Who? I’ve asked friends and family, movie fans, even at the exit of Linklater’s latest film “Boyhood” and I’m shocked to realize people don’t even know whom I’m talking about. And this is not something that happens to Linklater alone. I remember back in the 80’s, after successes like Jaws and ET, the magazine Entertainment Weekly went to the streets and asked people if they knew who Steven Spielberg was. The closest answer was “Yeah. He just wrote Cujo”.
So, I’m starting a series of stories where I present to you some movie people you should know. I mean, if you spend so much time caring about Angelina and Brad and even J.J. Abrams, isn’t it time you’d also cared about people who are making some of the most impressive films of our times, influencing the films of those you actually know about?
Let’s take Richard Linklater, for example. Here’s a director who doesn’t know what the word “Typecast” means, constantly defying labels with his next project. His recognizable directing style includes little camera intrusion (movement, cuts, etc), and a favoritism towards neo-realistic dialogue that sounds unprepared, which usually underlines the fact that most of his best projects don’t follow storyline conventions and are happy to simply let the characters be. Thematically, Linklater doesn’t seem to be obsessed by one idea.
I mean, what do these films have in common?
– A Romance that spans 3 decades.
– A group of young bank robbers.
– The new Rock and Roll teacher at a music school.
– What’s behind the food we eat at our fast-food corner?
– Confused teenagers
– A killer of older ladies
– A boy who grows into a teen
– Orson Welles.
So, once again, who is he?
He’s a Texan guy born in 1960 who dropped out of Sam Houston State University and ended up buying a Super-8 to start making his own work and was influenced by some big names from abroad, like Bresson, Ozu, Fassbinder, Sternberg and Dreyer. What does that mean to you? Well, this American guy is not very much into making your typical Hollywood movie, but is interested in experimentation, which he has done ever since he completed his first feature.
Last year he was very close to getting an Oscar nomination, which has been eluding him for years. His “Before” Triptych (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight) have garnered him recognition and awards, and his latest work Boyhood, the 12-year filming of a boy’s life might as well be his first entry into the Academy Awards Pantheon. Not that he cares much for it, but he deserves it as much as any other who has already walked the red carpet.
So here’s your homework list, if you care to catch up with this extraordinary filmmaker.
This is not Linklater’s first feature. That would be It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow with Reading Books, which took a year to shoot in super 8 and another year to edit. This early film already presented some of his usual trademarks: minimal camera movement and the lack of narrative. His following film, made through his Detour Filmproduction company was Slacker, made for only $23,000 and grossing more that $1,25 millions because of the large following Linklater could gather. The film depicts a common day in the life of some particularly eccentric characters in Austin, Texas, which, once again, showed no interest in following the rules of storytelling, favoring a freestyle non-narrative mood.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Last February, when Matthew McConaughey was giving his many acceptance speeches for his performance in Dallas Buyer’s Club, he quoted one of his most memorable movie lines “All right, all right, all right”. Not many knew this comes from playing Teenager David Wooderson in this film, which documents the teens behavior on their last day of school, May 1976. It was welcomed by the critics and $8 million at the box office attest to Linklater’s success in connecting with the audience.
Before Sunrise (1995)
Linklater then made this little romantic film about a young American and a young French who cross path in a train and decide to spend the night walking and talking before he actually has to fly back home. The film gave him worldwide recognition as he won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 45th Berlin International Film Festival. His technique was to build the whole story in the fact that Jesse and Celine don’t know each other and will probably part for ever, yet they form an incredibly romantic bond over the course of one night, with no actual action or any conventions to build the script.
Before Sunset (2004)
Linkater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reunited some years later and asked each other what had happened to those characters? The result is all on the screen in the follow up Before Sunset. This time the film has a more restrained canvas. 9 years later, Jesse is a somehow successful writer who tells the story of that young man who met a girl on a train and his life changed forever. Celine meets him and they have only an afternoon to conclude the truncated conversation of their youth. The ending of this film is probably one of the best endings in history, showing the total commitment of the actors, who also contributed with their dialogue.
Before Midnight (2013)
9 more years and we have Before Midnight, Celine and Jesse are living together in Frances and life is not a bed of roses. The third installments changes gears and turns romantic desire with a love immerse in routine. Now Linklater opens up his time frame to a whole summer in Greece, and his lens to includes more characters. The result is shocking and refreshing. To this date, it is considered the best of the trilogy although I really consider you should not see one without the others. By the way, Linklater, Hawke and Delpy, got a Golden Globe nomination for their unique effort in writing the script.
Waking Life (2001)
Another one of Linklater’s experiments, the Oscar nominated Waking Life is an animated feature made by actually filming live action actors and then modifying them by a technique known as rotoscope. The film was a huge curiosity at the time, and critics praised its inventiveness as it followed a man who meets numerous characters in continuous dreams sequences that deal with the meaning of the universe. And for those who like trivia, it includes an imaginary scene where Jesse and Celine (the characters of Before Sunrise) actually have sex and are able to talk about it afterwards.
One of Linklater’s signature treats is that some of his films take place in one day, not exactly in real time but engaging characters in long conversations that seem to be improvised (they really aren’t, there’s a lot of preparation to achieve this effect). Tape is one of them. Ethan Hawke, this time accompanied by his then wife Uma Thurma and Robert Sean Leonard discuss their memories of high school as old traumas and grudges come back. The film is set in a motel room and it carefully develops its dialogue in an unforeseeable crescendo (something Linklater uses again in Before Midnight).
School of Rock (2003)
This might be Linklater’s most successful movie, which also started his collaboration with rising star Jack Black. Here’s a wannabe rock star that poses as a substitute teacher and leads his students to surrender to rock and form a band. The film gave Black some of his best scenes and made Linklater a go-to director in typical Hollywood fashion. He would benefit from it by helming the remake of Bad News Bears two years later.
Fast Food Nation (2006)
This somehow alarming comedy deals with fast food restaurants, the effect of their food on us, what happens in the kitchen and in the production stage. It merges all the myth and hearsay news we’ve experienced in life and serves it back to the audience so they can put it together with all the documentaries about this American Institution. Even if the film was entered in 2006’s Cannes Film Festival, it did not strike the right nerve at home and it unjustly vanished as soon as it came out, maybe because it was too close to home for the American audiences.
A Scanner Darkly (2006)
After the success of his rotoscopied Waking Life, Linklater takes Philip K. Dick novel and re-writes its science fiction premise to bring it closer to our times, with animated versions of known actors like Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr. Winona Ryder and Woody Harrelson. The result is hypnotizing, as many of his films, a very particular and unforgettable experience in which an undercover cop becomes involved with a dangerous drug that makes him lose his identity.
This dark and almost over-the-top comedy takes a real-life murder case and makes its characters even more grotesque than you could imagine, with the help of Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey and Shirley McLaine. Black in the title role, plays a very nosy man who enters the life of an older lady just to eventually kill her. The film breaks with all the conventions of comedy or suspense, so it aims to disappoint those who want their genre served as usual. In turn, the film takes you to the sunny side of southern gothic.
This could be the pinnacle of Linklater’s career. It centers in the life and times of a child name Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his sister (Lorelei Linklater), and it closely follows them and their parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) for a period of 12 years, completely devoid of dramatic devices and revolving around relationships, time and personal changes. This doesn’t sound like groundbreaking material, right? Well if you take into consideration that it was shot intermittently over eleven years to allow its young starts to actually grow physically, emotionally and intellectually, then you are confronted with a sense of reality that even Kubrick once had intended to do. The film has been received by critics with almost unanimous praise, declaring it a landmark that becomes a nostalgic time capsule celebrating growing up and parenthood in its almost 3 hours length. This film also gave Linklater the Best Director Silver Bear in Berlin, Best director at the Golden Globes and it is the front runner at the Oscars.