Richard Linklater - Director

Nationality: American. Born: Austin, Texas, 1965. Career: Founded Austin Film Society, 1987; directed first feature, It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books , 1988. Awards: Silver Bear Award for Best Director, Berlin Film Festival, 1995.

Films as Director:


It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books


Slacker (+ pr, sc, role)


Dazed and Confused (+ pr, sc)


Before Sunrise (+ sc)




The Newton Boys (+ sc)


Waking Life (+ sc)

Other Films:


The Underneath (role as Ember Doorman)


By LINKLATER: books—

Slacker , St. Martin's Press, 1992.

Dazed and Confused , St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Before Sunrise , St. Martin's Press, 1995.

By LINKLATER: articles—

"Slacker," an interview with C. Gore, in Film Threat , no. 22, 1990.

"Idle Thinking," an interview with Tom Charity, in Time Out (London), 2 December 1992.

"The Six Million Dollar Slacker," an interview with C. Gore, in Film Threat , 29 April 1993.

"Richard Linklater's Hot List," interview in Rolling Stone , 13 May 1993.

"School Daze," an interview with Tom Charity, in Time Out (London), 31 August 1994.

"The (Not So) Dazed and Confused Richard Linklater," an interview, in Suspect Culture (Toronto), Fall 1994.

Griffin, D., "Slackjawing," in Film Threat (Beverly Hills), April 1995.

"Richard Linklater: The Austin Auteur Refuses to Play by Hollywood's Rules—and Wins," an interview with Robert Draper, in Texas Monthly , September 1995.

"Suburban Blight," an interview with Chris Pizzello, in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), March 1997.

"Q & A: Richard Linklater on the Independent Film Scene," an interview with J.A. Waltz, in Boxoffice (Chicago), April 1997.

On LINKLATER: articles—

Horton, R., "Stranger than Texas," in Film Comment , July-August 1990.

Shulevitz, J., "City Slacker," in Village Voice , 9 July 1991.

"A $23,000 Film Is Turning into a Hit," in New York Times , 7 August 1991.

Dargis, M., "In the Loop," in Village Voice , 29 December 1992.

Kelleher, E., " Dazed and Confused Recalls '70s Teen Days," in Film Journal , August 1993.

Brown, David, and Jessica Shaw, "Look Back in Languor," in Entertainment Weekly , 8 October 1993.

Savage, Jon, Bea Campbell, and Mark Sinker, "Boomers and Busters/Reality Bites," in Sight and Sound (London), July 1994.

Savage, Jon, in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), January 1997.

Felperin, Leslie, and Claire Monk, "Close to the Edge/ SubUrbia ," in Sight and Sound (London), October 1997.

Speed, Lesley, " Tuesday's Gone: the Nostalgic Teen Film," in Journal of Popular Film and Television (Washington, D.C.), Spring 1998.

* * *

Once, in Hollywood, directors were anonymous (despite the fact that their names appeared on many films): I was not aware of Howard Hawks or Leo McCarey until very late in their careers, despite the fact that I had seen a number of their films. Then, in the brief heyday of the Auteur theory, directors became briefly important: some filmgoers, at least, became aware of their names. In contemporary Hollywood, directors are largely superfluous. Aside from one or two tenacious auteurs like Scorsese, what does it matter anymore who directed what? Hollywood films today are, for the most part, produced by cine-illiterate corporations and directed (apparently) by anyone who happens to wander onto the set. They are made by technicians, the directors of "stunts," and the special-effects department.

It is in this context that the careers of several courageous young independent filmmakers, with the nerve to reveal certain seemingly obsolete or unwelcome qualities like integrity, conscience, and personal vision, have to be considered: I have in mind especially Todd Haynes, Gregg Araki, and Richard Linklater. All three are clearly auteurs in that their films are thematically and stylistically consistent and recognizable; but the same could be said of Ken Russell or David Lynch, so that one should add that their work is also distinguished by real intelligence. It is certainly arguable that Safe (Haynes), The Doom Generation (Araki), and Before Sunrise (Linklater) are, Scorsese aside, the three best American films of the 1990s. Each now has a following, and so long as their living arrangements don't require a house in Beverly Hills and more than one swimming pool, there seems no reason why they should not continue to make the finest American films currently being produced.

One may begin at (so far) the end, with Before Sunrise , an oasis in the desert of contemporary Hollywood where one may again breathe fresh air and drink unpolluted water. A film built upon the long take, by a director who trusts and works with his actors for character and nuance, instead of relying on TV-style editing; a film that expresses, at every point, a refinement, a grace, a sensibility one believed long ago destroyed by the advance of corporate capitalism; incidentally, a film that begins with Purcell ( Dido and Aeneas ) and (almost) ends with Bach (the Goldberg Variations): one could not predict such a film, not only from the Hollywood context, but from Linklater's previous work, intelligent and distinctive as that is. One also wonders whether anything like it can be done again, given the feebleness of public response and the half-hearted polite interest of most reviewers. At least it was honored at the Berlin Film Festival, but I have not

Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater
found it on a single critic's list of the best films of 1995 (except my own private one, where it has first place).

With its Vienna setting, including a visit to the Prater, and its overriding concern with the redefinition of romantic love, it seems inevitable to compare it with an earlier masterpiece, a film of equal delicacy, subtlety, and emotional fineness, Ophuls's Letter from an Unknown Woman —the differences being, of course, more important than the parallels. In Letter , "romantic love" entailed lifetime commitment (even when unreciprocated), an existence sustained solely by illusion, and ultimate tragedy; but the basis for that was the subordinate position of women, their complementary options of wife or prostitute, both selling their services. "Romantic love," as fantasy, represented the heroine's only means of transcending the ignominy of her situation. Before Sunrise redefines romantic love in a world where the lovers meet on a level of full equality, where permanence of any kind and on either side is uncertain and no longer necessarily desirable. Everyone with whom I have discussed the film asks what is implied by the ending: Will they or won't they keep their date in Vienna six months later? I think the more interesting question the film raises implicitly is, Would it be better if they did or if they didn't? Is it better to imprison yourself in the still-dominant conventions of "the couple" (marriage, family, permanence), or to keep fresh the memory of one perfect, magical night, and go on from there? The film's refusal to answer either question perhaps accounts for its commercial failure: audiences still seem to resent being left in a state of uncertainty, even though most of their members live in one.

Despite its extreme difference, Before Sunrise has certain aspects in common with its two predecessors, Slacker and Dazed and Confused. All three take place in less than twenty-four hours; each presents a world in which nothing is certain anymore and where no future is guaranteed; although each is situated within a single town or city, all three are about wandering; in all three, the characters are essentially or literally homeless, if only for the time period of the film. In Slacker , the only home besides cheap, impermanent apartments is that of the first character (aside from Linklater himself, the stranger whose arrival in town initiates the chain of interlocking, overlapping episodes), who is arrested and removed from it for deliberately running down and killing his own mother. In Dazed and Confused , home is something to be escaped from, and in Before Sunrise two people, strangers without money in a foreign city, spend the night wandering the streets. Their attraction to each other clearly has little to do with any possible domestic future.

All three films are distinguished by Linklater's complex relationship to the characters and the action, delicately poised between sympathy and critical distance. His characters are neither indulged nor held up to ridicule, they are presented generously but quite unsentimentally. The various "slackers" of the first film are frequently bizarre and slightly absurd, but this is understood in terms of their alienation from a culture that offers them no hope and breeds paranoia. Dazed and Confused (the least unconventional of the three, and the one commercial success) is at once modeled on and an antidote to American Graffiti , without a vestige of that film's condescending, audience-flattering "cuteness." It also never descends into nostalgia for "the best days of your life." It depicts quite uncompromisingly the brutality and stupidity of initiation rituals, the variously corrupted and brutalized seniors using the (relatively) innocent young as the victims of their own frustrations, their acquired sadism, the physical cruelty of the males echoed in the females' desire to humiliate their juniors. Indeed, "initiation," in a very real sense, is enacted in one of the plot-threads, wherein a freshman learns, as a way to "belonging," the destructive behavior of his elders. One character, despite severe pressures from both his coach and his peers, manages to preserve his integrity—by refusing to sign a paper promising to forswear drugs and alcohol. In the context Linklater creates, it is a heroic gesture.

Finally, one must acknowledge Linklater's brilliant work with actors, whether the huge cast of non-professionals in Slacker , the multiple narratives of Dazed and Confused , or the marvelously subtle, flexible and nuanced performances of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise.

—Robin Wood

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