in Criterion Month

Slacker (1991)

Damn it! This is so late. Here we go!!!

I made more than one mistake picking Slacker for my “First Time Filmmakers” list for Criterion Month. First, Slacker isn’t Richard Linklater’s first feature-length film. It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books is a $3,000, 86 minute, Super 8 mm film, starring Linklater as he drives through the country doing mundane day-to-day activities. Wow, I wonder why that isn’t a classic? As far as I can tell the film isn’t available apart from being a special feature on the Slacker Criterion. My second mistake was picking a non-narrative film. I don’t have a good track record with non-narrative films. I like drama, rising action. Even Linklater’s iconic hangout film Dazed and Confused had the underlying threat of Wiley Wiggins gettin’ a paddlin’. Slacker had a lot going against it in the John test and yet… I liked it okay, but why?

I love the ambition of Slacker. It may not seem ambitious at a glance but think about it. Think of all the people Richard Linklater had to ask to rattle of rambling spiels about alternate Dimensions, JFK conspiracies, and pap smear. I doubt most of these people got paid either. Think about how a fledgling Austin-based filmmaker had to coordinate all these scenes to make them flow into each other. This film is the exact opposite of what a slacker would make. Richard Linklater is a go-getter. He also has the mind of a crazy person. A charming crazy person, but a crazy person nonetheless.

I don’t know how to write about this “film”. It’s not so much a film as a collection of vignettes or rather conversations between an assortment of wonderful Austin weirdos. The most notable of the bunch being Richard Linklater as a passenger who contemplates an alternate reality and Butthole Surfers drummer Teresa Taylor as a punk trying to sell Madonna’s pap smear. Taylor is also the iconic face of the film with her oversized sunglasses and tipped cap brim. There are a few other semi-famous figures including Austin journalist Louis Black and Austin philosophy professor Louis Mackey, but mostly it’s regular people. Of course, they aren’t talking about anything that I would categorize as “regular”.

I don’t know much about Richard Linklater outside of his films, but I reckon he’s got a lot on his mind. Slacker covers everything from anarchy to consumerism, art, aliens, and more. I have to hand it to Linklater, he never runs out of interesting topics. My problem is there is so much of it. The film is difficult to process and I would imagine takes several viewings to let it all sink in. Maybe that’s just me.

Why don’t I dislike this film? Apart from an admiration for DIY filmmaking, I love Linklater’s voice. He seems like a positive and affable guy and that shines through many of the film’s characters. Even the especially crazy characters are endearing. Maybe that’s what it’s all about? Giving an audience the chance to spend time with interesting people to hear their thoughts and ideas…. Nah, it’s all about that drama. I want a paddlin’!