Richard Linklater isn’t a household name-unless you’re in a household of aspiring writers and directors. But for over two decades, Richard Linklater has left a significant mark on the face of film. While he may not have the personal fame of directors such as Quentin Tarantino or Joss Whedon, he definitely has the talent. Linklater doesn’t make blockbusters-he’s in the business of making extremely personal and (often times subtle) philosophical films. While I haven’t seen his entire body of work, I have seen three of his films. And each one of them left an impact on me, in a writing and directorial sense. Richard Linklater has this incredible talent for crafting stories that make you invested in even the most minor character. Let’s start with his masterpiece, and one of my favorite films, 1993’s Dazed and Confused.
Twenty years ago, Dazed and Confused made its way into cinemas. While it did not have a tremendous box office return, the film is often revered as a cult classic. The film is about a group of high school students, and upcoming high students, on their last day of school in 1976. Some of the upcoming seniors decide to spend the day hazing the upcoming freshman, while others just want to party. What’s amazing about the film is that with such a basic concept, a very emotional and thought-provoking story is able to be told. Our main protagonist, Randal “Pink” Floyd, is a star quarter back. But with the upcoming policies being forced upon his team (curfews, no smoking etc.), he refuses to play-at least not under anyone else’s rules. The tale proceeds to show us the adventure of the night that these students embark on-looking for alcohol, partying, and most importantly enjoying the essence of youth. But the latter is what is less obvious. Upon watching and rewatching this film, it becomes evident that the kids don’t want alcohol and parties as much as they want to enjoy life before it becomes rules and obligations. It’s about being young, and it’s about being free. It’s about enjoying what’s right in front of you. Because soon enough, you’re an adult, and thrust into the real world. And as one of the characters proclaims, in adulthood they just try to stick more rules on you.
Honestly, I could go on and on about this beautiful piece of art. In around 90 minutes, Richard Linklater captures the joys and frustrations of youth in the most prolific way. What’s even more amazing is that the depth of the film isn’t readily obvious to everyone. To some, this is probably just another funny high school film. But there are many who will take away everything in this film for far more than face value. Growing up is after all, one of the quintessential human experiences in modern America. So why not examine it for what it is? Growing up is fun, exciting, scary, frustrating, humiliating, and incredible. And in my opinion, no other film has captured the essence of it all quite so beautifully, or justly. I’ll leave my enthusiasm for this film with this quote, by Matthew McConaughey’s character: “Man it’s the same bullshit they tried to pull in my day. Ya know, if it ain’t that piece of paper, it’s some other choice they’re gonna try to make for you. You got to do what Randall ‘Pink’ Floyd wants to do, man. And let me tell you this; the older you do get, the more rules they’re gonna TRY to get you to follow. You just gotta keep livin’ man. L-I-V-I-N.”
Even before Dazed and Confused, Linklater premiered another cult classic, the revered film, Slacker. I watched Slacker for two reasons: I wanted to explore more of Linklater’s works, and Kevin Smith was heavily inspired by Slacker for his début film Clerks. Clerks is one of my all-time favorite films, and in my opinion one of the funniest. You definitely see the influence here. Clerks does tell a story, but also presents various social and personal philosophies under the presentation of both main characters and minor roles. Slacker does the same, but to a heightened level. There is no plot structure. Rather, we get various opinions and views from various people. It fits into the category of Richard Linklater’s not so subtle philosophical works. As does his film Waking Life. Waking Life does something similar to Slacker, but there is actually a plot here, and a very interesting/haunting one. A young man can’t tell if he’s awake or asleep, and searches throughout what could be his life, dream, or even death, for answers on consciousness and self-perception. I was recommended Waking Life by a friend, and it is one of the best recommendations I’ve been given in regards to film. The film also marks a significant directorial technique for Linklater, as it is rotoscoped. The film was done in live action, and animated over frame by frame. This adds to the trippy sensibility of the film. By the end of the film, I argue that you end up with more questions than answers-and I absolutely love that. Richard Linklater challenged me on a mental level, not just an emotional one.
Richard Linklater is incredibly talented, and I can’t wait to explore more of his works. He hasn’t disappointed me yet. He recently released Before Midnight, the end of a trilogy following a couple of different nationalities. Before Midnight follows Before Sunset, and Before Sunrise. Each was released nine years apart, and shows the relationship of the couple progress in real-time. Soon he will release Boyhood, which shows a couple raising their son into adulthood. The amazing thing about Boyhood is that Richard Linklater has been filming it for ten years, and we will see the same actor playing a boy and playing a man. Richard Linklater is truly one of the most dynamic directors today. I hope one day I get to thank him for his work, and just how much it meant to me.