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Three must-see Richard Linklater films: 'Slacker'

"Slacker" (1991)
"Slacker" (1991)
Orion Classics, Amazon.com

"Slacker" (1991)

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“Slacker” (1991) 4/5 stars - An unemployed 40-something man yells, “I’ll get a job when I hear the true call.”

Another guy claims (and complains) President George H.W. Bush won the 1988 election with only 18 percent of the vote.

An early-20‘s woman tries to sell Madonna’s pap smear for a “real bargain”.

Now, I’ve heard Austin, Texas is called an eccentric jewel in the middle of a very conservative state.

Well, in writer/director Richard Linklater’s 1991 film, “Slacker”, we are introduced to, perhaps, the most offbeat (or maybe very typical) personalities the Texas state capital has to offer.

Linklater explores his vision of Austin which celebrates its progressive point of view, and he does not only offer a liberal shade, but something more extreme for comic effect.

In fact, one of the movie’s characters says, “This town has its share of crazies,” and over the course of a 97-minute runtime, we, the audience, tend to believe it.

This movie offers a highly interesting structure as it contains a countless number of small vignettes.

The film’s narrative works this way: A character(s) stars in a particular sequence, moves into our lives for a few minutes, meets someone new, moves off-camera, and the new someone(s) takes the film in their own direction.

After a while, the continuity of the symbolic baton passing from one actor to another becomes stunning to watch.

In addition, Linklater owns a natural gift to make complicated sequences seem effortless.

As one story begins and ends in a figurative northeast direction, the next one picks right up as the camera shifts “southwest” without missing a beat.

For instance, in one scene, three friends stand on a bridge and two of them chide the third man to throw a tent and a typewriter into the stream below.

A tent and a typewriter?

You see, it is for his own good, because the two objects are symbols of his ex-girlfriend.

Heaving them over will serve as a “necessary” type of exorcism.

After the aforementioned deed is done, one of the three walks away and meets his own girlfriend to catch a movie.

On the way, she hands a soda and a quarter to a homeless man, and then the couple begins to inexplicably argue.

Shortly thereafter, they realize their movie already started, so they decide to catch the next showing.

So, the girlfriend - on her own - walks into a library or bookstore and runs into an old classmate who obsessively rattles off his JFK shooting conspiracy theories.

After this particularly awkward one-way conversation, the movie continues on its strange and brilliantly constructed journey.

I actually tried counting the number of vignettes, but after about 30 minutes, I lost track.

The different one-on-one exchanges come and go so fast, I felt lost in this maze of “slackers.”

These slackers - and their passions - come in all shapes and sizes.

From a 20-something man watching the 1986 Challenger disaster in a room full of TVs to a woman creating an art project depicting her menstrual cycle, the people we meet are not really looking for cures for cancer or attempting to split the atom.

Their “work”, however, seems fascinating just the same.

Make no mistake though, “Slacker” is a challenging movie, and its construction really is not in tune with a mass audience.

At times, it feels monotonous and some moments don’t always hold our attention, but then, suddenly, we meet an interesting person - like a 50-something conspiracy theorist with a bad hairpiece who says the U.S. landed on Mars in 1962 or a 20-something waitress repeatedly claiming over-and-over to be “a medical doctor” like she suffers from some bizarre form of Tourette’s.

Linklater himself, actually, gets into the act too!

In the movie’s first scene, he explains his theories of fate and reality to an unsuspecting cab driver, and this opening sequence sets the stage for this bizarre ride.

I must say though, the reality is “Slacker” is not excessively funny nor does it drive to a satisfying and dramatic conclusion.

On the other hand, anyone familiar with Austin will love the references to the city’s free-spirited thinkers, and anyone who loves film will enjoy the celluloid storytelling.

It might play like a kooky project, but I learned about oodles of various non-conformist perspective.

I also confirmed what I already knew: Linklater is definitely not a slacker.