RICHARD THE LEARNER
“Anyway, so this dream I just had was just like that, except instead of anything bizarre going on, I mean, there was just nothing going on at all.
It was like The Omega Man.” – Should Have Stayed on the Bus, played by Richard Linklater, in Slacker.
There he is. Right there in the opening shot for all to see. And what strange, fascinating things he had to say.
Bordering on hallucinatory, always on the cutting edge, Slacker is Linklater’s great first feature, and it paid off in such huge ways. For just $23,000 (or roughly the price of a compact), Linklater announced his arrival as a fresh voice in indie film, and he’s stayed fresh for over 25 years. Slacker just goes to show that a film can be literally anything and yet nothing. The important thing is that the film is interesting, and better yet, honest. Watching Slacker is like seeing the sum total of years of Linklater’s free-form doodles in the margins, the best intentions of an antagonistic and out-there Generation X photographed and recorded for free fireside chats. In the Criterion collection release, Ron Rosenbaum called the film a “serial digression.” Roger Ebert characterized the film as “almost impossible to describe.” Kevin Smith said this film made him want to direct. But what the hell is Slacker?
In short, it’s a test run, an excuse Linkater for to keep things loose and interesting under the guise of making a movie. Formally, in the most practical and easy-to-understand sense, Slacker was a bebop walkabout around Austin, a mystifying campus daydream about people spitting rants about who-knows-what on a hot day.
One second, Linklater’s doing his best accidental Owen Wilson impersonation while recounting a realistic dream. Soon after, a middle-aged man carrying a glass of murky tea/beer in a Batman t-shirt won’t shut up about conspiracy theories. Conversations crisscross, as the camera hovers from person to person. There are vintage cars and 16 mm reels. One second there’s a brag about Madonna’s pap smear and the next there are politicized rants on handguns. Who cares about plot, characterization, or any of the old-fashioned notions of what constitutes a film? It’s a feeling, an eavesdrop, and perhaps one of the purest of its kind. And what’s most fascinating is that’s there isn’t a single whiff of bullshit in Slacker. That right there is the Linklater key. Obtuse or minutiae-driven as his rabble can get, it never rings phony. Guy’s just got a lot of great stuff on his mind.
Linklater’s made a career out of just acting naturally, and thematically, and that purity of interest is right here and ready to grow. With Slacker’s naturalistic speechifying, Linklater proved his sincere interest in the assembly of a really good film.