Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Richard Linklater is the interesting director who has perfected the art of following people around
while they speak scripted lines but appear to be blabbing off the top of their heads on subjects
important to 20-something young Americans. His romantic features Before Sunrise and Before
Sunset are charming exercises in keeping a plotless story alive, but I have to confess that I
never had any use for the aggravating pretension of Waking Life. It all started
here with the cult charmer Slacker, a piece of extended performance art that
encapsulates the attitudes of a generation while doing a tightrope act with a purposely
Starting at a bus station and ending on a picnic to a rocky outcropping, we
follow an endless succession of mostly unemployed Austin citizens - creatively unemployed
'slackers' who have made nonconformist survival a way of life. Each character connects on the
street or in a cafe, riffs on his particular personal interest, and another character takes
over in an undending chain.
The term Slacker sounds like an obvious slight but the makers insist that it began as a
compliment to a certain underclass managing to get by without working. Although the variety of
Slackers we meet on the streets of Austin vary considerably - there are some old folks and
people gainfully employed - the model slacker is an overeducated but socially nonfunctioning
entity that either isn't can't form plans for the future or hasn't yet made up their mind what to
do. There are plenty of artists
in Slacker, but none who visibly appear to have their act together. What slackers do best
is talk, talk and then talk some more. They play games with each other and entertain each other. Some
give their companions a hard time, but most are lost in the world of their own obsessions - conspiracy
theories are popular among this crowd.
As in the classic film La Ronde we move from character to character, sometimes staying with
one protagonist for as little as 90 seconds or so. A meets B, they both meet C, and then we follow
C off to another rendezvous. So not only does every actor get to be a Warholian superstar for a couple
of minutes (perfect bait for attention-hungry quasi-actors) but there's always a variety to the
relationships on view.
Austin residents may think differently, but we get a pretty darn good tour of the city's side
streets and in particular a thoroughfare with a café called Les Amis, a real place detailed
in one of the disc's extras. What director Linklater really has going here is a mass protrait of the mood
and manners of the denizens of this college-art fringe crowd. It's affectionate and funny without
being too critical. Slacker number two or three is a madman who runs over his own mother with a
car, but most of the rest of the action stays at a more mundane level. A lot of the slackers
augment their non-incomes with various ripoffs, like shoplifting. Some professional thieves collect
television monitors for a real weirdo in a tiny room filled with shoddy electronics, sort of a
Brian O'Blivion. More typical is
a BS artist who talks some girls into going to a free show that turns out not to be free after all.
Slacker doesn't end as much as run down. Just as we're marvelling that the same basic gag
has worked for a hundred minutes, the last scene becomes a blurry free-form 8mm piece to rock
music. The strangest realization is that the film did work, and actually found and nurtured a
Criterion's DVD of Slacker does a fine job with a movie whose essence is difficult to
pin down. It's certainly not a stranger to home video or DVD. The flat image on this new disc
is beautifully transferred; Lee Daniel's camerawork is deceptive in that it maintains a docu
feel even though there are few of the flaws we associate with catch-as-catch-can filming. Linklater
and Co. know their technique. Two discs overflow with extra material (see below for a full list).
The best item on disc one is a teaser for a proposed docu on the Café Les Amis, the extinct
gathering spot for Linklater's beloved locals. There's an interesting pre-script document, and even
some video interview sessions for acting parts in the film.
Disc two gets deeper into the Linklater career with two of his earlier films which are nowhere
near as successful but definitely show the director's quirky attitude. There is a devoted fan
base for this film, and Criterion's disc has the core resources and filmmaker commentaries (three
on the feature) that will satisfy them.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Movie: Very Good
Supplements: three audio commentaries; an early film treatment; the shooting script;
home movies from
the shoot; a trailer for a film about the Austin cafe Les Amis, a key location in the
film; stills gallery; two earlier Linklatter films, the feature It's Impossible to Learn to
Plow by Reading Books and the short film Woodshock; trailer, essay by Linklatter on
slacker culture and information about the Austin Film Society; 64-page booklet.
Packaging: 2 discs in folding plastic and card case in card sleeve
Reviewed: September 22, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2004 Glenn Erickson
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