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Richard Linklater: A Day in the Life

“Daydreaming is a productive activity. Where do you get your ideas from?”–Richard Linklater

Writer/director Richard Linklater burst into the spotlight in 1991 when his second feature film, Slacker, was screened to great acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival. Made for a mere $23,000, the work had a complex, meandering style and use of interwoven characters that gave voice to a new generation. Following on the heels of Douglas Copeland’s seminal Generation X and at the apex of the grunge-music scene, the film’s title came to define an era. The term “slacker,” however, was misunderstood as suggesting a crop of lazy and disconnected young people, when in fact the characters in Linklater’s film are actively reframing ’60s counterculture for themselves. “You kind of have to deprogram yourself of everything, of what your parents wanted you to do or what education has taught you,” the director says, “and really find out what you want to do.”

Linklater’s rich filmography, poised between Hollywood and the indie-film world, displays a delicate balancing act grounded by his distinctive vision. He moves from tiny to larger-budget films and back, from intimate casts of three to ensembles of a hundred, and has assembled a cadre of devoted actors and collaborators along the way.

Much of Linklater’s early work explores the soul-searching quests that accompany each new life stage: the conflicting forces of carefree exuberance and parental repression during the teenage years in Dazed and Confused; the end-of-school melancholy of subUrbia; the backpackingthrough-Europe rite of passage in Before Sunrise; the post-collegiate existentialism of twenty-somethings in Slacker; the reexamination of one’s past at the 30-year milestone in Tape; the failed relationships of early adulthood in Before Sunset.

The 20th anniversary of Slacker is an apt occasion for another look at these unconventional early works. This retrospective features films whose narratives encapsulated in a 24-hour period. They brim with the cacophony of their offbeat characters’ conversations and visit themes of chance and fate, memory and time, and the road not taken. Marked by the director’s attention to the nuances of everyday life and speech, they are filled with sharp and witty dialogue.

“The elements that make his films fascinating and endearing—the respect for eccentricities, the circular babbling, the joy in minutiae, the empathic narrative voice, the delighted focus on American fringe-dwellers hunting for existential significance—are also what make them indisputably Linklater’s….It is possible that no one in this country makes friendlier, more humane movies” (The Village Voice).