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Criterion 247
1991 / Color / 1:37 flat full frame / 100 min. / Street Date September 14, 2004 / 39.95
Starring Richard Linklater, Rudy Basquez, Jean Caffeine - the first of 88 slackers on the streets of Austin, Texas.
Cinematography Lee Daniel
Production Designer Deborah Pastor
Film Editor Scott Rhodes
Written by, Produced and Directed by Richard Linklater

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 story-less scenario.


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 bush-league 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 unique style.

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, Slacker rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
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 2007 Glenn Erickson

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