“Who’s ever written a great work about the immense effort required in order not to create?”
Composed as a series of linear vignettes, Richard Linklater’s second feature film – the film that gained him early recognition as an interesting new indie director – is overly long, but oddly hypnotic. On the surface it seems simple in both its premise and its direction, though considering it more thoroughly, Slacker is impressive precisely because of this simplicity.
Set in Austin, Texas, on a sunny summer’s day, we become privy to brief glimpses into a variety of people’s lives – little portions of conversations, many of which take the form of extended speeches, rather than an exchange between two people. Each character leads to another, who leads to another, creating a film that is constant in its style and, despite the seemingly meandering nature, quite specific in its intent.
It is misleading to claim this is a comedy, although it is almost inevitable that at least one of the many anecdotes, opinions, and general musings will amuse – among this vast cast of unnamed unknowns, it is likely that something will ring true, and in that truth will come humour. Or perhaps one of the stranger stories – the conspiracy theorist whittling on about the moon landings, or the woman who prophesies the death of the next person to walk past them – will get some laughs. Or maybe it will simply be that, by succumbing to the constant, pointless onslaught of inane ramblings, exasperation becomes bemusement.
Slacker is almost entirely devoid of music, having no score to accompany it. This, coupled with the seemingly never-ending connections between the stories, makes the film seem long – too long, really. There is no way of gauging when (or if!) it will finish – it is not a circular film, the characters do not share some clever relationship with each other that results in everything being neatly tied up, there is no greater purpose that unites them. It starts to feel self-indulgent, particularly in the final section, which reeks of indie art student and seems both forced and pretentious. It is as though Linklater himself couldn’t find a way to stop following first one person, then another, down the wide, empty streets of Austin, and decided to show that the film is not like the aimless characters it contains, but a work of art with a purpose. And perhaps it is, for it achieves a certain tone very successfully; the unrelated nature of the stories all share a central theme, that of (mostly) young, educated adults filled with ideas and opinions but lacking any sense of direction or motivation. So they sit in coffee shops discussing politics, or stand on street corners fighting the system with home made t-shirts, or they stay in bed because going to the lake is something one has to prepare for. As the camera follows them, the world passes them by.
In recent years, Linklater has become more mainstream, directing films such as School of Rock (2003) and Me and Orson Welles (2008). Slacker is a curio, and it’s easy to see why it has become an indie classic – slow, aesthetically simple with an emphasis on realism, even down to its mundanity, it is understated but well filmed, monotonous but engrossing. After watching it, it is difficult to remember the majority of the vignettes, but the overarching atmosphere lingers.