is that people love in the same way. Whether they are monarchists, republicans, or communists, they feel pain in the same way, as well as hatred, jealousy, fear, and fear of death. Whether you are a deeply religious man or an atheist, if you have a toothache, it hurts just the same." - Krzysztof Kieslowski

"...it seems to me that most people I encounter aren't all that interested in the arts. Most of the people who are my age ... appear to be interested in golf, fertilizer, and early retirement schemes.... I will stop caring passionately about music, books, and films on the day that I die, and I'm hoping for Top 100 album polls in the afterlife." - Andy Whitman

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I have found the discussion interesting. I am curious about how the timeframe of the film fits into the discussion. The movie was made in 1991, immediately after the end of the materialistic decade of the 1980s. I get the idea that Linklater's motivation may simply have been to showcase a world of people that were left behind or simply not interested in the career ideals of the 1980s: to go get a business degree and start making a lot of money and live in fancy apartments and houses like the yuppies did. Instead, this is a whole subclass of people who rejected the yuppie lifestyle, the anti-yuppies if you will.

Maybe this film is meant to be the antithesis of movies like Wall Street which showed the greed of the 1980s in all its ugliness, or fluff films like The Secret of My Success which which celebrated the materialism (OK, I admit the latter wasn't a very good example, or a very good movie, but for some reason it's the only one I can think of right now. smile.gif )

Edited by Crow

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I watched this through a second time last night. I've seen various parts of it as many as six times, but last night was the second complete time through. Freed from the expectation that the conversations will have some larger existential purpose (as, usually, they do in Waking Life) or be tied to that magical period where you're getting to know a person you're attracted to (as in Before Sunrise), I enjoyed the film quite a bit more. I like most of the conversations in spite of the fact that they're not directed toward any common end, and I'm interested in most of the people (or, at least, those people about whom I learn or see enough to be interested in them). Without the nagging concern of trying to fit the characters into a narrative role, it's easier to enjoy them as simply themselves, and I like watching most of these people. Even characters who annoyed me the first time through-- pap smear girl, S-T-E-V-E and the anti-artist, among others-- take on a measure of uniqueness and I enjoy their moment or two of screen time. If one standard of evaluating great films looks to the ability of a work to create and present characters who exist, but who aren't typically represented in common film language, then this film is undoubtedly a success.

Going along with the idea that Linklater not only wanted to create a film that captured this period time and place and people, but also wanted to do so while pulling off the near-impossible task of doing so without judgment, I appreciate that there's very little drinking and no toking in the film. It's funny-- surely there are some stoners in the film, but nobody gets stoned. It's a nice touch, and it's likely because Linklater knew you can't show characters getting numb without inviting jugment. I appreciate Dazed and Confused as a snapshot of another time and place in his life, but I have a ridiculously low tolerance for stoner characters and stoner humor, so that film isn't in any danger of going into heavy viewing in my player. The characters who you might suspect of being heavy stoners, like the guy who goes to the coffee shop in his bathrobe (a telltale sign, no?) never reach that level of cloying stereotype.

I loved the years I spent in college. Loved them. The way I spent those four years is both different and the same from how these people did it, but I still have a lot of lingering affection for the way that there was always something to talk about, always somewhere to hang out, always something to put off and always someone who would join you in putting things off. I don't know if I've ever seen that kind of freedom explored anywhere as well as I think this film does; of course, I'm waxing nostalgic now and didn't so much see it as freedom then, but more a succession of days and classes and conversations. Which, of course, is how they're seeing it, though in some cases minus the classes.

I guess the place where my appreciation might still stall a bit is in reconciling the impulse to impose some form or motif on the film. I've mentioned before that the guy who runs over his mom seems out of place (though it fits with Linklater's mention that that sort of thing always happens in his vivid dreams, I'd rather not dip into surrealism here) with the tone of the film, but I guess there are other instances where the threat of violence is imminent (the robber waiting for Delia and her dad), or just past (the card girl with the black eye) or historical (the conspiracy theorists and Kennedy assassination fan). I still fight the feeling that Linklater wants me to see these connections between the characters with the suspicion that they weren't presented with that design intended.

Boy, and this time through I really appreciated the long takes and the single take scenes. Yeah, others were doing it earlier, but I wonder if any other Americans had done it through the 80s (I can't think of any). I wonder how much of it was an imposition of cost and time, but the effect, nonetheless, is impressive.

Edited by Russ

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If I may hearken back to one of my initial comments, is there anything to the prevalence of theft among the people featured in 'Slackers'? Is there any possibility of a correlation to the line in the film (I forget the exact quote) about the lack of original thinking, how everyone is borrowing someone else's beliefs and claiming them as their own?


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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If I may hearken back to one of my initial comments, is there anything to the prevalence of theft among the people featured in 'Slackers'?  Is there any possibility of a correlation to the line in the film (I forget the exact quote) about the lack of original thinking, how everyone is borrowing someone else's beliefs and claiming them as their own?

doh.gif Of course! They're all plagiarists! wink.gif


There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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I skipped around through Waking Life on Saturday, watching bits here and there. I haven't seen the film since '02, and haven't watched the DVD since I bought it for $6 last year.

Ha, it's great. I had no idea how much of it references or continues to develop characters and themes in Slacker, starting with Wiley in the airport, deciding whether to take a cab or bum a ride, only to turn and see a beautiful woman. And then to see several recurring characters and actors...I'm really looking forward to rewatching the entire thing soon.

Kim Krizan is really great.


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Man, I wish I had something of value to add here. I watched Slacker over the weekend and actually quite liked it, although I got a little zoned out in some of the philosophical mumble jumble from time to time, but it reminded me of people that I know and love, although the people in the film are a little more freaked up than those in my life that it reminded me of. It actually reminded me a little of this forum. A subculture of art inclined mini-philosophers hoping to learn experience and expression and maybe one day take it to the next level of effecting the broader more mainstream culture. The more I think about it, the more I really want to see the film again. I even thought (gasp) that I might rewatch Waking Life again someday, a film that I believe I've fallen asleep on several times.

-s.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I've not seen this film in a couple of years, and have only watched it once to begin with. I was, however, enamored with it enough to recently purchase the Criterion 2-disc package of it. Perhaps I should've refrained from partaking in this thread until after a viewing of it, but given how belated I already am and the fact that I don't have a completely open two hours for a few days, I figured I'd shoot anyway cool.gif

I'm a huge Linklater fan. In fact, I usually maintain that he's my favorite American filmmaker, outside of Paul Thomas Anderson, to surface since Joel and Ethan Coen. Slacker is quintessentially his in every way, and in fact may be his trademark picture. I think it's primary focus is merely painting a portrait of a generation, or a subculture of a generation, of people.

Linklater's always shyed away from traditional narratives, but he almost always is able to spin some sort of story for the audience. Not so in Slacker, which even differs from the ostensibly similar Waking Life in that we don't even have a focal character to share our discoveries with -- the only guide we have through the film's plethora of colorful characters is the camera. We're not supposed to hinge our entire experience on one or two characters, we're supposed to let the experience of dozens and dozens of characters wash over us without any major revelations occuring for any of them.

I've never seen Slacker as being particularly satirical, I think it embraces the culture it presents. Linklater's always been a philosopher at heart, and has said that he's got a great deal of empathy for young adults trying to discover meaning for their existence. I think he's given us Slacker as a celebration of sorts to this niche of people. While pointedly presenting the culture, he manages to refrain from passing any real comment on them, and he seems genuinely engaged in the conversations these people are having (he, and we as the audience, are essentially participants in these discussions). That's where I think this film crosses over from merely being interesting into being completely engrossing. It's a paean to the universal yearning for truth and meaning while simultaneously masquerdaing as an expose on a generation of people I can identify with a great deal.

But then, as I said, I haven't seen the film in a couple of years tongue.gif . Apologies for how muddled my comments may be, I really need to watch the film again and refresh my memory as to why I was so tickled by it. What I basically wrote are vague recollections about why I liked it at the time. Nevertheless, I just stumbled onto this precious site and to find that there was a serious discussion going on about a picture that I've recently had on my mind and have been planning to watch again soon........well, I'm afraid I didn't have the willpower to keep my mouth shut regarding the manner biggrin.gif .

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Welcome, Titus. I enjoyed reading your comments.

It's interesting that you raised the topic of rating directors. I might go so far as to say that Linklater is my favorite active American filmmaker, regardless of generation. Obviously, this will be difficult for folks who haven't seen many of his films, but I wonder if we can make any useful generalizations about Linklater by comparing him to his contemporaries.

I'm also a fan of PT Anderson and, to a lesser (and lessening) extent, Wes Anderson, both of whom have been described as "humanist filmmakers." I'm not sure what that means exactly except that they write round characters (PT more than Wes). I'm tempted to say that Linklater's films are even more "human" than theirs, though.

I don't know where I'm going with this . . .

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I'm also a fan of PT Anderson and, to a lesser (and lessening) extent, Wes Anderson, both of whom have been described as "humanist filmmakers."  I'm not sure what that means exactly except that they write round characters (PT more than Wes).  I'm tempted to say that Linklater's films are even more "human" than theirs, though.

I think it's reasonable to lump PT and Wes Anderson in with Linklater. What I find so refreshing about all of their work is the lack of irony. They attack issues and explore various themes without really winking at the audience. It's like they immerse themselves so completely in what they're trying to accomplish that they can't be bothered with the tired but accepted notion that any and all serious matters dealt with in film have to continually remind the audience that it's just a movie.

I can see why you may be souring on Wes, though. I haven't yet seen The Life Aquatic, and I did think Tenenbaums was a damn good picture, but I'm almost afraid that he's going to become a parody of himself. The satisfaction I've always derived from his work is his deft ability to handle such idiosyncratic characters in stride, to where we find them humorous but at the same time relate with them as real people. Perhaps it will never come to fruition, but I'm just a little worried that he's going to get carried away with his unique photography and writing wit that he forgets to inject the humanity copiously present in his first two films.

Neither PTA or Linklater have given me any reason to worry, though. In fact, each of their last efforts were my favorite American films for their respective years.

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I'll be very curious to hear what you think of The Life Aquatic. In my opinion, it's a realization of your fears. I saw it with a friend who put it this way: In the opening titles of Rushmore, Anderson creates the entire world of Rushmore Academy in, like, two minutes, then spends the rest of the film exploring the characters who inhabit that world; The Life Aquatic, by comparison, feels like two hours of world-building.

The lack of irony is definitely what draws me to Linklater. That's not to say that his characters don't speak ironically from time to time, but Linklater always seems unapologetically interested in what his characters have to say, and that interest is infectious.

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My first reaction to such a movie is usually an immediate liking so I am not certain why this movie took two viewings; maybe it was too late the first night I put it in. This is a movie where you simply watch people live and somewhere in the background you put together a commentary on their lives. You connect your own dots and participate in the absolutely artistry of the visual experience. I am certain I am not adding anything new to this discussion but participation is invaluable.

After a second viewing I really liked Slacker; then after spending a bit of time with the commentaries and Linklater


...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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Those are nice observations about the old man, Asher. I've never been sure how to take him. I guess one could take a slightly more optimistic approach to the scene, arguing that the old man is using technology to create a new form of communication that bridges the divide between young and old.

Can I take from your comments that you watched It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books? What did you think of it?

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I know discussion has been going

on for awhile, but I finally got to

sit down with this film this weekend.

Sadly, I couldn't make it through it.

I wanted to watch it, I wanted to

like it, but the characters going on

and on about nothing just got to me.

I realized it was intentional, but I

have to deal with enough people in

real life who will talk for ages about

topics as foreign to me as the

assassination theories -- the idea of

subjecting myself to it on film was

beyond what I could handle.

Some interesting scenes -- such

as the woman in the coffee shop,

the typewriter. I was rather intrigued

by those and thought the way the

actors reacted was excellent.

But yeah, I imagine I'll make another

effort at some point, but I think I'll

set this one aside.

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Those are nice observations about the old man, Asher.  I've never been sure how to take him.  I guess one could take a slightly more optimistic approach to the scene, arguing that the old man is using technology to create a new form of communication that bridges the divide between young and old.

Can I take from your comments that you watched It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books?  What did you think of it?

I think it is possible to take the more optimistic approach but it doesn't seem like the overall tone of the movie lends itself to optimism. None of these characters really listen, they just talk and that kind of interaction would seems to conclude in the character of the old man.

One scene that really stands out in regard to what the person who is subjected to the slackers pontifications thinks, is the scene where this guy and girl are going to the movies and she kind of tells him, "You sure don't do much with all that knowledge. Get it together." She then agrees to meet him later in order to get away from the conversation. She goes into a bookstore where she runs into the 'Kennedy conspiracy theorist


...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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