In honor of the upcoming release of Richard Linklater’s latest —Where’d You Go, Bernadette? — we take a closer look at the prolific indie pioneer.
Every month, we at The Spool select a filmmaker to explore in greater depth — their themes, their deeper concerns, how their works chart the history of cinema and the filmmaker’s own biography. We’ve done Miyazaki, Tarantino, even a spotlight on black women filmmakers; this month, though, in honor of his latest film Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, we turn our eye to Austin’s favored son: Richard Linklater.
Linklater’s films don’t look like much. For the most part, they’re workmanlike affairs from a formal perspective: sensible, yet unremarkable compositions, often two-shots with actors, bright, naturalistic lighting that emphasizes the normality of any given situation.
And yet, you can see a Linklater film from a mile away: intimate, humanist, deeply concerned with how human beings chart the passage of time. His characters are rich, yet pass through the world like a gust of wind, constantly grasping for something to ground themselves. Your eyes may not be wowed by a Linklater film the way it is with other technical masters like Christopher Nolan or Stanley Kubrick, but your heart might just melt in its presence.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons why Linklater has enjoyed such a prolific, diverse career over the course of the nearly thirty years he’s been working. Like our previous Filmmaker of the Month, Quentin Tarantino, Linklater rose to prominence in the early 90s as the first batch of new American indie filmmakers, the kind of video-store cinephiles who wholly embraced the DIY spirit of independent filmmaking and forged careers out of quirky slices of American life. He’s a child of Austin, Texas, with a deep reverence for the city’s vibrant music scene and its many idiosyncratic characters, which comes out in many of his best works and his philanthropic efforts to promote the Austin film scene (including founding the Austin Film Society).
With Slacker, and later Dazed and Confused, Linklater put his stamp on a particular brand of idle living, practically defining the low ambitions and Bush-era cynicism of Generation X. He allows his audiences to flit dreamlike from place to place, character to character, gathering the soul of an environment more than charting an individual character’s journey.
Despite the apparent simplicity of his films’ overall look, Linklater is a shockingly experimental director when it comes to premise and time. Two of his most famous works, the Before trilogy and Boyhood, take advantage of real time to track the progression of, respectively, a quirky couple’s relationship (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) and a young boy’s (Ellar Coltrane) growth into manhood.
Whether over multiple films or through the shooting of a single feature, these stories took more than a decade to tell; while the merits of those experiments are up for debate – especially when it comes to Boyhood – the very doing of it is revolutionary in and of itself. In an age where CGI can turn the clock back (or forward) for any actor through de-aging technology, Linklater went the old-fashioned route, and feels all the more authentic for it.
Of course, that’s not the only innovation Linklater has poured his heart into. Flawed as they may be, Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly saw him experiment with rotoscoping technology to infuse his roaming visuals with a dreamlike sense of color. Both films carry the wistful air of a dream, not least because creating an animated world from reality lets us step back and wonder about its very nature.
Linklater isn’t nearly this heady in all of his pictures. In films like School of Rock and, to an extent, Bernie, he likes to dabble in broader studio-minded whimsy from time to time. This isn’t the self-serious philosophizing of your everyday indie darling; Linklater’s the working man’s thinking man’s auteur. (Unlike many other auteurs who ‘sell out,’ School of Rock might actually be one of his stronger pictures.)
With over a dozen feature films under his belt, we won’t be covering the entirety of Richard Linklater’s filmography throughout the month of August. But with some judicious selections, we’ll be going over a broad swath of his most influential works, trying to find what makes the laconic Austinite tick. We’ll update this post with our reviews and features as they publish, so keep an eye on this space.
Read our Richard Linklater coverage here:
Slacker: How a Low-Budget Film Inspired an Entire Subculture
The Double Nostalgia of “Dazed and Confused”
The Daring Ambiguity of the “Before” Trilogy
Where’d You Go, Bernadette Review: A whimsical mid-life crisis
Looking Back at the Rotoscoped Dreams of “Waking Life”
Richard Linklater Struck Out With His “Bad News Bears” Remake
“A Scanner Darkly” Is a Richard Linklater Photo Negative