Levelland springs forth from some people with impressive credentials. Clark Walker has spent a great deal of time involved in the Austin film scene and had a hand in some of Indie auteur Richard Linklater's seminal works (Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise). His wife, Anne Walker-McBay, has produced most of Linklater's work and is currently producing his newest film, A Scanner Darkly. With that said, it should come as no great surprise to find that the characters in Levelland are a bunch of gregarious Texas teens precariously perched on the edge of adulthood, but rather than plan a future for themselves, they'd rather hang, skate or do anything other than turn into their parents.
The film's title comes from the fact that Texas is so fucking flat, but also the stagnation the characters feel in their current surroundings. Like many towns in America, not just in Texas, communities spring up based on Corporations and the work they can provide to people. In this case, a large Oil Company seems to be the only employer for just about everyone in town, which doesn't provide these teens with a promising future. The main character Zach (Matt Barr) is feeling this first hand as his single Mom struggles against a male dominated corporate structure and his older brother Nick (Lathan McKay) gets checked into a mental ward for his chronic apathy and stomach ulcers.
Zach and his band of lovable losers just live to skate and boy are they good at it. I wasn't sure if they were Actors who could skate, or Skaters who could act, although I tend to lean toward the former. There are some truly great skate montages and sequences throughout the film, but the real focus is on the realty of these kids lives. Since we meet them at the end of the school year and follow them through their Summer, we get to see how various storylines unfold. Whether it's the crushes that turn into something more, Zach's seduction by his English teacher or how some stolen plywood that becomes the sweetest (and ONLY) ramp in town, all these tales are interwoven into the natural, comfortable pacing of the film.
Levelland has some melodramatic moments that feel as though they were lifted from an after school special, but thankfully most of the prime offenders ended up on the cutting room floor, or in this case the Deleted Scenes found in the DVD Extras. This film, more than any other of recent note, really captures what it feels like to be a teen today, rather than an Adult's idea of what it means to be a teen. Some dialogue feels clumsy in the mouths of some of the characters, and in those instances you can hear Walker trying to make his characters, usually Zach or Nick, wise beyond their years.
Of special note is the film's amazing Soundtrack, comprised almost entirely of early Punk and New Wave bands. Specifically The Replacement's, The Minutemen, Black Flag and The Meatpuppets tracks stand out and give the movie yet another layer of authenticity that a more modern Pop soundtrack would have failed to capture. It's also safe to mention that the Original piece of music that serves as the film's theme song (it also plays over the DVD Menus) is a thoroughly addicting ditty that will get stuck in your head for days after viewing. Hart Sharp Video, which put this DVD together, also did Slammed, which contained the film's Soundtrack on an included CD. Here's a Soundtrack that I would have loved to have been able to spin in my car or just hanging around.
Picture: The film appears to have been shot on Digital video, or possibly Super 16mm film, but regardless it looks great and the transfer here is in a 16:9 widescreen format.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track sounds great, especially during the skate montages which are set to punk rock classics.
Extras: Included as Extras on this DVD are a small handful of Deleted Scenes which can be viewed with or without commentary and trailers for some other Hart Sharp releases, including Super Size Me.
Conclusion: Levelland was another pleasant surprise from Hart Sharp Video for me, as their Slammed was previously. Here is a film that comes across as an honest slice of American teen life in a small town, no frills, some embellished drama and lots of that easy, comfortable swagger that we've grown accustomed to from the work of Clark Walker's Texan peer, Richard Linklater. There is little to no drug use/abuse in the film, which is surprising since that's what almost all small town movie teens seem to engage in, but it also elevates the film from the average into a sweet and sublime coming of age tail that can be enjoyed by teens and adults alike.